Masjid Gede Kauman means the “Great Mosque of Kauman”. It is an ancient mosque that is located west of the Kraton North Square. It was built around the time when Indonesia converted to Islam from Hinduism and Buddhism, for the primary purpose of spreading the Islamic teachings during the Kasultanan Yogyakarta era in the reign of Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono I, Yogyakarta’s first sultan. Construction was completed on May 29, 1773. As Yogyakarta’s center for Islamic teachings during that time, the grand mosque represented the Sultan’s role as the city’s political leader (Senopati Ing Ngalogo) and official delegate of Allah himself (Sayidin Panatagama Khalifatullah). The Sultan, therefore, decreed all national and religious acts. As the physical mosque is still a towering religious building today, so is its symbolic role as the center of Islam. Yogyakarta locals hold it in very high regard. Because of the mosque, the village of Kauman was chosen as the base of for the Muhammadiyah, an important Islamic Organization in Indonesia, as initiated by Ahmad Dahlan, a well-known Islamic figure. Kauman also has the largest Arabic race community in Yogyakarta.
There are a number of mosques in Yogyakarta but Masjid Gede Kauman is unlike the rest. For one, it is the oldest mosque in the city and one of the oldest in Indonesia. And as already mentioned above, it played a very important role in the history of Islam in the country. Today, Indonesia is the largest Islam nation in the world. Of its total population of almost 250 million people, more than 80% are Muslims.
This mosque is also notable for its unique architecture. Designed by an architect named Kyai Wiryokusumo, one of the main features of the mosque is its intricately artistic ceiling and unique carvings. The floral marble flooring is also majestic to behold, although it was only recently laid in 1936. The original flooring was made from stone. Unlike the other mosques in the city, Masjid Gede Kauman has two buildings that are specifically dedicated to house Gamelan (traditional Java music) performances during the Sekaten. The buildings are called “Pagongan”. Sekaten is an important Islamic ceremony that commemorates the birth of Nabi Muhammad SAW. The mosque also has a special place for purification, a cemetery, and a wide porch or veranda where weddings and other ceremonies take place.
The mosque’s main room is very simple. It is used primarily for prayer and was intentionally kept simple and bare because Islam teaches that one must come before the presence of Allah as himself or herself, devoid of any social trimmings. The area has 36 wooden pillars that are also bare of any ornamentation.
Today, despite its status as the first Mosque in Yogyakarta, Masjid Gede Kauman is an active and fully functioning mosque. Religious rituals and ceremonies are regularly performed here for the residents of Kauman and officials of Kasultanan Yogyakarta. The mosque is especially very busy and crowded during the Ramadan. It also gave rise to the many Islamic religious institutions and boarding schools in its immediate vicinity.