Kuda Lumping (Javanese: Jaran Kepang or Jathilan, Malay) is a traditional Javanese dance depicting a group of horsemen. Dancers “ride” horses made from woven bamboo and decorated with colorful paints and cloth. Generally, the dance portrays troops riding horses, but another type of Kuda Lumping performance also incorporates trances and magic tricks. When the “possessed” dancer is performing the dance in trance conditions, he can display unusual abilities, such as eating glass and resistance to the effects of whipping or hot coals.
The dance is about the battle of good and evil, with the horse riding characters into a trance where they behave like horses. When the dancer has going into a trance, then they can eat a lamp without feeling hurt. For the mystical part of the performance, the dancers sought the help of their ancestors. They are able to summon the spirit of the dead by reciting a Javanese spell. The good spirit will then select a host from among the dancers, where it can reside during the performance. Whoever is chosen is said to be immune to pain.
There are various beliefs surrounding the origins of kuda lumping. Some believe that the dance is a depiction of the troops of Prince Diponegoro — a national hero known for his battle against the Dutch colonialists — riding horses. Another is that it portrays the Mataram troops in their fight against the Dutch in the 1800s.
There are many ways to perform the kuda lumping dance. Some performances involve a group of men dressed up like soldiers, while others, like the Lestari Budaya group, channel spirits to help the dancers achieve a trance-like state. The dance is widely performed in East Java and Yogyakarta during traditional ceremonies.
The Kuda Lumping ceremony is performed in a village setting, at times of individual rites of passage, harvest festivals or occasions of that kind. The practice as part of what we might call tradition, but also very much part of daily life, changing over time and absorbing influences and aspects of the contemporary world. There’s a sophisticated layering to it.
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