Land of Sunda | Thursday, 25 November 2010 | sundanesecorner.org
The idea of divinities that is implied in the name of priangan may, to some extents, reminds one to what Mircea Eliade in his study on religion calls ‘sacred space’. According to Eliade, religious man (homo religiosus) realizes a certain space in their world that is sacred. The very space has a significant function as the centre line of the universe (axis mundi) that shapes their orientation as well as relating human world to the divine.
This kind of space could be found at every corner of the world. It is believed as ‘the world of gods’. High places such as mountainous areas are usually recognized as ‘cosmic mountain’. Artificial mountain in the form of temples, for instance, could even be built to represent a mythical ladder that relates human world to divine realm.
In The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (1968), Eliade states:
‘Since the sacred mountain is an axis mundi connecting earth with heaven, it in a sense touches heaven and hence marks the highest point in the world; consequently the territory that surrounds it, and that constitutes “our world,” is held to be the highest among countries.’ (Eliade, 1968: 38)
If one adapts the notion of sacred space to the locus of Sundanese culture in West Java, it is the natural feature of Priangan, mainly its mountainous regions, which would first and foremost be referred by this notion. Mount is one of the most enchanting visual elements of Priangan. Many book illustrations, as well as paintings, we inherited from colonial times depict mountainous regions of Priangan. Dutch people in colonial times used to call the inhabitants of this region ‘the mountain Javanese’ (berg Javaanen).
There are at least ten high mountain spreads across the region, apart from the highest hills, massive stones from megalithic ages, and upper reaches. Within this region there are several volcanoes, e.g. Tangkubanparahu in Bandung-Subang, Guntur and Papandayan in Garut, Galunggung in Tasikmalaya, Ciremai in Kuningan, Salak in Bogor-Sukabumi, and Gede in Cianjur-Bogor.
The significance of mountain for the inhabitants of Priangan is expressed in their idioms. Sundanese people in the past tend to recognize local wisdom as something that:
beunang guguru ti gunung
beunang nanya ti Guriang
comes out of learning from the mount
comes out of consulting the Mountain Spirit
This expression is quoted in Rigg’s A Dictionary of the Sunda Language of Java (1862). The word guriang itself is defined as ‘the mountain genii; the spirit of the mountains’. The word is derived from the Sanskrit word guru (teacher; religious teacher) and, again, hyang ‘god’. The designation is comprehended as ‘evidently derived from Budhist or Brahmanical times, though the wild fanciful idea may have been of a still earlier date’ (Rigg, 1862: 136).
In R.A. Kern’s Geschiedenis der Preanger Regentschappen: Kort Overzicht (1898) one can also find a notice that shows a spiritual function of mountainous regions of Priangan. He stated:
Hoog op de hellingen van bergen treft men open bidplaatsen aan: op den Oostelijken top van den Gede (Mandalagiri), op de toppen van den Salak (Poentjak Kramat en Goenoeng Gadjah), den Boekit Toenggoel, den Tampomas, den Tjikoeraj, den Tjagak.
‘High on the slopes of mounts one finds open places of worship: at the eastern top of Mount Gede (Mandalagiri), on the tops of Mount Salak (Puncak Kramat and Gunung Gajah), Mount Bukit Tunggul, Mount Tampomas, Mount Cikuray, and Mount Cagak. One of the images, still standing now in the quinine field of Cikapundung, is dated from 1371 (or 1341)’. (Kern, 1898)
 I owe this information to T. Bachtiar, observer with Indonesian Geographic Society of Bandung and Bandung Basin Research Group.