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Gunungan Symbol in the Indonesia G20 Summit: The Origin and Its Philosophical Meaning

In 2022 we saw leaders from 20 countries meet and discuss international issues related to economics or finance, health, energy, food security, conflicts between Russia and Ukraine, climate change, and other global issues. As we know that the G20 has a major impact on the world economy because it represents more than 60% of the world's population, 75% of global trade, and 80% of the world's GDP.

The G20 was established in 1999 to allow the world's most developed nations to discuss policies and to minimize any risk to international financial stability. This year's G20 summit is the most challenging ever. The pandemic impacted every nation in the world; Russia and Ukraine conflict has resulted in many Western countries taking sides. This conflict's effect is the energy and food crises, causing high inflation in many countries. Inflation occurs not only in Western countries but also in developing Asian countries. There has been no sign that the conflict will come to an end until now.

On the contrary, we can see that the world community is paying the price for this mess. The global pandemic has affected every aspect of society, from health and education to international trade. At the same time, gaps in countries' capacities to address the crisis continue to prevent the world from fully controlling the common problems and concerns facing us right now.

With all these international factors at play, it is Indonesia's turn to bring together the twenty most developed countries in the world, all of which are part of the problems mentioned above. The intent and goals of this summit are to identify ways of mutual development and sustainability while allowing for adaptability to changing environments.

Recognition for the importance of inclusive collaboration among major developed countries and emerging economies around the world has always been the core purpose of the G20.

G20 Summit in Indonesia

The G20 Summit under the Indonesian Presidency carries the theme "Recover Together, Recover Stronger". Through this theme, Indonesia wants to invite the whole world to work together, support each other to recover together and grow stronger and more sustainable.

Understanding the challenges and the need for collective action, Indonesia focuses on three main pillars for its G20: Global Health Architecture, Sustainable Energy Transition, and Digital Transformation. Through these pillars, Indonesia will continue to ensure fair and impartial access to Covid-19 vaccines, promoting sustainable and inclusive economic development through Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises' participation and digital economy. While also maintaining to continue improving the collective capacity to secure shared prosperity among nations through various reform efforts in global taxation, stronger cooperation in fighting corruption, deepening infrastructure financing, and pushing for a more democratic and representative international collaboration.

When opening the G20 Summit Tuesday (15/11/2022), President Joko Widodo firmly asked for an end to the war. In his speech, Jokowi said that the G20 country is responsible for the world's citizens. "Responsibility means we have to stop the war. If the war doesn't stop, it will be difficult for the world to move forward. We shouldn't split the world into two factions. We can't allow another world war to happen.

Indonesia as president of the G20, also encourages digital transformation. The digital economy is the future of the world economy which can become a pillar of resilience during a pandemic. The digital economy has contributed at least 15.5 per cent of the global gross domestic product (GDP). For this reason, digital transformation continues to be encouraged as part of efforts to accelerate global recovery.

There are three main focuses in digital transformation carried out. First is equality of digital access. Currently, there are 2.9 billion people in the world who are not connected to the internet. That includes 73 per cent of the population in less developed countries.

The second focus is digital literacy. President Jokowi said digital literacy is a must, not just a choice. G20 countries should ensure that digital literacy is affordable for all people so that they can participate in the economy in the future. For this reason, the G20 must be able to immediately strengthen cooperation in strengthening digital capacity for developing countries.

The third focus is on a secure digital environment. Hoaxes and cyberbullying can divide unity and threaten democracy. Data leaks that occur as a result of cyber crimes can potentially harm the world economy. Therefore, we must guarantee personal digital security and privacy protection.

In the health sector, digital transformation is a priority issue discussed by the G20 countries. Member countries have agreed on the importance of a digital-based travel certificate system for health. This system is needed to facilitate the movement of international travellers in a pandemic situation.

Gunungan as a logo in the G20

When we pay attention to this year's G20 events in the news, we see the G20 logo in many places and occasions. This logo is certainly normal for Indonesians. However, this logo certainly still needs to be understood and explained to foreigners, including some of my students here. The G20 Indonesia logo is taken from one of the important characters from the Wayang Kulit, or puppet shadow performance, called Gunungan.

