THE return of Hari Raya traditions brought untold happiness all around, but also had huge educational value, particularly for younger relatives who, with three years of disruption due to Covid-19, could not experience them before. Thus with great seriousness I tried to explain to my anak sepupu the various facets of the celebrations at Seri Menanti as they happened.
But first, cousins joined me to witness one event outside the royal town: the official sighting of the crescent of a new moon, or Hilaal. We were welcomed by the Chairman and team of Majlis Agama Islam Negeri Sembilan (MAINS), the only Islamic Religious Council to own its own observatory: in this case, the Telok Kemang Observatory in Port Dickson which until recently housed the most powerful telescope in Southeast Asia (it has since been overtaken by one in Thailand).
While the main telescope dome is being renovated, that cannot be used for the moon sighting anyway. According to rules determined by Syariah, an array of smaller telescopes was arranged to accompany the naked eye sighting. As we all know, unlike last year, the moon was not sighted – nor expected to be according to astronomical calculations. With no sightings from any official locations, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong with the concurrence of the Malay Rulers commanded the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal to announce that Hari Raya Puasa would fall on 21 April.
On 30 Ramadan, more relatives congregated to partake in rituals familiar to families everywhere.
This began with the visit to the family mausoleum, where fresh cut flowers and water are sprinkled on the graves in remembrance of those departed who are unable to join us for Hari Raya. This time, there were relatives who were told for the first time: “this is your grandfather, and so we must read Al-Fatihah for him”. With a long absence since the last visit, people used their Jawi skills (and Google Translate) to verify who was buried where!
After that sombre event, something more fun. During Ramadan I always try to visit Ladang Alam Warisan, where the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad is observed in horseback riding, archery, and the combination of the two. Lightning meant no extended riding, but I was happy to see relatives enjoy reenacting movie scenes by shooting arrows in formation – “Nock! Draw! Loose!” – with some disapproval from our hosts, I think, since that was certainly not the method in medieval Arabia.
As the sun set for the final time for Ramadan, it was time to fire the cannon the customary seven times to mark the arrival of Aidilfitri. My brother and I joined soldiers of the Royal Electric & Mechanical Engineer Corps (of which the Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan is the Colonel-in-Chief), and I am told that households across the valley use that cue to tell their young members: “besok dapek duit Rayo kek Istano!” (Tomorrow you’ll be getting duit Raya at the palace!)
The first takbir Raya – consisting of solo and congregational singing – with the palace officials then took place as rain streaked down the stained glass adorning the wooden surau, before Raya greetings were extended to the entire Istana team. After this, everyone enjoyed a display of fireworks, and the recent legalisation of pyrotechnics did not seem to have an effect on the noise levels throughout the area… they were just as loud as usual.
To the relief of the cats, quiet returned amidst the fragrance of satay and lemang being cooked for the next day.
The morning Aidilfitri prayers saw Masjid Diraja Tuanku Munawir well past capacity, as even more relatives turned up. Imam Abdul Rahman, in his reminder of how to conduct the prayers, took a jab at himself, since last year he forgot to takbir five times before the second ra’akat!
The same congregation formed the initial guests of the Istana Terbuko, which saw 12,000 people come from across the state to partake in the feasting, photo-taking and hopefully an element of historical appreciation, with the royal regalia being on display and the Istana Lama now structurally repaired.
With the torrent of guests eventually reducing to a stream and then a trickle, it was time to return to other family fun, mostly consisting of word games. The more adventurous explored the new Pilah Gateway, where a famous coffee chain joins a notable sports outlet and a certain chicken rice shop in a sign of the town’s economic strength.
2 Syawal is, of course, the beginning of the rest of Raya, with open houses ready to punctuate the return of everyday life. I hope you all enjoy this most Malaysian of traditions.
Selamat Hari Raya, Maaf Zahir Batin!