Inter-court relations in the Spread of Nobat and Gamelan as legitimacy symbols in the Malay world (c.Thirteenth to Twentieth centuries)

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This chapter aims to show how relations in and beyond the courts in the Malay world influenced their royal rulers’ acquisition and maintenance of a musical ensemble as their main symbol of legitimacy and identity. Based largely on case studies of courts that operated before newly independent Indonesia abolished royal sovereignty in 1945,1 it also refers to studies of courts in the Malay world as a whole, including Malaysia and Brunei where ensembles are still used as heirlooms (pusaka) and legitimacy symbols in their original context – to serve their political rulers. The Malay courts of Southeast Asia may be divided into three categories: those that possessed, or still possess, a nobat ensemble of Persian-Arabic-Mughal origins; those that possessed a gamelan ensemble of Central Javanese origin; and those that developed their own musical icons of identity befitting their Islamicised ancestral culture. In each case, the particular ensemble that a court adopted, and the elaborate spectacles, rituals, customary behaviour and etiquette that developed around it became its prominent distinguishing feature. The mystique of the musical heirloom was linked to Malay concepts of kingship, including the notion of spiritual energy (sakti or kesakten) contained in the king’s body, the regalia and the objects of nature; the idea of divine essence and good fortune (daulat); and the elaborate system of customary law and taboos which in some cases required subjects to stop still in reverence for the ruler whenever they heard the iconic musical ensemble being played.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPerforming Arts and the Royal Courts of Southeast Asia, Volume One
EditorsMayco A. Santaella
Place of PublicationLeiden Netherlands
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)9789004686533
ISBN (Print)9789004535602
Publication statusPublished - 2024

Publication series

NameBrill's Southeast Asian Library
ISSN (Print)2213-0527

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