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“Hajat Laut”, the Annual Sea Offering Ritual Festivities at Pangandaran
During the last Monday or Thursday of the Javanese month of Syura or Muharam in the Islamic calendar, the coast of Pangandaran in the Ciamis Regency of West Java comes alive with vibrant festivities, as fishermen in the area gather for the annual traditional ritual ceremony known as “Hajat Laut”.
Literally translated meaning “Sea Fiesta”, the ceremony is a symbol of gratitude of the Pangandaran coastal communities for God’s generosity in providing them their daily catch through a traditional ceremony of sea offerings. Aside from expressing gratitude, the rituals are also held to pray for God’s grace to protect fishermen from any harm in the open ocean, as well as pray for a better harvest.
During the ceremony, fishermen dress up their boats with colorful decorations and buntings. Various traditional art performances and folk musical shows also highlight the fiesta, presenting their own unique entertainment for participants and spectators. Various contests such as the Panjat Pinang or climbing the slippery palm tree pole, fishing competitions, boat decorations, and Duck catching races are also held to add to the festive mood of the event. The ceremony also includes an interesting traditional parade of Helaran and Kirab Dongdang, in which all offerings are paraded along the coastline, carried to designated boats.
The pinnacle of the entire sequence in the ceremony is the Larung Sesaji where all offerings are pushed to sea and presented to God and the ruler of the ocean. Several specially decorated boats carrying all kinds of offerings that include a buffalo’s and a goat’s head, fruits, assortments of food, various traditional cookies and snacks, as well as clothes are simultaneously cast off from shore.
Following behind are tens of fishermen boats accompanying the main group of boats carrying the offerings. Upon reaching the designated spot, one by one the offerings are then carefully placed on the water until they drift away and become submerged in the deep sea. These festivities usually close with the traditional Wayang Golek or Wooden Puppet play, which lasts the whole night.
The entire ceremony takes places near the Batu Layar waters, approximately 5 nautical miles off the coast of the East Pangandaran Beach.
The “Hajat Laut” ceremony is closely related to the legend of Nyi Roro Kidul the mythical Queen of the Southern Seas who is believed by local communities to rule the entire southern coast of the island of Java and the Indian Ocean to its south. It is said that the powerful queen will protect fishermen as they venture far into the ocean. Hence in return, the fishermen annually send their offerings to Nyi Roro Kidul, the beautiful Queen of the Southern Seas.