The Meaning of Ketupat in Eid Tradition

June 7, 2018 | Linda Farida Rachmat


It has become the norm to see how one or two days prior to Eid al-Fitr (Lebaran); sellers of ketupat (traditional rice cake) wrapper would fill up the entire pavements surrounding markets as well as in residences. Lebaran is always identical to ketupat. Its wrapper that is made from woven young coconut or pandan leaves, and filled with rice or sticky rice, could always be found alongside other dishes that are usually cooked with coconut milk. This occurs almost in every place in Indonesia, where Moslems is the majority of the population in the country.

According to author H.J de Graaf in Malay Annual, ketupat has become the symbol of Eid since the rule of Raden Patah’s government, a king of Demak that was the first Islamic kingdom on the Java island, where he ruled with the support of Wali Songo (the Nine Guardian). One of the members of Wali Songo, Raden Mas Said who was also known as Sunan Kalijaga, used agricultural-cultural approach in his way to spread Islam.

Sunan Kalijaga used ketupat as his means of approach in order to spread Islam. Before, ketupat had already been known as an expression of worship to Dewi Sri, the goddess of agriculture and fertility who protects the cycle of life, prosperity and human happiness. Dewi Sri was highly glorified by the agricultural people since the time of the ancient kingdom of Majapahit and Pajajaran. Slowly, Sunan Kalijaga reintroduced the expression of worship through the usage of ketupat as the symbol of blessing that is served on Eid al-Fitr. That way, the teachings of Islam could be delivered without destroying the respect held by the people of Java, Sunda and Bali upon Dewi Sri. Due to the peaceful process, the existence of ketupat became more familiarized in the community, and it even became the main element that must be served to accompany the dishes normally served on Eid al-Fitr.



In Javanese philosophy, ketupat, which in the beginning was made for worship, had two special meanings, they are:

Ngaku Lepat -Laku Papat

Ngaku Lepat: is defined in the attitude of sungkeman (sitting on bended knees and asking for forgiveness) to one’s parents on Eid al-Fitr, meaning to admit every mistake that was ever made and to ask for forgiveness. It is highly important to respect one’s parents.

Laku papat: consists of four actions that must be done on Eid al-Fitr or Lebaran:

Lebaran: is derived from the word Lebar (wide), meaning that the door of forgiveness is now open wide.

Luberan: is derived from the Luber (abundant), meaning the abundance of wealth that must be shared with the poor.

Leburan: is derived from the word Lebur (melting), meaning the melting of sins and mistakes. Every Moslem must forgive one another.

Laburan: is derived from the word Melabur (to clean), meaning to clean, to wash away the dirt of the heart, physically and spiritually.

Aside from the above-mentioned philosophies, there are other meanings of ketupat, such as:

1. Resembling the various mistakes of human which is symbolized with the intricate shape of the artful ketupat.

2. The cleanliness of heart symbolized by the white color of the rice inside the ketupat, just like a heart that has once again becomes clean after asking for forgiveness and admitting sins and mistakes.

3. Perfection that is seen in its shape, that happens given the process that takes a lot of patience and perseverance. This symbolizes the perfection of the soul after practicing patience in fasting during the month of Ramadan.

4. Since ketupat is served alongside dishes with santan (coconut milk), the term KUPA SANTEN was created (kulo lepat nyuwun pangaputen / I am wrong, please forgive me).



The Various Shapes of Ketupat

Indonesian ketupat is varied in shape, whether it is filled with rice or sticky rice. It could be served with coconut milky dishes, and it could also be served as juadah, a dish that is cooked in coconut milk and served with shaved brown sugar.

The varieties of ketupat shapes that can be found in Indonesia are:

Ketupat Bawang (Onion Ketupat); is the most common shape sold.
Ketupat Sate (Satay Ketupat); ketupat Burung (Bird Ketupat), Ketupat Palas (Pallas Ketupat); Ketupat Hati (Liver Ketupat).
Ketupat Jantung (Heart Ketupat).
Ketupat Kubus (Cube Ketupat): is commonly sold.
Ketupat Jago (Rooster Ketupat). Ketupat Pandawa. Ketupat Bata (Brick Ketupat). Ketupat Sidalungguh.
Ketupat Debleng: is quite commonly sold.
Ketupat Piramid (Pyramid Ketupat). Ketupat Kucing (Cat Ketupat). Ketupat Kambing (Goat Ketupat). Ketupat Siput (Snail Ketupat).
And many more

Today’s Ketupat

Due to the lack of material, ketupat is now sold in markets without its coconut leave wrapper. Ketupat vendors in the city usually use 10×10 cm plastic bags, where 1/3 of the plastic bag is filled with rice, and then sold in a package containing 10-15 plastic bags. Costumers just need to cook the ketupat inside the plastic bags in less than 30 minutes.

Tags : Eid al-Fitr, rice cake

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