Ruwahan, Javanese Tradition in Welcoming Ramadan

By chord food - Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Ruwahan is a Javanese tradition to welcome the holy month of Ramadan. Ruwahan was the result of acculturation when Islam was spread on Java by Wali Songo. Islam is a religion of peace, therefore the existing traditions such as Ruwahan were not necessarily destroyed. It was maintained but they inserted Islamic prayers.

ngapem apem
Apem cooking process.


Ruwahan was the result of acculturation between Javanese tradition and Islam which was spread on Java by Wali Songo. Ruwah is an absorption from the word spirit (arwah), because this tradition contains prayers for the deceased family. It is the way to worship and remember the greatness of Allah SWT who creates us.

The ceremony is not all the same for each region or every family. What many families still do in Java is cooking apem, kolak and ketan. Then the family gathers to offer prayers. They specifically pray for families who have died. It ends with a pilgrimage to their family's grave.

Some villages also hold events to clean the cemetery and provide offerings together.


The shape and name of apem are different in some areas. Apem in Jogja is cooked on both sides so the color is all brown. The taste is just plain. It is similar to khamir from Pemalang but smaller.

While apem from East Java is not reversed so the top color is white from the coconut milk. The taste is a little bit salty.

There are 2 versions of the apem's name origin, namely appam from Indian and afwan from Arabic which means sorry. Apem cake is intended as a symbol to ask forgiveness from Allah SWT for ourselves and for the spirits of deceased family members.

The apem ingredients consist of rice flour, eggs, fermented cassava, coconut milk, sugar and salt. Back then, such dough had to be kept all day. Now, the process can be accelerated with instant yeast. To attract the younger family members, milk and chesee are also added to the dough so that it tastes really delicious.


Ketan or steamed sticky rice also has some meanings.

First, sticky rice comes from the Javanese word 'kraketan' which means attaching bonds.

Second, some people also believe that sticky rice comes from the Arabic word 'khatam' which means finish. This is a symbol of the last prophet followers, Muhammad PBUH.

ketan sticky rice
Ketan or sticky rice.


Kolak is similar with compote but it doesn't just use sugar. It also uses brown sugar dan coconut milk. The main ingredients are banana and sweet potato. Kolak is believed come from Arabic word 'khalaqa' or 'kholiq' which symbolizes Allah SWT as creator.

kolak compote
Kolak or compote.


Ruwahan was carried out in the middle of the month of Ruwah in the Javanese calendar, which coincided with the month of Sha'ban in the Hijriyah calendar. Sha'ban is the last month before entering the holy month of Ramadan.

Various online sources about the history of Ruwahan still discuss it in bits and pieces. Hopefully later there will be historians who are willing to transfer their scientific work in digital form so that it is easier to find by history enthusiasts wherever they are.

The exact beginning of Ruwahan is not found from any online source. However, it is estimated that Ruwahan is a Hindu heritage, namely Sradha. Javanese tongue says it as Nyadran. At that time Ratu Tribuana Tunggadewi held a ceremony to pray for the spirits of their ancestors, Queen Gayatri in Jabo Temple.

When Islam entered in the 13th century, Islamic prayers began to be included in Nyadran. Acculturation intensified when Wali Songo actively spread Islam in Java in the 15th century. At present, the community uses the term Nyadran for village clean-up that involves all villagers. Whereas the traditions carried out by families use the term Ruwahan more. This tradition was continued by her successor, Prabu Hayam Wuruk.


Ruwahan is carried out by residents around Central Java, DI Yogyakarta and parts of East Java with their own characteristics. In other regions similar traditions are also carried out but with different names and offerings. Some regions organize it specifically to welcome Ramadan so there is no tradition of reading prayers for spirits or grave pilgrimages.

Ruwahan pilgrimage.


Ruwahan begins with making apem led by the mother or the oldest daughter in the family. Everyone is permitted to pour the apem mixture, but the first and the last batter must be done by the leader of the cooking process.

At the same time, they make kolak and ketan. They also prepares fruits and ayam (chicken) ingkung in a bamboo weaving plate for offerings.

If all the offerings are ready, they invite the respected men from the mosque near the house to lead the prayer. They mention the names of deceased family members to pray for. After that, offerings are distributed to them to take home. In addition, the host also provides savory rice package.

The next day, the host and all family members make a pilgrimage to the graves of deceased family members. In addition to praying for the deceased family, they also give alms to the guards and grave cleaners.

After that Ruwahan is finished and they immediately prepares themselves to welcome Ramadan.


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