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Indonesia's Holy Center Still Strong

Royal servants shuffle across the quake-damaged palace grounds, bent in deference to the king. Women leave offerings of flowers at the carved gates, and mumble in prayer.

Last Saturday's killer quake jolted Indonesia's mystical and cultural heartland, damaging ancient Hindu temples, hilltop tombs as well collapsing several simple structures and cracking walls at the royal court in the historic city of Yogyakarta.

Archaeological officials are still surveying the damage to the region's cultural heritage, but the rhythm and rituals that have accompanied life at the palace for centuries appeared unruffled Thursday.

"God gave his blessing and kept most of the building strong," said Raden Wudonoyo Dwijo, one of 2,300 attendants who work at the walled-off 43-square-mile palace complex, known as the Kraton, that lies within bustling modern Yogyakarta.

"We also believe we are being looked after by a second force," he said, referring to a legendary Javanese goddess that many here believe lives in the seas south of Yogyakarta and guards the palace.

Java is predominantly Islam like the rest of Indonesia, but the island is steeped in mysticism and many people freely admit to incorporating elements of pre-existing Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and practices.

Other ancient sites fared worse than the Kraton, but none was destroyed by the quake, which killed more than 6,200 people and collapsed more than 100,000 homes.

The region's most famous monument, the world-famous Borobudur Buddhist temple complex, was apparently unaffected by the 6.3-magnitude quake, officials say.

But the nearby Prambanan temple complex, a series of 9th century shrines to Hindu gods, sustained serious damage. Intricate carved reliefs were sent crashing to the ground and years of restoration work were destroyed in less than a minute.

A tomb complex housing the ancestors of current King Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X was also damaged, said Agus Waluyo, head of the Yogyakarta Archaeological Conservation Board. The site is a major pilgrimage center.

The quake also toppled ancient city walls close to the former bathing grounds of the royal family in Yogyakarta, killing two people living under them. The complex remained closed to tourists.

"The whole of Yogyakarta is sad about this, not just me," said Waluyo. "But the priority for the moment is helping human victims. I am sure the world will later help us rebuild the monuments."

Yogyakarta is also known as one of Indonesia's art and craft centers.

For more than 30 years, Kasongan — a small town south of the city — has been home to scores of family businesses producing ceramic pots, statues and other handicrafts that were mostly exported to Australia, Europe and the United States.

The quake destroyed most of the workshops, kilns and showrooms in the two-street town, jeopardizing the livelihoods of thousands of people.

Nowhere is Java's unique religious synthesis more evident than the Kraton, which was designed and built in 1756 by the ancestors of Hamengkubuwono.

A booklet handed out to guests explains that the king is God's representative on earth. His attendants must shuffle on their bottoms when they move in front of him, his family or other high-ranking nobility.

Muslims leave offerings at the palace gates, something frowned upon by mainstream Islamic thinking.

"We are influenced by other religions here," said Tuti, a guide at the palace, as a handful of local and international tourists wandered around the complex. "We are not fanatics."

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