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The Origin of Erau

East Kalimantan - Indonesia
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Tenggarong is the capital of Kutai Kartanegara regency, East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Formerly, Tenggarong city was the capital of Kutai Kartanegara Sultanate. The capital was called Tepian Pandan. Historically, the name of capital had been changed into Tangga Arung (literally means house of king) by Kutai Sultan, Aji Muhammad Muslihuddin (known as Aji Imbut). In its development, people of Kutai preferred to combine these two words Tangga Arung to Tenggarong. There, develops a popular legend called “The Origin of Erau”. The legend portrays the circumstances of Kutai Karta Negara Ing Martadipura Kingdom (13th century), which situated in Tepian Baru or Kutai Lama. The legend narrates a man called Aji Batara Agung Dewa Sakti, a descent of god, skilful, and having handsome face. As the god‘s descent, he should be treated differently, unlike other ordinary people. Therefore, he enjoyed careful treatment of royalties in Jaitan Layar village. In certain time, the royalties conducted set of ritual ceremonies for Aji Batara Agung Dewa Sakti. The ceremony is called Erau[1].   

Once upon time, in a slope of mountain in East Kalimantan, lay a village called Jaitan Layar. There, lived a kingdom official accompanied by his wife. The couple had been married for several years ago, unfortunately they had no baby. However, the desperation never crept into their mind. They isolated themselves from families and people, continuously prayed to their God for giving them a child instead.    

In a dark night, when the couple slept, they were startled by a deafening sound emerging from their house yard. All of sudden, the dark night turned into bright as if the day dawned. The couple woke up, peeped through window, and looked at the house yard astonishingly. “My husband, go and check what‘s happened out there please” the wife said.

With his bravery, the husband went outside where he found a golden stone in front of his house. Forced by feeling of wonder, the husband cracked the stone and found a baby lying inside. Covered by a golden blanket, the baby held an egg in his right hand and a golden kris (traditional weapon) in the left hand.

The husband became more astonished as seven gods standing before him. One of them said “Thank to your god, your deepest wish has been fulfilled”. “This baby is the descent of God. Don‘t bring him up vainly” advised the god. “It needs special treatment. Don‘t put it on usual mat, but have it lain on the lap of husband‘s relatives by turns for 40 days and nights. For bathing, avoid using usual water, but instead, have the water scented by bloom and bestrewn with roses“. “If the baby has become a lad, don‘t let his legs stepping on the earth before conducting Erau ceremony. In the rite of Tijak Tanah (stepping on the earth), his legs should step on head of living human and of deceased. His legs also should touch head of living buffalo and of dead. If the lad wants to go to river for taking bath, you should perform Erau Mandi ke Tepian ceremony (taking bath)”. The husband was very delighted at the baby. “Thanks God, I will obey all Your commands” said the husband.

At once, the gods disappeared from the husband‘s sight. He took the baby forthwith inside and told the story, with great joy, to his wife. The baby had been brought to him on such and such a night. Like the husband, the wife was very happy and became more after looking at the lovely baby, which was looked like a moon, like of whom was not to be found far and wide. It would be held in strong feeling of love and affection by whoever saw him. 

Being hungry, the baby cried at once afterwards. The husband got confused since the baby could not take wife‘s breast milk. Burning lot of incenses, strewing yellow rice to the floor, the husband prayed to the god, expecting his wife‘s breast could produce milk. Soon after he asked, the couple harked a voice originating from heaven saying to the wife Nyai JaitanLayar, “Wipe your breast by your hand many times till spouted milk”.  

Hearing the voice, the wife wiped immediately her right breast three times. Unexpectedly, spurted aromatic milk as if it was musk and civet scent. The baby, then, took the breast ravenously. Both were very happy knowing that the God-descent baby finally could quench its thirst.

Every day, the couple took care of the baby carefully. Obeying the instruction of gods, they bathed the baby with flowered water. Three days after, as its umbilical cord had broken, the villagers of Jaitan Layar became cheerful and celebrated the event by shooting a fire seven times to the sky. For 40 days and nights, the baby was laid tenderly on the lap of villagers by turns. The baby then named as Aji Batara Agung Dewa Sakti.  

Days after days, nights after nights, time passed on. Aji Batara Agung Dewa Sakti reached 5 years old. He was impatient to play outside house, take bath in river, and stroll around the village as other children in his age did. Being trapped in his house made him bored.

The husband then remembered the advice of the God when he received the baby. The couple and the villagers of Jaitan Layar prepared arrangements for the Erau ceremony in which the rite of Tijak Tanah and Mandi ke Tepian would be performed. The Erau ceremony was conducted lavishly for 40 days and nights. Following the god‘s instruction, the couple also slaughtered several buffalos and prepared some corpses as the requirements that should be met in the Erau ceremony.    

In the ceremony, which was attended by Jaitan Layar community and its surroundings, Aji‘s leg was put on the heads of buffalos and corpses. Covered with yellow cloth, Aji Batara Agung was accompanied to the river bank where he was bathed. His two legs were stepped on iron and stone. Afterwards, the villagers, women and men took bath in the river. Thereupon, Aji Batar Agung was returned to his house, and wore with lavish cloth. Enlivened by song of Gajah Perwata orchestra and sound of Sapu Jagat cannon, he was brought to the village yard in the end of procession.      

Abruptly, a powerful sound coming from the yard, echoed across the village, and gradually died away, followed by patchy rain. The soft light caught the yard, scattered cloud rolled, covered the villagers as if it tried to protect them from the light of the sun. At the meantime, Aji Batara was laid on the brightly coloured rugs spread on the ground. His teeth were then grinded before he was fed with betel leaves. Several foods and drinks were provided, various performances were staged, and animal competition was also held. Men and women, who took part in the ceremony, danced alternately. The events transpired for seven days continuously. At the end, all decorations, utensils, and musical instruments used in the ceremony were distributed to the poor villagers.   

