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Pranatamangsa, the Javanese Agricultural Calendar -


Its Bioclimatological and Sociocultural Function in Developing
Rural Life
N. DALDJOENI
S a t y a w a c a n a University,
Salatiga, Indonesia

Summary

Pranatamangsa, the traditional Javanese calendar, has


not been studied in depth until comparatively recently.
The calendar functions as a practical guide for agricultural
activities for the rural peasants, and was in use in Java
before the arrival o f the Hindus. Its use can be traced back
to the welfare and prosperity o f the oM agricultural
kingdoms in Central Java, such as Old-Mataram, Pafang
and Islam-Mataram. The calendar reflects a significant cor-
relation o f cosmographical, bioclimatoIogieal and socio-
logical aspects of agricultural activities in rural areas,
resulting in a living dialogue between man and his natural
environment.
Pranatamangsa, which means the arrangement o f
seasons, is very suitable for the region around the Merapi-
Merbabu mountain complex in Central Java, where the
wet and dry seasons are o f equal length. A bioclimatologi-
cal view of each season provides' infi)rmation on such
things as the behavioural patterns o f plants, animals, man,
and information on non-living natural resources, enabling
the peasant farmer to forecast likely seasonal deviations.
The rural people are very aware o f seasonal rhythms,
which they believe influence physical health, additional Fig. 3.1. Javanese peasants are agrarian people with two thousand
years of tradition in irrigation agriculture. (Photo credit: WWF/
fobs, plant varieties and land-use patterns. With the John Seidensticker.)
growth o f modern technology in many rural areas, natural
rhythms have been severely modified, and consequently
farmers have tended to neglect the value o f Pranatamang- The region most suited to the Pranatamangsa
sa. This paper suggests that a scientific study o f the tradi- year is that around the Merapi-Merbabu
tional calendar might lead to the derivation o f new mountain complex, which, according to K6ppen's
guidelines for farming activities throughout the year. classification, has an Am climatic type (Daldjoeni,
1982). The old kingdoms of Old-Mataram, Pajang
Historical B a c k g r o u n d and Islam-Mataram in Central Java would have
used the Pranatamangsa as a guide for agricul-
The Javanese peasants are agrarian people (Fig. tural, economic, administrative and military
3.1) with two thousand years of tradition in activities.
irrigation agriculture (van Aartsen, 1953), and In developing the rural communities in Java,
those that live in the former Javanese kingdoms development agencies have to face a number of
follow an agricultural calendar called Pranata- economic and environmental problems. The
mangsa. This calendar has a year o f 365 days, and peasant farmer tends to be bound by traditional
was established by H. M. Susuhunan Paku practices that tie him to his family and village
Buwana VII of Surakarta on 22 June 1855 organization, and as a consequence individual
(Tanojo, 1962). Thus by the Pranatamangsa, life-styles and innovative agricultural practices are
1982 is the year 127. Pranatamangsa means 'the difficult to establish. Furthermore, peasant activi-
arrangement o f seasons' and was known as such ties depend on the rhythm of the seasons, and a
by the Javanese peasants long before immigrants peasant farmer will have a life-style that is geared
arrived from India (van Hien, 1922). to these natural rhythms. Consequently, he will

Vol. 4 (1984) Supplement No. 7 15


be reluctant to take the initiative of breaking which is opposite the wet rice harvest period
away from these rhythms, and will be resigned (panen--19 April to 12 May).
to bad years as part o f nature and fate (Kaslan The months of the Pranatamangsa year are
Tohir, 1953; Mennicke, 1948). named according to their numerical sequence as
However, with the advent of modern tech- kasa, karo, katelu, kapat etc. through to kasa-
nology and the opening of rural areas, peasant puluh, which respectively means first month,
farmers are increasingly being exposed to artificial second, third, fourth etc. through to tenth. The
fertilizers, new seeds, weather forecasting and eleventh (desta) and the twelfth (sada) b o t h are
other advances that tend to make traditional derived from Hindu season names. It is possible
practices appear redundant, although it is unlikely that these two last months of the solar year were
that the old beliefs will disappear in the im- taboo months for agricultural activities after the
mediate future. Just one bad season or crop harvest time (Soebardi, 1965). For the months as
failure can be very depressing for the rural people, stated above, Hindu names are also available.
and make them revert to traditional beliefs These are Kartika, Pusa, Manggasri, Sitra etc. In
(Herjona, 1968; Mennicke, 1948). There is little addition, every month is coordinated with a
d o u b t that attempts at modernization must take special star constellation such as Lurnbung
careful note o f existing practices and beliefs, and (Crux), Banyakangrem (Scorpio), Waluku
the traditions associated with Pranatamangsa (Orion), Wuluh (Pleyades), Wulanjarngirim (Cen-
cannot be ignored in the development process. tauri), and Bimasakti (Milkyway). The total
For example, Lee (1957) has shown the great number of the stars is ten because the eleventh
importance of climate in rural life, especially its and the twelfth are the same as the third and the
influence on spiritual life, and this importance is second.
reflected in the development o f the Pranatamang- Finally, the calendar also refers to the course
sa calendar. o f the sun, which in turn determines the various
movements and reactions of the plants and
animals o f the earth.

