The celebration of the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday in Yogyakarta closes with a procession of food mountains through the city’s streets. But just three days beforehand, an elaborate public ceremony signals the beginning of the mountain building.
Female palace chefs shuffle into a cement shed outside the palace. Each has on a batik sarong and an intense knife secured in front of them by a belt. The youngest princess is also in attendance. But the pounding of a tree-length wooden mortar called Gejog Lesong really takes the cake.
Once, this was used to mix together ingredients to shape the core of the parading rice mountains. Today, a salty rice cone is offloaded from a blue mini Toyota truck instead. But the pounding continues symbolically and as a call to the neighborhood: Hey, come and check this out!
After a prayer, the cooks pull out pots filled with yellow paste, kinyit, and apply it on the base of the delivered core, which has been upturned and centered on a dias. As the palace cooks apply the paste, the crowd goes nuts. Kinyit is said to ward off evil and all those watching want a dab of leftover paste to apply on their skin or bag up for later. Hands are jammed through the shed’s surrounding grate. And the cooks trade off. Some apply the kinyit to the base of the mountain while others walk the periphery, touching outstretched hands in blessing.
All along, men in maroon robes continues to pound the empty lesong, the rhythmic thumps matching the frenzy of the crowd, providing a bass for their fervor.