Before taking leave, the guests coming from neighbouring villages praised Aji Batara Agung Dewa Sakti. “None can surpass his beauty and outrank his splendour since he is one of the god‘s descendants” said one of the guests.    

The happiness flowed on and years passed on. From a boy he became a handsome youth, intelligent, and clever. One day, he would be the first king of Kutai Kartanegara. When the due time came, he was crowned as the king of Kutai Kingdom (1300-1325 C.E). The process of coronation was enlivened with the lavish Erau Ceremony. As the first king, Aji Batara was considered as the ascendant of the Kutai Kings.

Getting to his advanced age, the King married a beautiful princess named Putri Karang Melenu who was also believed as the one of God‘s descendants. Initially, she was a small worm found by Hulu Dusun officer in Melanti village nearby Mahakam River stream. One day, when chopped firewood, he was amazed by a small worm circling around a block of the wood and gazing at him with tearful eyes. Softly, the officer took and kept it in his house.   

Time rolled, the worm grew bigger and bigger until became a dragon eventually. Despite its big size, the dragon was domesticated and never left the house. One night, the officer met a beautiful daughter in his dream. “My father, don‘t be afraid of me, permit me to leave this house and this village. Make me stairs so that I can slither down” said the daughter. At once, he woke up and told the story to his wife Babu Jaruma.  

In the day that followed, the officer was busy at making stairs from lampong wood. Its steps were made of bamboo tied firmly with lembiding roots. After finishing his job, he heard sound of his daughter who met him in his dream. “When I step down to the earth through the stairs, come and follow me. Bring some sesame and have it burnt, take yellow rice and have it sprinkled around me. If I slither to a river and swim, follow my spume” said the sound. Followed by the officer, the dragon then slithered down and left the house

When the dragon arrived at a river, it swam seven times from down to upstream, floated to the river bank where it moves left and right three times until it dove. At the moment, torrential rain pattered, water splashed, fierce wind blew, and thunder rumbled. The canoe used by the couple almost swamped by the wave. Fortunately, they could paddle the canoe safely, crossing across to the river bank.     

Soon after, the weather changed and cleared up. The couple wondered whither the dragon went. Suddenly, they saw a strange occurrence as the Mahakam River was fully loaded by froth. Colourful lights like rainbow gleamed and poured the froth, emitted ray of light. The couple came closer and got surprised as they found a gong (metal percussion instrument) with something inside. They wondered about the gong and paddled the canoe near to the gong. “Look my husband” said Babu Jaruma, “Seemingly, it is a baby” the wife yelled loudly pointing to the baby. The husband approached the gong and took the baby. The couple took after the baby as if he was their child. After three days, baby‘s umbilical cord was broken. She, then, named Putri Karang Melenu.

The time passed on, Putri Karang Melanu became a beautiful daughter. The God united her with Aji Batara Agung, which married her later on. The couple had a son named Aji Batara Agung Paduka Nira. 

The Erau ceremony and Mengulur Naga ceremony, then, held in every coronation of new King of Kutai Kartanegara as a commemoration of Aji Batara Agung and the birth of Putri Karang Melanu. In addition, a hall for art performance, named Puri Karang Melanu Hall, was built in 2003. Erau ceremony was conducted usually by royalties, inviting the courtiers and village leaders. The duration of ceremony was dependant upon the Kingdom‘s ability, at least 7 days continuously and maximum 40 days. However, the ceremony was stopped for several years after the end of Kutai Kartanegara Kingdom in 1960. By 1971, Erau, later on known as Festifal Erau, was held on the initiative of Achmad Dahlan, Kutai regent to celebrate the Tenggarong City Day. Ever since, the ceremony becomes an annual agenda. In September 28th, 2003, the Erau was collaborated with Zapin international Festival to celebrate the 221st of Tenggarong City Day.

Among art performances and traditional sports exhibited were Menjamu Benua, Merangin Malam, Mendirikan Tiang Ayu, Upacara Penabalan, Pelas (Art exhibition of Kutai Kartanegara Palace), Seluak Mudik, Mengulur Naga, and Belibur. In addition, the ceremony was enlivened by Dayak arts such as Papaer Maper, Kuangkay, Mumutn, Ngayau, Lemakan Balei, Uman Undad, Pasek Truit, Erau Anak (Penhos). Malay arts of seashore region such as Tarsul and Badendang also performed in the Erau Ceremony. Hundreds of spectators usually wait for Fire works that light the Mahakam River.

Nowadays, not only had the ceremony been taken as a facility for preserving cultural heritage by the East Kalimantan province government, but also for introducing the tourist sites of Kuati Kartanegara. As stated by Syaukani, Kutai regent, the Erau is the thankful expression of Kutai citizens for the development. As it is expected to be a positive attempt in exploring tourism potential of Kutai, the Erau is included in Tourism National calendar.  


References :

  • Adapted from Edhi Arianto. Asal Mula Erau. Yogyakarta: Balai Kajian dan Pengembangan Budaya Melayu bekerja sama dengan Adicita Karya Nusa, 2005.
  • http://forum.webgaul.com/archive/thread/t-3710-Legenda-Nusantara.html
  • www.kutaikartanegara.com
  • http://www.kompas.com/kompas-cetak/0111/17/daerah/jual26.htm


[1] Erau in Kutai language derives from eroh which literally means state of noisy, happiness, crowd, and loudness. In the simplest meaning, erau or eroh is set of parties or ceremonies conducted by groups of people for special purposes and goals which could be for religious, entertainment, or ritual.

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