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Indonesian spiritualist fails to tame volcano

world Updated: Oct 27, 2010 13:34 IST
AFP
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The spiritual guardian of Indonesia's Mount Merapi, an old man known as Grandfather Marijan, lost his battle with the volcano when it buried him in a blanket of choking ash.

The bodies of Marijan and around 24 other people were pulled from the fine grey ash on Wednesday as rescue workers scoured the slopes for victims and survivors of Tuesday's massive eruptions.

"At least 25 people were killed, including Mbah (grandfather) Marijan. A reporter and two volunteers were also killed," said Banu Hermawan, a spokesman for Sardjito hospital in nearby Yogyakarta.

From his house beneath the smoking crater, the royally appointed guardian, aged in his 70s, had for years led traditional rituals to appease the volcano's ancient spirits.

Local media reports said his body was found in his house in a position of prayer, suggesting the old gatekeeper had struggled to the end to soothe the violent energies in the mountain's core.

The journalist had reportedly gone to the village to plead with Marijan to flee, after the authorities issued a maximum red alert on Monday suggesting a major eruption could be imminent.

But one search and rescue worker told AFP that Marijan was adamant that he would not leave.

"I'm so used to being at home, it's better for me to just stay here and pray," the rescue worker, Taufiq, quoted him as saying.

The 2,914-metre (9,616-foot) Mount Merapi, which means "Mountain of Fire", is the most active of the 69 volcanoes with histories of eruptions in Indonesia.

Soaring above the rice paddies of central Java about 400 kilometres (250 miles) east of Jakarta, it last erupted in June 2006, killing two people.

On that occasion, Marijan also refused to follow orders to evacuate, saying it was his traditional and spiritual duty to stay.

"If I am asked to evacuate then I would not be honouring my duty" to the sultan of Yogyakarta, he told police, according to an AFP reporter who was there at the time.

He had even trudged closer to the peak, completing two nights of meditation at the sacred spot of Kendit as the volcano rumbled and heaved beneath him.

His rites were a blend of Islamic prayer - the vast majority of Indonesia's 240 million people are Muslim - and rituals coming from Java's pre-Islamic Hindu-Buddhist periods.

Personally appointed by the late sultan of Yogyakarta, Hamengkubuwono IX, Marijan's main duty was to ensure that all traditions associated with the volcano were respected.

These include the annual Labuhan ceremony, where the palace presents offerings to Merapi to renew an alliance between the sultans and the world of spirits residing there.

Local people believe that the 17th-century founder of the present House of Yogyakarta, Panembahan Senapati, once forged an alliance with the mythical Queen of the Southern Sea.

In return for peace, glory and protection, Senapati and his nine subsequent descendants had to wed the queen and present annual offerings to the four abodes of spirits allied to the palace.

These places are Merapi to the north, Parangkusumo beach facing the Indian Ocean to the south, Mount Lawu to the east and the sacred pond of Dlepih Kahyangan to the west.

In Javanese mysticism, the palace in Yogyakarta occupies a central position, while the spirits residing in the four corners protect the sultan and his people.

Merapi's deadliest eruption occurred in 1930 when more than 1,300 people were killed. Heat clouds from another eruption in 1994 killed more than 60 people.

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