The Cosmographical Background of the Pranata-


mangsa Calendar
The Pranatamangsa Calendar and Bioclimatology
At first glance, the Pranatamangsa appears to
be a very complicated and confusing calendar, The seasonal rhythms described by the Pranata-
because the number of days in each month varies mangsa calendar are closely related to certain
from 23 to 43. However, on more careful monthly bioclimatological characteristics. For
examination, the calendar reveals an astonishing example, kasa (first month) is Sotya murca ing
symmetry based on cosmology. The first six embanan i.e., a jewel (a dew drop) falling from its
months have 41, 23, 24, 25, 27 and 43 days, and setting. To karo (second month) is applied the
the sequence is reversed in the following six phrase Bantala rengka (the cracked soil), for
months, with the exception of the eighth m o n t h kanem (sixth month) Rasa rnulya kasuc~n (a
which usually has 26 in place o f 27 days. Such a feeling of holiness) because the whole of green
year is called a c o m m o n year or wuntu. If the nature (9 November to 21 December) stimulates
year is a leap year, the eighth month will have 27 a peaceful mind. The following seventh m o n t h
days, and is called wastu. A common year with (kapitu) is characterized as Wisa kdntir ing maruta
365 days can be divided into four main seasons: (flying poison blown by the wind), which
katiga or dry season (88 days), labuh or beginning describes a period of disease, dangerous river
of rainy season (95 days), rendeng or wet season floods etc. (22 December to 2 February).
(95 days) and rnarOng or ending of rainy season The Javanese peasant organizes his agricultural
(86 days). activities throughout the year in relation to these
The year can also be divided into four seasons seasons, and he believes that if he departs from
as follows. Terang (season with clear sky, 82 traditional seasonal patterns, his work will fail
days), semplah (season of despair, 99 days) and either totally or partially. Based on experience of
pangareparep (season of full hope, 98 days). The previous generations, the people attach great
symmetry in the calendar is demonstrated by the importance to the traditional horoscope divining
period of scarcity (pacelik--12 August to 25 manual (pdtangan prirnbon) to determine the like-
August) which is opposite the river flood period ly success or failure of their proposed activities.
(ban/it--3 February to 1 March) and the disease Although some of the taboos appear to be
period (lelara--13 October to 9 November) illogical, others are easy to understand. For

