Kungkum is a very unique austerity. Sunan Kalijaga, one of the Nine Saints (Wali Songo) who spread the teachings of Islam to the island of Java, was known to practice kungkum on a regular basis. Kali is the Indonesian word for ‘river’, and jaga means ‘to guard’. Thus, this sunan (an Islamic title of honor) was called a river guard, because he often sat at a river or creek to perform his meditation practice. It is believed, that kungkum is an effective means to acquire supernatural abilities, such as invulnerability (kadigdayaan) against weapons and invincibility (kanuragan) over one’s enemies. Hence, kungkum is a popular practice among practitioners of traditional Indonesian martial arts (pencak silat).
This ancient Javanese austerity is performed at a confluence, the place where two rivers meet. It has to be a remote place, where no one can disturb one’s spiritual practice. Before one begins with the practice of kungkum, one first has to take a bath and ritually cleanse the body.
Then, at midnight, the practitioner enters the river and seats him- or herself on the bottom of the river where the two streams meet together. When s/he enters the water, his or her eyes should be closed and both hands are placed on one’s chest, while uttering the following mantra:
Putih-putih mripatku Sayidina Kilir,
Ireng-ireng mripatku Sunan Kali Jaga,
Telenging mripatku Kanjeng Nabi Muhammad.
In the river the practitioner sits in meditation posture, with one’s face toward the stream of the water reaching up to one’s neck. The stream should not be too strong, but not too weak either. Also, the bottom of the river should not be too slippery, because during the meditation practice in the river one has to sit completely still.
The practice of kungkum lasts from midnight until 3 o’ clock in the morning, and usually is repeated for seven nights consecutively.