The Mosque Beneath the Ground of Taman Sari, Yogyakarta

Tucked underneath the Taman Sari Water Castle and hidden behind rows of houses and art cafes is this mosque used to be accessible only by a maze of underwater passageways. I just heard of it's existence from my friend Gaye Emami a few days before I left for Jakarta. The place wasn't easy to find as there are no signs that says "Underground Mosque this way --->". I just followed a group of young Indonesian students who seems to be on a field trip, at the back alleyways of Taman Sari. I saw them debating which direction to take, so I reckon they were also trying to find the mosque. I tried asking a local but unfortunately, she couldn't understand English, so I chased the group of students as they entered a small arched hallway. Inside, we had to duck our heads so as not to hit the ceiling and after a short series of strides we were led to a dead-end.

They laughed at their mis-direction and I smiled at them as we all shook our heads at getting temporary lost. When we went back outside, one of them asked a local and finally we were pointed to an unnoticeable stair that leads to a tiny door. There it was, I quickly saw the dome shaped entry way with windows and doors that led me to a series of staircases. It felt like being in an otherworldly place with one of the it bringing me back to Earth, while the others may or may not lead me to another mysterious universe.

The mosque is small and what it lacks in sheer size as compared to others, it makes up with its simple yet unique architecture. Underneath the five lower staircase is a dried up well, which used to store the flowing water where the faithfuls dip their feet to be wash during the time when the underground mosque was still used starting in the middle part of the 18th century.

Otherwise known as "Sumur Gumuling" or the "Coiled Well" as depicted visually by its ascending four flights of stairwells (which will remind you of MC Escher’s Relativity) from beneath, with the fifth one descending from the main gallery. These staircases meet on a small square platform at the center that is exposed to the sky. It is here where most visitors stood and posed for photographs under the bright rays of the sun that day.

I overheard one of the guide telling his Caucasian guests that the mosque was often used as a meditation place but it got all the basic parts of a Mosque like the mihrab, a small semi rounded niche found in the walls of mosques that guides Muslims toward the Kaaba Mecca - a direction worshipers should face when saying their prayers.

It was great learning interesting things along the fly just by opening my eyes and eavesdropping. I sat near one of of the windows and rested for a while as I keep an observing eye over other people, some of them looks amazed at the simple yet absorbing architecture of this underground mosque, while the others are busy taking instagram pictures of themselves. I in turn was thirsty but my mind was fully functional and processing the whole vibe of this heritage place. 

The Underground Mosque is both fascinating and for me, more interesting than the Taman Sari Water Castle complex, I was glad I found my way to this gem of a place, even if it hides inconspicuous among the residential houses. Walking back, I imagined a time when the mosque was still being used. I could imagine hearing the chants of worship emanating from underneath and as the clouds dances up in the sky, I could feel the prayers of the faithfuls slowly being heard from as far as Mecca awaiting each to be answered one by one. 

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