Married men, cheating housewives, government officials and prostitutes revelling in a mass ritual of adultery and sex.
This is what happens on Gunung Kemukus in Indonesia, otherwise known as Sex Mountain.
鈥淚 come here to seek good fortune,鈥?regular visitor Mardiyah told me as I follow her journey on tonight鈥檚 Dateline at 9.30pm on SBS ONE.
She is one of thousands of pilgrims who journey to a mysterious hilltop in Java to perform this ancient ritual. Most of those who take part in the ritual consider themselves devout Muslims.
There are several versions of the mythic tale that date back to the 16th century. Legend has it a young Indonesian Prince Pangeran Samodro had an affair with his stepmother.
They ran away and hid on Gunung Kemukus. One day, while mid-coitus, they were caught, killed and buried atop the mountain. It’s now an Islamic shrine where this sex ritual takes place.
The story goes: pilgrims must copulate on the mountain every 35 days for seven consecutive times and blessings and wealth should come their way.
But for the magic to work and the money to flow, it鈥檚 believed their sex partner for the ritual should not be their spouse.
I meet Gepeng, who like many others has travelled hundreds of kilometres from across the archipelago to get to sex mountain.
鈥淵ou go there to look for a different partner, not the one you have at home. Historically that’s how it works,” he said.
Another man travelling with him explained: 鈥淚 don鈥檛 tell my wife. There鈥檚 no way my wife will find out.鈥?/p>
Pilgrims first pray and make offerings at the grave. They then must wash themselves at sacred springs nearby and once that’s been completed, they have sex.
This ritual isn’t seen anywhere else in Indonesia or the rest of the Muslim world. It鈥檚 a very Javanese blend of religious ideals with Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist influences.
Professor Keontjoro Soeparno, a social psychologist from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, has been studying the ritual for more than 30 years.
鈥淚t鈥檚 a strange thing. A paradox: there鈥檚 a mosque, shrine – but outside 鈥?there鈥檚 a place for having illicit sex,鈥?he said. “The fact is – it’s hypocritical.”
It’s impossible to ignore that the ritual is riddled with contradictions. Islam views adultery as a sin, so the ‘out of wedlock’ sex clearly goes against the mainstream law of the religion.
Karaoke bars and 鈥榮ex shacks鈥?line the hillside. Some are privately owned, others built and funded by the local government. But they鈥檙e loathe to publicly admit there is any sex going on at Gunung Kemukus.
“Pilgrims should come here with pure hearts and clean bodies,鈥?a gatekeeper employed to look after the mountain shrine said.
“We鈥檝e never said the sex is a condition of the pilgrimage. It鈥檚 what they want to do.”
The territory has become prime real estate for commercial sex workers. Professor Keontjoro estimates about half of the women who show up now are prostitutes.
鈥淭he government facilitated the rise of prostitution. The Islamic religion forbids all this, but the government would rather not know about that. Because they鈥檙e more interested in profit 鈥?they leave their religion behind,” he said.
Some say if you pay for sex the ritual doesn’t work. The reality is the local government makes a sizeable profit from sex mountain. They charge the stalls to set up shop and the pilgrims pay a toll to enter the site.
With up to 8,000 pilgrims arriving on the busiest nights and an entry fee of around 5000 rupiah, or 50 cents, a time, it’s big business in Indonesia.
So it鈥檚 not surprising officials and religious leaders turn a blind eye.
The question remains though 鈥?how do we know this ancient tradition actually works. Does sex with a stranger really boost your bank account?
Mardiyah genuinely believes it does, attributing sex mountain and its spiritual powers to her recent success.
鈥淧raise be to God, after coming here, even though I have a few debts, my business is making a bit of a profit. Even though it鈥檚 small, I still give thanks that I鈥檝e received blessings from here,鈥?she said to me.
I don鈥檛 know how willing I am to believe in the legacy of Prince Samodro and his stepmother lover, but I can understand the attachment to the myth.
See the full story on Dateline at 9.30pm on SBS ONE.
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