25 August 2013
Yogyakarta’s underground mosque
An underground mosque located in a water castle, only accessible by an underwater passage does sound like something coming out of a fairy tale. In the very hot and humid weather of the city, I could certainly picture the desire of the sultan of Yogyakarta to build relaxing pools, lavish gardens and underground passages. This was to be called Taman Sari, literally meaning “beautiful garden adorned with flowers”.
It took me a while to figure out how to get into the mosque, going all around in surrounding alleys since structures had been built right against it and prevented me from checking each of its sides. It was all the more frustrating when I could see people behind the fenced windows of the building. I would afterwards realise that what I saw was the top floor of this very peculiar place. And then, I did find a small entrance leading downwards: it had to be it, yes, it was the entrance.
This underground place of worship was like no other mosque I had visited, whether in Spain, in the Maghreb, in the Middle East, in India or in South-East Asia. For one, this Indonesian mosque was very small and circular when those I had seen were usually quite sizeable and squarish. Secondly, the mosque, however basic, was funnily built, with four central Escher-like staircases leading to an upper floor (if you don’t know what Escher’s stairs are, check the images at the end of this album http://goo.gl/KvWsxf, the corresponding article linking Batman and the paradox of those stairs). Just below the platform where staircases connected was a small pool filled with water, most likely used for ritual ablutions.
Despite the presence of visitors that day, the place was filled with an aura of mystery. My head was a bit dizzy and lost its sense of orientation going around, even if the place was tiny. I would at times pop a head through an opening to get another view of the central staircase – and to capture pictures of teenagers having fun or simply posing in this unusual place. I particularly like the contrast between the bright colours – yellow, red, turquoise, purple – of those four girls giggling and the brownish-orange walls covered with mold, just as I appreciated the contrast between light and shadow as if made for interesting pictures. I only wish I had taken the time to stay a bit longer or that I had the time to come back to enjoy the peacefulness of the place a bit more.