16 The Environmentalist
example, the taboo which prohibits the removal The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Socio-
of dwelling places during the third month katelu cultural Functions of the Pranatamangsa Calendar
(because of a risk o f housebreaking or fire) can be
explained by the fact that katelu falls mainly in
September which is hot and dry (hence the fire From the above account, it should be clear
risk) and is also a period when flood and water how the Pranatamangsa calendar influences rural
are scarce and housebreaking is more likely to activities, and there is no doubt that it has many
occur (Tanojo, 1962). advantages as far as rural people are concerned.
However, it does have its negative side, in that
peasant farmers tend to be ruled by the related
seasonal rhythms, and appear reluctant to break
away from them. This makes the introduction
Economic Life and the Seasonal Rhythm and adoption o f new techniques a problem with
the more traditionally inclined individuals, as
many of the new techniques are in conflict with
April, May and June (about the tenth, eleventh a passive acceptance of seasonal rhythms. The
and twelfth month of the Pranatamangsa calen- agricultural emphasis of the calendar reflects the
dar) constitute a three-month period in which the order of the elements o f n a t u r e - - m a r u t a (air)
rural c o m m u n i t y earns 75% o f its income. Debts agni (fire), tirta (water) and bantala (earth). Each
are repaid following a period o f borrowing from of the four elements constitutes the particular
October to January. The end of borrowing in character of the quarter period concerned. For
February coincides with the beginning of a period example, air dominates the dry period, and water
of water scarcity, which precedes the period of the rainy period.
hope. The latter is announced by the calling of It is interesting to note that even in the period
tree crickets, which is an indication that the rainy o f despair (semptah), people maintain the urge to
season is coming to an end. survive, but the very fact that such a period exists
Although the economic life of the rural com- at all mitigates against the successful implementa-
munity is closely related to the wet and dry tion o f plans, especially if the plans destroy tradi-
seasons, there will never be perfect correlation tional beliefs in the Pranatamangsa. The following
in any one year. Nevertheless, the seasons do examples show how conflict situations can arise.
influence the mental attitudes o f the rural people, 9 With the introduction o f new seeds and ferti-
and on the whole they tend to remain optimistic. lizers, more than two crops can be harvested in
This is reflected in the Javanese proverb ana dina any one year. The Pranatamangsa caters for just
ana sega (every day brings its own food) and two harvests .... the wet rice plant and the dry
saben bocah nggawa rejekind dOwO-ddwd (every plant.
child brings its own luck). This firm belief in the 9 In periods of drought, the introduction of
inevitability of the success or failure of rural irrigation confuses the peasant farmer who is
activities means that there is often a total lack of mentally adjusted to anticipated hardships.
fear for the future, and under these circum- 9 Modern education emphasizes the ecological
stances, logical planning is difficult to implement. aspects of agricultural development and tends to
In Java the wet season lasts from November to overlook or ignore the contribution of the Prana-
April and the dry season from June to September. tamangsa calendar.
According to the Pranatamangsa calendar the dry 9 The failure of some scientific predictions on
period (88 days long) is recognized as extending climatic trends or crop yields can diminish a
from 22 June until 17 September, and these dates peasant farmer's faith in modern methods of
are based on the position of the sun in relation to agriculture.
the horizon. The calendar recognizes the impor-
tance of September as the driest month o f the
year when soil moisture is at its lowest, and that Conclusion
period is called satO sumber (drying springs). In
the following period (from 18 September to 13 This study of the Pranatamangsa calendar has
October) the first rains fall in Central Java, and shown how t h e cosmographical, meteorological
the soil moisture starts to be replenished. The and bioclimatological aspects of the calendar
peak in soil moisture is achieved in January, a influence the life o f the peasant farmer, and link
month known by the corrupted Javanese pro- him to his environment. Any attempts to intro-
nunciation ]an-ana-warih which means 'just enough duce modern farming techniques should take note
water'. of the influence the calendar has on traditional

Vol. 4 (1984) Supplement No. 7 17


life-styles and beliefs, and rather than push these Kaslan Tohir, A. (1953) Sekitar masalah pertanian rakyat, Pem-
bangunan, Jakarta, pp. 1-16.
aside and reject them, the developers should build Lee, H. K. (1957) Iklim dan perkembangan ekonomi di daerah
on them and help the rural people to undergo a tropis, Jayasakti, Jakarta, pp. 20-32.
smooth transition to the use of modern farming Mennicke, C. A. (1948) Sociale Psychologic, Erven J. Bijleveld,
Utrecht, pp. 110-119.
techniques. Soebardi, R. (1965) Calendrical traditions in indonesia. In
Mafahah Ilmuilmu Sastra Indonesia, Vol. 111/1, Jakarta, pp.
49-62.
References Tanojo, R. (1962) Primbon Jawa (Sabda pandita ratu), Toko Buku
Pelajar, Surakarta, pp. 3 6 - 4 5 .
Aartsen, J. P. van (1953) Ekonomi Pertanian lnaonesia, Pemban- Daldjoeni, N. (1982)Pokok-pokok klimatologi, Alumni, Bandung,
gunan, Jakarta, pp. 148-150. pp. 64 72.
Hien, H. A. van (1922) De Javaansche Geestenwereld, Kolff, Herjona, A. (1968) Unit daerah ker/a sebagai salah satu method
Batavia, pp. 310-355. PMD, Karya Dharma Praja Mukti, Samarang, pp. 3 5 - 4 5 .

18 The Environmentalist