In modern Java there are essentially three calendar systems in use:
– Western Calendar, with its 365-day years of twelve months and fifty-two 7-day weeks. This is the dominant calendar for modern life, used for all types of commerce, intra-national and international communications.
– Islamic Calendar, whose 12 months of 29 or 30 days are based on a lunar cycle. This system is used to mark days of religious importance for Javanese and other Muslims in this overwhelmingly Islamic nation, including the beginning and end of the fasting month, the Prophet’s birthday, the Ascension, and so on.
– Javanese Calendar. Included here are the Saka Calendar (which more or less parallels the Islamic calendar), and several more uniquely Javanese cycles (Pasaran, Wetonan, Pawukon, Mangsa) which are not directly related to the Saka, but in many cases tied in with it in interesting ways. As a whole, this is the primary time-keeping system for all matters having cultural, historical, and metaphysical (as opposed to “religious”) significance for the Javanese.
This ancient cycle comes from a time when most of the Javanese population lived in tightly knit villages clusters which converged at a market center (pasar) where the cluster’s inhabitants gathered once every five days to buy and sell. Itinerant merchants linked groups of five village clusters together into marketing networks, moving to a different market on each day of the five-day cycle. On Legi they would trade at village market A, on Pahing they would move to market B, and so on. The remnants of this system are still visible today in cities such as
Surakarta, where Pasar Legi, Pasar Pon, and Pasar Kliwon now refer to municipal districts that were once part of a rotating market arrangement.
The Javanese 5-day Week
As rotating market networks have long been replaced by permanent daily market centers, the pasaran week now has little significance on its own. Although many people still believe that each pasaran day imparts certain general characteristics to those born under it, more often this 5-day week is combined with the 7-day Western/Arabic week to form the single most widespread divinatory tool in Javanese culture, as well as the most common method of determining the proper time for the holding of important rituals: the Wetonan cycle.
The phenomenon of coincidence (as in the literal meaning, “to coincide”) is one of the central pillars of Javanese aesthetics. Javanese gamelan music, wherein individual instrumental melodies diverge from each other and then converge again upon important structural tones, is an obvious example. Similarly in the Wetonan calendar cycle, the periodic coincidence of two independent time-keeping systems has a significance whose source is far deeper within the spiritual fabric of the culture than mere surface intellectualization. First, here are the Javanese names for the seven days in the Western or Arabic 7-day week:
|WESTERN/ARABIC 7-DAY WEEK|
Superimposing this 7-day week with the 5-day pasaran week, we get the following series, which repeats itself ad infinitum every thirty-five days:
|35-Day WETONAN CYCLE
Combining 5-day and 7-day Weeks
|1. Senin Legi
2. Selasa Pahing
3. Rebo Pon
4. Kemis Wagé
5. Jumat Kliwon6. Setu Legi
7. Minggu Pahing
8. Senin Pon
9. Selasa Wagé
10. Rebo Kliwon
|11. Kemis Legi
12. Jumat Pahing
13. Setu Pon
14. Minggu Wagé
15. Senin Kliwon16. Selasa Legi
17. Rebo Pahing
18. Kemis Pon
19. Jumat Wagé
20. Setu Kliwon
|21. Minggu Legi
22. Senin Pahing
23. Selasa Pon
24. Rebo Wagé
25. Kemis Kliwon26. Jumat Legi
27. Setu Pahing
28. Minggu Pon
29. Senin Wagé
30. Selasa Kliwon
|31. Rebo Legi
32. Kemis Pahing
33. Jumat Pon
34. Setu Wagé
35. Minggu Kliwon
|Days are numbered for convenience only. Javanese recognize no fixed starting day.|
This cycle makes up the most typical Javanese “months” (there are others, as will be explained). It has no fixed starting or ending point, and successive groups of thirty-five days are neither assigned names nor grouped into a Javanese “year”. If you were born, say, on Kemis Wagé, then every thirty-five days the wheels of the 5- and 7-day weeks click together again on Kemis Wagé and it is your Javanese “birthday” (your weton).
This cycle figures prominently in a great number of traditional divinitory systems, from predicting human character, fate, and vocational talents, to determining compatible partners in marriage, gambling strategies, and auspicious days for practically any activity you can think of. It also figures in the timing of many ritual meals (slametan). Even spirits and devils are said to have their favorite days for carousing, the eve of Jumat Kliwon being the most popular!
This 365-day cycle is divided into twelve “seasons” (mangsa) of uneven length, whose names simply translate as the ordinal numbers 1-12. It was once widely used to time the planting and harvesting of various crops, but now seems to have mostly fallen out of use. The cycle begins near the Summer Solstice, towards the middle of the dry season in Java. One author gives the corresponding dates of the Western calendar as follows:
The Javanese Seasonal Cycle
|Jun 23||1. Mangsa Kaso||41||The dry season; leaves are falling from the trees; the ground is withered and arid, bereft of water “like a jewel that has come free of its setting.”|
|Aug 3||2. Mangsa Karo||23||The dry season; parched earth lies in hard clumps; the mango and cotton trees begin to bloom.|
|Aug 26||3. Mangsa Katelu||24||The dry season; spice roots are harvested; the gadung tree begins to bear fruit.|
|Sep 19||4. Mangsa Kapat||25||Rain begins to fall, as “tears well up in the soul”, marking the end of the dry season; birds are singing and busily constructing nests. The Labuh Season is at hand.|
|Oct 14||5. Mangsa Kalima||27||The rainy season, sometimes with fierce winds and flooding; mangoes are ripe; snakes are driven from their nests; “a fountain of gold falls across the earth”.|
|Nov 11||6. Mangsa Kanem||43||The rainy season; lightning strikes and there are landslides; but it is also the season of many fruit.|
|Dec 23||7. Mangsa Kapitu||43||The rainy season is at its peak; birds are hard pressed to find food, and in many areas there is severe flooding.|
|Feb 4/5||8. Mangsa Kawolu||27||The rainy season; rice fields are growing and the cat is looking for his mate; grubs and larvae abound.|
|Mar 2||9. Mangsa Kasanga||25||The rainy season; rice fields are turning yellow; “happy news is spreading”; water is stored within the earth, the wind blows in one direction, and many fruits are ripe.|
|Mar 27||10. Mangsa Kasadasa||24||Rain yet falls, but is diminishing; the wind rustles and blows hard; the air is still chilly. The Mareng Season is at hand.|
|Apr 20||11. Mangsa Desta||23||The dry season has begun; farmers are harvesting the rice fields; birds tend their young with affection, as if they were “jewels of the heart”.|
|May 13||12. Mangsa Saddha||41||The dry season; water begins to recede, “vanishing from its many places”.|
As a divination tool, the Pranata Mangsa is used in almost precisely the same way as Western Sun-signs to predict character traits of persons born during that time period . In this way, it is perhaps the closest thing the Javanese have to a horoscope system related to astronomical factors, albeit indirectly (i.e., the weather patterns produced by the Earth’s revolution about the Sun).
However, it is still unclear how widespread this system was in the past, and very few people seem to know much about it today. At least one modern practitioner of this system uses the wetonan and pawukon cycles in conjunction with the pranata mangsa, synthesizing the various interpretations to give a more specific description of a client’s character and fate.
In each year there are 12 lunar months, called wulan. Each Javanese Saka month has either 29 or 30 days, and roughly parallels the Islamic Hijriah calendar.
|12 Months of the Saka Calendar||Days|
4. Bakda Mulud
5. Jumadil Awal
6. Jumadil Akhir
* depending on whether year is 354 or 355 days