The ancient gravestones were casting the first, long shadows of daybreak, but Rudianto had already been awake for two hours. It was 5:50 a.m. and the scruffy, bleary-eyed pilgrim was seated cross-legged on the tile floor near the central tomb where he had spent the last two nights.
For six weeks, he had been trekking along the sultry northern rim of Indonesia's Java island, visiting the graves of the wali songo, the nine Muslim saints who first introduced Islam here more than five centuries ago.
"When you walk, you feel closer to God," said the 26-year-old cowherd, pulling his ratty brown scarf tighter against the dawn breeze. "When you suffer, you feel close to Him."
His newfound companion, Muhammed Ardi, 30, nodded in agreement. Then Ardi took a sip from the communal coffee cup, a used plastic bottle with the final dregs of the morning brew. A religion student, he had sailed three days from one of the outer islands to reach the town of Demak.
Birds chirped unseen in the mango and frangipani trees around the cemetery. Several laborers swept aside the leaves that had fallen overnight among the hundreds of gravestones. Outside the locked, ornately carved mahogany doors of the mausoleum rose the soft voices, alto and soprano, of two women reciting passages from the Koran and seeking blessings from Sunan Kalijaga, Demak's founding saint entombed within.
By 7 a.m., deep male voices from the far side of the tomb joined in, raising a single steady hum of supplication.
"This is the place where you come to pour out your heart and share the pain in your life," said Suratman Tirto Suharjo, 55, seated on the mustard-tiled veranda.
A faith healer with thick lips and a knit skullcap perched atop a bare pate, Suharjo travels to Demak once a month, trying to enlist Sunan Kalijaga's help in sorting out cases of illness, poverty and workplace woes he cannot resolve by himself. On this morning, he explained, he was praying for a police official who had been jailed as part of an internal dispute.
"Thank God, because of my prayers, he'll be released tomorrow," Suharjo confided.
The veneration of saints and graveside worship are anathema to Muslim puritans, especially Indonesia's Islamic radicals, who are battling to strip away what they consider superstition and corrupt influences, both foreign and local. But on the three Fridays each month when the mausoleum doors are unlocked, crowds of people are drawn here by emotion and faith. Demak alone can attract more than 10,000 pilgrims every month, far outstripping the ranks of Indonesia's militant underground.
Even on ordinary days like this, hundreds of visitors claim places among the tombstones.
A busload of rice and tobacco farmers had traveled through the night from their village in easternmost Java, and they were now pressing into the cemetery, feet bare, shoes left at the gate. They filed up to a well at the edge of the mausoleum and scooped out holy water with plastic cups. They drank for their health. Then they filled their jugs and old mineral water bottles with the blessed liquid to lug home for ailing relatives and to sprinkle on sickly paddies to make them fertile.
They sat beside the front door of the mausoleum and broke into chant. Men in black Muslim caps, women in flowing dresses and brilliantly colored head scarves, giggling children with wide eyes.
As the hands of the clock on the mausoleum wall approached 9:30 a.m., a stream of devotees flowed along the cobblestone alley leading to the cemetery, past dozens of stalls where merchants peddled Muslim caps, head scarves and prayer beads, children's clothing embroidered with pictures of the tomb, ashtrays embossed with the names of the saints, and Coca-Cola.
Scattered among the large groups were lone petitioners. The melancholy security guard on the verge of being fired who prayed for his post. A merchant bound for Borneo praying to land a shipment of beans.
At the wooden gate appeared a pair of schoolgirls in their white uniform blouses and dark skirts. Wati, 19, and her friend Sari, 15, had skipped class, coming more than an hour by bus so they could pray to pass their final exams, still seven months away.
"I'd better start praying now," Wati offered anxiously.
By 11:30 a.m., the amplified call to midday prayers at a neighborhood mosque was echoing across the graves. The crowds were thinning, the chants receding to a hum, then just a few solitary voices.
A final group pressed up against the mahogany doors. Several people snapped souvenir photos. One videotaped the ritual. Then they departed, bare feet on a stone path scorching under the sun. "Hot! Hot!" the children complained.
The worshipers melted away with the shadows.
But already, more pilgrims were coming past the stalls hawking trinkets and memories.