Gunungan is a conical or triangular structure inspired by the shape of a mountain. The Gunungan (from gunung= mountain), also called Kayonan or Kayon (wood or forest), represents both the cosmic mountain and the Javanese Tree of Life, the Kalpataru tree.

The shape of a cone or mountain in Javanese building style, temples, traditional food and offerings.

Let's look more closely at various elements of Javanese culture. We can find the shape of a cone or mountain in Javanese building styles, the building shapes of the Borobudur, Prambanan and all other temples, the form of ritual offerings, the cone-shaped yellow rice dish known as tumpeng, presented at celebrations or other important events in Indonesia. In general, this shape does represent a mountain.

In the life of the Javanese people, the mountain is considered very important and sacred. Volcanoes in Java provide fertility to the soil so that the Javanese people can meet their food needs from their agricultural products. On the other hand, Java volcanoes often erupt and impact the lives of the Javanese people. Therefore, the mountain is then highly respected with various rituals to give thanks and maintain harmony between nature and humans.

Gunungan ini Wayang Kulit Performance

Gunungan can be found in Wayang Kulit's performances, where this character plays a very important role. Wayang Kulit is a traditional form of puppet-shadow play in Java and Bali. This classical performance was known to be developed before the 10th century. UNESCO declared Wayang Kulit a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003.

Indonesian people, especially Javanese people, are proud of the wayang performances. Wayang's performance tells us about various human life problems and humanity. Wayang stories can be used to search for values because there are multiple teachings and ethical values from different religions and philosophical and ethical systems.

A wayang performance is used for entertainment, guidance, and social order. Many scenes in Wayang are for entertainment and to convey messages of humanity. The stories in Wayang have a philosophical meaning. When we look closely, wayang performances describe the philosophy of human life, from the process of birth to death.

More than just a puppet performance, Wayang Kulit is traditionally used as a medium for reflection on the spiritual spirit of the gods. Wayang comes from the word "Ma Hyang", meaning a journey towards the land of spirituality. It also said that Wayang originated from a Javanese word meaning shadow.

The main stories of Wayang are sourced from the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, which contain Hindu philosophy from India but have been absorbed and adapted into Javanese culture or Indonesian culture。

The Function of Gunungan in Wayang Kulit Performance

In Wayang's performance, Gunungan is a special figure and has many functions in wayang performances. First, in the standard function, Gunungan is used to open and close a Wayang performance. Before the puppet is played, the Gunungan is stuck in the middle of the screen, leaning slightly to the right. This position means that the performance has not yet started and means that the world has not yet been told. After playing, Gunungan is removed and lined up on the right.

Second, Gunungan is used as a sign of changing plays/story stages. In wayang performances, Gunungan represents symbols of life in the universe, especially the movement towards a new phase of life. A puppeteer plays the Gunungan as a symbol of changing scenes or stories about how humans struggle or change their way of life.

Third, Gunungan is also used to symbolize fire or wind. In this case, the side of the mountain is reversed. On the other hand, there is only red paint, which represents fire. Forth, Gunungan can also act as land or forest by following the dialogue of the Dalang. After the play, Gunungan plugs again in the centre of the screen, representing that the story is finished.

The elements contained in Gunungan

The elements contained in Gunungan include a door guarded by two giants facing each other, kalpataru tree, a tiger facing a bull, two monkeys, birds, and a giant winged dragon's head above the house, and Banaspati (a kind of evil spirit with flame shapes like a fireball). The picture, as a whole, depicts the situation in the wilderness. This front side symbolizes the state of the world and its contents. On the other side, a blazing fire is represented. It symbolizes chaos and hell.

At the bottom is a picture of a gate guarded by two Rakshasha holding swords and shields. It symbolizes the palace gate, and the Gunungan is used as a palace when the performance is played. At the top of the mountain is the tree of life, Kalpataru, entangled by a dragon. The Kalpataru tree grows upward along the central axis, spreading its branches. The tree branch depicted several forest animals, such as tigers, bulls, monkeys, and birds. The head of Kala, a monstrous personification of time, appears on top of the entrance gate. Beyond the entrance gate, a tree grows upward along the central axis, its branches spread across.

In Java, the spiritual concepts of Cosmic Mountain and the Tree of Life have uniquely merged into the Gunungan, which is the most recognizable symbol of Javanese culture. In the Javanese worldview, the Gunungan symbolizes the Cosmos, the beginning and the end of everything.

