Groom Tessi Triadi pays homage to his father-in-law, Sultan Paku Buwono Hangabehi the 13th, at his wedding to the Sultan's eldest daughter.
A succession battle is raging in an ancient family, writes Mark Forbes.
A BEAUTIFUL, silk-swathed princess reclines in a grand glass cage, festooned with roses and jasmine, carried aloft by 20 shuffling courtiers. On horseback sits her bare-chested groom, escorted by a marching band and the rag-tag force of the once all-powerful Sultan of Solo.
Standards waving and trumpets blaring, the wedding procession winds around the grand white walls of Solo's Kraton (palace), home to a royal family that has sat at the apex of Indonesia's cultural, spiritual and political life.
Solo's divine line of kings has played a key role in Indonesia's colonial rule, the independence struggle and recent politics. Manipulated by the colonial Dutch, then outmanoeuvred by President Soeharto � who took several of the sultan's sacred relics to boost his spiritual power � the court of Solo has fallen on hard times, riven by a bitter succession battle between two crown princes.
This wedding of the new Sultan's eldest daughter is the grandest event Solo � the cultural hub of Indonesia � has seen in a decade, a ceremony the palace hopes can inspire a populace distressed by the conflict within.
On display are thousands of years of power, culture and tradition, but behind the golden facade is an ancient court battling for survival and relevance in a modernising land.
For the first time, the royal who runs the Kraton, Princess Koes Martiyah, has spoken out against the rival clan headed by her eldest sister, Princess Ratu Alit, that has attempted to overturn the succession of Sultan Paku Buwono Hangabehi the 13th.
The rivals, who scoff at Hangabehi's poor education and playboy reputation, claim his half-brother, army officer Prince Tedjowoelan, is the rightful heir.
Martiyah, the king's sister, tells The Age that the rivals will be expelled from the family and Tedjowoelan will never be buried in the Kraton's sacred ground.
A month ago, Tedjowoelan and hundreds of supporters stormed the Kraton on the anniversary of Hangabehi's coronation.
After forcing open the ancient teak gates, they were halted by truckloads of local police. Royals, who usually project calm and serenity, descended into shoving and spitting.
Tedjowoelan vows he "will not give up struggling. A president is elected by his people, I was elected by the big family. Out of 35 children of Paku Buwono the 12th, 24 children supported me. Democracy has entered the Kraton of Solo; we have to accept it.
"What happened on August 29 was just a lesson for Hangabehi. I wanted to tell him that a man is not above everything. The Kraton is just an institution; what matters is the man who leads it."
Martiyah scowls at Tedjowoelan's name. "Those who are in defiance of the king or the Kraton should be punished, they should be expelled from our family. What is done by Tedjowoelan and my other relatives is a crime against the Kraton and the king."
If the prince does not apologise "he will be expelled from the family. He will not even be allowed to be buried in the royal cemetery."
Solo's police chief presided over peace talks between the brothers after Tedjowoelan staged a seven-hour sit-in on August 29.
Hangabehi gave his brother a year to consider his "mistake" before carrying out his expulsion.
Tedjowoelan says the pair's 45-minute conversation reached no conclusion.
"I explained to him what the Kraton needs to face the modern world. He said I can meet him any time, but the reality is different. His supporters, sisters, try very hard to stop me from seeing him, fearing me influencing him to give up the throne."
Hangabehi lacks substance and spiritual and mental strength, and "has no capability as a Kraton king to cope with future challenges", Tedjowoelan says.
History professor Djoko Suryo attributes the conflict to the fact that the late Sultan "had many wives but no first lady". Although Hangabehi is the eldest son, his father did not nominate a successor or name any of his six wives as his favourite and many of Solo's educated and business elite favour the more modern Tedjowoelan.
Solo's god-king is traditionally the most powerful in the land, with a spiritual lineage pre-dating any church's arrival. Although the royals are Muslim, which forbids idolatry, "this is Java", the princess says, and spiritual strength emanates from the Kraton.
Aside from three wives in the physical world, the Sultan is also betrothed to the spirit-queen of the sea, climbing a tall white tower inside the Kraton each year to service her needs in a private bedchamber.
Soeharto, who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for more than 30 years, coveted the mystical powers of Solo's Sultan. He even married into the fringes of the royal family.
"He borrowed 11 heirlooms for his spiritual strength," Martiyah says. "However, my father was disappointed because he did not receive an equal treatment from Soeharto after what he did for him."
Djoko says that unlike Indonesia's other leading royal, the neighbouring Sultan of Yogyakarta, Solo's Sultan has not been appointed regional governor and accorded political power.
"It's related to the history of the fight for Indonesia, the Sultan of Yogyakarta declared support and sheltered guerillas in his Kraton while Solo hesitated," he says.
Weakened politically and economically, the Solo royals have resorted to selling titles and heirlooms.
The prestige of the royal family is still highly valued. Leading Indonesians line up to receive Solo titles, including former military chief Wiranto and ex-president Abdurrahman Wahid.
Rigid hierarchies still inhabit the Kraton. For the weekend's wedding the young groom and other participants waddle, squatting, into the grand reception hall to ensure their heads do not rise above the Sultan's. Outside sit more than a hundred wizened courtiers, too lowly to inhabit the same room. All move with slow grace, to the sound of a gamelan orchestra.
Wailing and at times almost orgasmic singing fill the air while Javanese dancers sway, wrists bent back and fingers extended in stylised poses.
Political and business figures from across Indonesia attended and the Kraton's grounds were bursting with flowerbeds and decorations.
But most of the flowers and many of the trees had disappeared the next morning, exposing grey sand beneath.
"It was all donation, all the decorations were donated by our relatives who wanted the Kraton to look good," Princess Martiyah says.
Staging the wedding was expensive, she repeats. Asked about the Kraton's finances, the princess replies: "Are we going to collapse, is that what you mean? "
"We are still able to perform the ritual and ceremony completely. We don't know what will happen in another 10 years, whether there would still be people who would work for and be loyal to the Kraton."