Every year, from the 1st to 10th Muharram in the Islamic calendar year, the people of Bengkulu rejoice in the celebration of theTabot Festival. This year, falling on the 24th October to 3rd November 2014, the festival , that is also based on local values and beliefs, will again be held by the province of Bengkulu.
The Tabot festival has been held here since the 14th century to commemorate the death of Hussain, grandson of the prophet Muhammad SAW, who died in Karbala Iraq in what is known as the “Karbala Tragedy”. The people of Bengkulu have long believed that if the festival is not conducted, then a tragedy or disaster will surely befall them. Thus, the festival will always feature a series of rituals executed on a massive scale to ward off disasters.
The Opening of the Tabot Festival 2014 will take place at the Merdeka Square in the city of Bengkulu on 24th October 2014, which will be followed by a series of rituals, including: the soil taking ceremony, duduk penja, menjara, meradai, bersanding, and tabot terbuang (throwing the Tabot in the sea) on 25th October. The festival will also be highlighted with various traditional art performances, folk games, a bazaar and exhibition.
The pinnacle of the festival will occur on 2nd and 3rd November which are the 9th and 10th day of Muharram. On these days Tabots from 17 groups will be paraded along with the Tabot Pembangunan (The tabot of development) in a grand colossal procession. The procession of Tabots will be officially launched by the Governor of Bengkulu Province and will pass the main streets of Bengkulu towards the Karabela Public cemetery where Imam Senggolo, initiator of the festival is buried.
Uniquely, the Tabot itself is believed to be a replica of the Ark of the Covenant which contains the Ten Commandments of God. It is said that the Jews at the time believed that whenever the Ark appeared with their leader, they would be blessed with good fortune. But, whenever they lost sight of the Ark, they would face disaster and misfortune.
As the center of the festival, the Tabot resembles a rectangular stretcher with various ornaments. The Tabot is made from bamboo, rattan, paperboard, mar-mar paper, grip paper, ropes, lights, decorative lamps, plastic flowers, and more.
Considering its intricate shape and size, the cost of making a tabot may range from IDR5 million to IDR 40 million.
The rituals also involve offerings such as sticky rice, golden bananas, ginger, dadeh, palm sugar, coconuts, chickens, meats, incense, and more. The festival also features traditional musical instruments such as the Dol and Tessa. Dol is a traditional drum made from wood and buffalo leather, while Tessa is a type of tambourine made of steel, copper, or aluminum.