The Meaning of Gunungan

I take three theories from experts and researchers of Javanese culture about the meaning of a Gunungan in Javanese society.

  1. Pigeaud (1970:48) says that the picture in the Gunungan "it is a symbol of the Cosmic Order, the basic concept of Javanese Philosophy and religious thinking."

  2. J.Ras (1973:444-445) sees Gunungan as a symbolic representation of the process of creation, which plays an important role in every religious ritual.

  3. Lee Khoen Choy (1976:11) states that mountains are a tool for presenting philosophical thoughts about human life with all its aspects.

Gunungan is reduced to not only the idea of the cosmos or the universe but also the idea of human life with all its aspects. Human existence cannot be separated from the cosmic order expressed in the mountains. Mountains are a source that gives life to humans and provides fertile soil and streams of water to the rice fields. In the traditional view, mountains are perceived as a reality full of mystery, which is often mythological as a place for gods, ancestors, and the border between the human world and those who have died.

Four Javanese Philosophical thought

1. Sangkan Paraning Dumadi

According to Pigeaud (1970:48), Gunungan is a symbol of the Cosmic Order, the basic concept of Javanese Philosophy and religious thinking. So, what are their philosophical thought? I would like to explain four important Javanese philosophical thoughts as reflected in their way of life and characters. First is the concept of sangkan paraning dumadi, second is urip iku mung mampir ngombe, third is manunggaling kawula gusti, and forth is memayu hayuning bawana.

Plugging gunungan at the beginning and end of the show expresses the philosophical ideas of sangkan paraning dumadi, which means knowing where we came from and where to return or knowing the origin and final destination of human life. Sangkan paraning dumadi reflects the Javanese philosophy of the human life process, from the very beginning of life to the reunification of the soul with the creator. This philosophical views and teachings regarding the origins and purposes of everything that exists. There are three stages of human existence in Javanese philosophy, First is purwapada, which means life or the beginning of the world. Second is madyapada, which means growth, and third is wasanapada, which means the end of life.

In essence, the concept of sangkan paraning dumadi reflects the belief that everything that exists has a beginning and an end. The growth, continuity and change of humans and the universe are moving towards the end of their existence. Human life is therefore perceived as an adventure or journey with a beginning and moving towards a final destination.

The philosophy of sangkan paraning dumadi basically has the following main idea: humans need to be aware of their existence which has an origin (sangkan) and a purpose or direction of existence (paraning dumadi). The whole of human existence is a mystery of an existential journey that moves towards the final destination which is symbolized in the form of mountains that are getting sharper and higher towards perfection.

Sangkan paraning dumadi reminds us of the equality of humans and everything that exists is in the same position. Everything in the universe, including humans in it is on its way to its final destination. Such awareness of their degree and dignity becomes the foundation of solidarity and togetherness, promoting a feeling of shared destiny. Equality in human dignity and degree can be a common meeting point and a universal basis for building dialogue habits and mutual cooperation.

The concept of humans as part of the universe provides space for each individual to be involved in efforts to save the environment and preserve nature. Human existence is shown by various characters and behaviours as symbolized by pictures of various animals. Human nature and behaviour should endorse and maintain nature. Respect for the environment and nature is a way of human existence as part of the universe. Exploiting nature and completely draining the earth's energy sources is against the concept of humans as part of the universe and against the balance of the universe.

Therefore, the symbol that is revealed in the gunungan is the philosophy of sangkan paraning dumadi, being aware of the direction of the journey towards the final destination. The equality in human position in this journey can be a foundation for dialogue, tolerance, and cooperation.

2. Urip iku Mung Mampir Ngombe

Sangkan paraning dumadi is a philosophy that emphasises the temporary human existence process. The temporariness of human existence is also expressed in another Javanese philosophy: urip iku mung mampir ngombe. Urip iku mung mampir ngombe literally means life is like just stopping by for a drink. The actual meaning is life is only a glimpse or life is only a while. From the Javanese perspective, life is so short that humans are expected instead of every day filled with worries, fears, and laziness, it would be nice if they were filled with positive thoughts and attitudes, trying to do good and useful things.

