Indonesian Volcano's Spiritual Guardian Dies In Eruption

Furniture is covered by volcanic ash in a house in a village badly hit by the eruption of Mount Mera

Furniture is covered by volcanic ash in a house in a village badly hit by the eruption of Mount Merapi in Kinahrejo, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010. Slamet Riyadi/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Slamet Riyadi/AP

When Indonesia's most volatile volcano erupted at dusk Tuesday, the man who had been assigned to be the volcano's spiritual gatekeeper was at his post.

Mbah Maridjan was found in his house, his body reportedly in a praying position — a finding that apparently led several people to post photos of his remains.

Maridjan, 83, lived about 2.5 miles from Java's Mount Merapi, the volcano whose name translates as "Fire Mountain." His was among the reported 30 bodies officials have discovered in the area after the eruption, which spewed white ash and hot gases.

Maridjan had been given the title of gatekeeper in 1982 by Hamengkubuwono IX, the late sultan of the ancient city of Yogyakarta. He succeeded his father in the post, which involves looking after the spirits of the volcano, and conducting offerings and rituals.

This was not the first time Maridjan had defied orders to evacuate —in 2006, he explained told a reporter, "I'm not afraid because it's my duty. I'm like a soldier - they are never scared."

The news of his death evidently didn't surprise the authorities. From a report in The Jakarta Globe:

Speaking on behalf of the Yogyakarta Palace, Gusti Prabukusumo said they had a premonition about Mbah Maridjan’s fate.

“We had known long before it happened that Mbah Maridjan would be taken by Merapi. Now that he's gone, we have to choose a new gatekeeper soon,” Prabukusumo said.

One day before the blast, the government had urged some 40,000 people to evacuate, based on heightened activity that included white smoke spewing from the Mount Merapi's crater.

The volcano erupted less than 24 hours after a deadly 10-foot tsunami struck western Indonesia. Authorities are reporting a death toll of more than 270 people in that disaster.

Over at National Geographic, you can check out a slideshow of images from Java.

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