Muslims in Java Worship Volcano as Mt. Meru
BY: JONATHAN HEAD
Mt. Meru, Nepal Quartz
May 19, YOGYAKARTA (BBC) Merapi more than just a mountain
Lava gleams at the top of a distant Mt Merapi. Local people say they know what to expect from the volcano. If you believe in the significance of anniversaries, there could still be plenty to fear from Mount Merapi, the volcano on Java which has been spewing out ash and lava for the past three weeks.
Travel a short distance west of the mountain, and you come across the magnificent Buddhist monument of Borobudur. It was built during the eighth and ninth centuries, but its breathtaking reliefs and stupas were hidden from the rest of the world for eight centuries, after a massive eruption by Merapi covered it with ash.
The year was 1006, the last time the volcano really blew its top.
Since then Merapi has been very active, but confined itself to smaller
eruptions that only endanger those living on its upper slopes.
And despite the anniversary, that is all the vulcanologists believe it is
going to do this time.
The millions of people crowded lower down, under Merapi's shadow, are not at
risk from a Krakatoa-style cataclysm. But the mountain is still
unpredictable; its cone is steep and fragile.
I don't know about tomorrow, all I can say is everything is all right today
Mystic defies volcano alert
So the government is trying to persuade the several thousand who live in
higher villages that they must stay in the temporary camps, set up in
schools and public buildings.
It is not having much success. Although all the roads leading up into the
danger zone are now barred by police road-blocks, they invariably allow
local residents to go back to their villages to look after their homes and
When we drove nervously up to the highest village on Merapi's southern
slope, all the men were sitting there, apparently unconcerned by all the
volcanic activity 1,000 metres above them.
We know this mountain, they said. We don't believe it's going to do anything
Most of the women, children and elderly are still hanging on in the camps,
but their patience is wearing thin.
A grandmother and child in a refugee camp in Salam
People are tired of camp life and want to go home
There is a pretty well-oiled relief operation looking after them, but still
they are starting to complain about the food, the cramped sleeping quarters,
and an assortment of ailments afflicting the children. They want to go home.
You would think the experience of a neighbouring village 12 years ago would
counsel more caution. Then there were eruptions on a similar scale to those
of the past three weeks, and they were also ignored by local people.
Sixty died horrible deaths after being engulfed in a scalding cloud of gas
that spewed suddenly out of the crater.
But the local people do not listen to government officials. They listen to
Marijan, the old "gate-keeper" to the volcano who enjoys an intimate
spiritual relationship with Merapi.
He insists there is nothing to worry about, and he has refused official
pleading that he set an example to everyone else and come down from the
Mt Merapi is sacred to the people of central Java
It is seen as a representation of the sacred Mount Meru of [Hinduism], or as the home of more ancient Javanese spirits, and as one of the forces
governing the fortunes of the old royal city of Yogyakarta, along with Ratu
Kidul, the treacherous goddess of the south seas.
The Sultan of Yogyakarta, although a devout Muslim like most of his
subjects, pays homage to these forces in yearly rituals.
Benign or malevolent, they are something people here have lived with for so
long it is difficult for them to take the warnings of the vulcanologists
If Merapi does live up to its reputation for dangerous unpredictability,
there is still a chance that someone will get hurt.