3. Manunggaling Kawula Gusti

In the Javanese philosophy, the destination of life is the unification with the creator, often referred to as Manunggaling Kawula Gusti. This philosophy is believed to be a way of life for the Javanese to understand the origin and purpose of human life. Manunggaling Kawula Gusti has implications for achieving the standard of living as an ideal human being, as the principle of divine life in humans is one of the deepest realities as a condition of perfection. Therefore, the philosophy of Manunggaling Kawula Gusti is made an ultimate goal for the life of the Javanese.

Javanese people have rules and concepts in living life to keep society's stability and to themselves as individuals and their relationship with the creator. This concept is present in the community and becomes life's basis that is agreed upon by the community and becomes the lifestyle of the Javanese people.

For the Javanese, every interaction between humans is an attitude towards nature and affects one another. Javanese society places themselves or humans as a part of the universe in their spirituality. The spiritual aspect of Javanese culture revolves not only between humans but also between nature and all creatures on earth, which influence one another. The Javanese consider that every entity has a "soul".

4. Memayu Hayuning Bawana

The spiritual connection between humans, nature, and God for the Javanese people philosophy reflect on philosophy Memayu hayuning bawana. “Memayu hayuning bawana” , means Beautifying the beauty of the world. It doesn’t say fixing the world, which suggests the world is broken. Nor does it say saving the world, which suggests the world is in danger. Instead, it says, “The world is already beautiful, and our job is to beautify it further.”

This philosophy is a basis for the Javanese to define life with nature. Nature is a part that determines the circulation and balance of life. Memayu hayuning Bawana consists of three words: memayu means maintain or preserving, hayuning means beauty, and Bawana means earth. Memayu hayuning Bawana is defined as protecting the beauty of our earth. The meaning of this philosophy is an effort to protect the world both physically and spiritually.

The Javanese feel obliged to beautify the world's beauty because it can give meaning to their life. On the one hand, the human must maintain and improve their physical environment. While on the other hand, in an abstract way, humans also should keep their spiritual environment. This view encourages that human life cannot be separated from the environment. Therefore humans should maintain the environment, not destroy it.

The Meaning of Gunungan Symbol in G20 Indonesia

Gunungan represents the universe, the nature where humans and other living things live. The three parts of the Gunungan represent the three stages in the life cycle, being born, life as an adult, and dying. This human life cycle is embodied in the philosophy of Sangkan Paraning Dumadi. This philosophy reminds us where we come from and where we are going. This philosophy teaches that human life is in unity with other creatures.

Coexistence with everything that exists and the universe provides a philosophical basis for mutual assistance, respect, tolerance and cooperation. The problems of ecological damage, global warming and conflict result from the person not knowing the structure of his existence so that the human person does not become the centre of control over the forces that accompany his presence.

The conical shape depicts the ultimate goal of the human journey, expressed by the philosophy of Manunggaling Kawula Gusti, the unification with the creator, depending on their beliefs or religion, or it can also be interpreted as return to the creator, god, or universe.

The philosophy of Urip iku mung mampir ngombe emphasizes that human life is short. Therefore, time must be used positively, especially for protecting nature, not destroying nature, and maintaining harmony among human beings. Gunungan, with trees and various animals inside, depicts human life and nature. Exploiting nature and destroying nature contradicts the human concept of Memayu Hayuning Bawana, resulting in an identity crisis and imbalance.

In the context of the Indonesia G20 meeting, Gunungan represents the enthusiasm and optimism of the Indonesian people and the world community to recover from the pandemic. We have similar hope to rise and move forward in a better direction. The pandemic has been occurring for almost three years, impacting health and causing an economic crisis.

We must recover, and the economic crisis must be overcome to enter a new chapter in a life that is more aware of the dangers of a pandemic in the future. Regarding the health sector, the G20 Indonesia resulted in the form of a pandemic fund which collected US$1.5 billion. In addition, agreements were formed regarding commitments to deal with climate change, food, and economic crises.

Almost all G20 member countries agreed to condemn war which would only harm civilians in many countries. Therefore, all forms of war must be stopped. Gunungan reminds us that the world must unite to recover quickly. The Gunungan symbol can be an inspiration in facing new challenges and changes. A new chapter in life can begin immediately, protecting nature and maintaining people's harmony.

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