They sacrifice animals in a volcano?
The man threw the chicken high into the air and it flapped, squawking, boldly over the heads of the people waiting with nets and blankets inside the volcano crater. Brave flying indeed, but avoiding the dinner plate for death in an active volcano during Yadnya Kasada is indeed a dilemma. I was back in East Java, after my recent trips to Flores.
It was just getting light at 5:30am and I watched as people threw offerings of vegetables, livestock and money into the large smoking pit, accompanied by the constant roaring of lava bubbling in the bottom. Clouds of sulphurous gas choked your breath, and the people gathered inside the volcano crater knew that one slip on the loose ash would mean a fall to a fiery doom.
Legend of Yadnya Kasada
During Yadnya Kasada, people climb Bromo volcano to re-enact a Majahapit era legend. The legend says that a king and queen remained childless, and so they prayed to the gods of the volcano. The gods responded and granted the couple 25 children. The condition was that the youngest child should be thrown into the volcano as a sacrifice. This would say thank you and also ensure bountiful harvest, prosperity, and relief from the danger of eruption.
Disaster! The wrong place!
Earlier, I rose at 2am and with the film crew, set off in jeeps across the sea of sand to the event. It was much further than I thought and the reason was, it turned out, that we were going to the wrong frickin’ place. On autopilot, the drivers had taken us to the sunrise view point with all the other tourists instead. Worse, we were now blocked in by scores of other jeeps, engines roaring and honking horns. Everyone took a few moments to avert the blame from themselves, and it looked like this was not going to be a good day to watch Yadnya Kasada. Suddenly, a flash of inspiration! Someone suggested commandeering some of the motorbike taxis that are used to take people the last few hundred metres from the road to the mountain top. They agreed to take us to the Hindu temple and so we jumped on and set off.
A terrifying night ride
We rode back down the impossibly steep and winding road, dodging the oncoming jeeps with their arrays of dazzling lights, giant wheels, fenders and corner cutting ways. We slipped and slid across the famous ‘Sea of Sand’, falling off the bikes several times and breathing in the thick clouds of volcanic dust. Eventually, nerves jangling and dirty, we arrived at the temple to see the tail end of the main procession disappearing towards the volcano rim in the half light.
We followed up the hill. People with their faces wrapped in cloth dragged goats, bags of vegetables and relatives through high, narrow sand channels and up embankments. All the time peering through the dust to keep up with the guys in front and punctuated by a sort of music blaring from stalls and speakers. The final staircase was about 300 metres of sandy steps, packed with people shuffling in both directions.
The rim of the volcano was packed with worshippers and I took the chance to jump off the steps and onto the steep sand to finish the climb. It was dangerous, and a slip might have spelled disaster. On one side, certain death in the roaring, bubbling lava, and on the other a steep slope of about 400m with no chance of arresting your fall certainly focused the mind.
Yadnya Kasada ceremony
The people at the top of Bromo were a mixture of local Tenggerese people and other Hindu believers from around Java and Bali, and a good smattering of photographers, journalists and onlookers. Some people were there to make offerings to the volcano, and others were there to catch them which apparently is also good luck! I saw people throw bags of vegetables, money, chickens and goats. Sometimes the offering was thrown high into the air, and sometimes it was simply passed to the waiting catchers. Eventually, I figured out that some of the catchers brought their bounty to waiting family members on the rim, who sat on large piles of produce, and even resold it to new worshippers. This seemed a bit odd to me, but I guess it fits within the Hindu philosophy.
The day leading up to this event was a ceremony where the original events were reanacted by local kids from high school and community groups from Probolinggo, Bali and South Sumatra.
Yadnya Kasada Reflection
Yadnya Kasada is a remarkable event and I don’t really feel my pictures have done it justice. The idea that sacrifice belongs as part of a belief system seems odd until I consider Christmas and Thanksgiving, and then I realise it’s quite popular globally. Looking back now, a week after, it feels like a miasma of action movies. Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Mad Max all spring readily to mind. Bromo is a place where action sports fans can indulge themselves in 4×4 jeeps or trials bikes, and drifting is popular. The idea of staring into an active volcano at such close range is awe inspiring and should not be underestimated. I’ve been up Gunung Kerinci, and Gunung Gede, and still have many more to go!
Bromo-Semeru National Park is a famous location in East Java, and most people fly to Surabaya and then go by road, or cross from Bali on the eastern end of the same road. The park is famous for it’s beauty.
- Outstanding views of the active volcano and it’s surroundings.
- Friendly natural people
- Active conservation management of the area and trash awareness programs
- Mad-max approach to transport in the volcano crater
- Dust, ash and diesel fumes in the sea of sand make walking unpleasant
- Noise from all the vehicles
- Much of the accommodation is basic.
Have you been to Bromo or witnessed Yadnya Kasada? Have you visited East Java and seen magic being practiced? Tell me about it: firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.
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