Tara and Nyai Lara Kidul: images of the divine feminine in Java
Jordaan, Roy E.
Asian Folklore Studies
Vol.56 No.2 (Oct 1997)
COPYRIGHT 1997 Asian Folklore Studies (Japan)
In the immediate environs of the provincial capital of Yogyakarta
lies the ruin of Candi Kalasan, a Buddhist temple often regarded as
one of the most beautiful temples of Central Java. This temple is
one of the few Javanese archaeological monuments that can be dated -
in an inscription in stone in pre-Nagari script, dated 700 Saka (778
C.E.), mention is made of the foundation in the village Kalaga by a
ruler of the Sailendra dynasty of a temple with an associated
monastery, devoted to the goddess Tara (BRANDES 1886). Although no
further concrete details are given about the temple or the goddess
Tara, there can be no doubt that it refers to Candi Kalasan: the
ruins of the temple and the foundations of what used to be the
monastery are located in a village that has been named Kalasan since
time immemorial, and moreover, the inscription was found in the
immediate neighborhood - "between Prambanan and Kalasan" - before
In this article I want to focus especially on the question of
exactly which Tara the temple at Kalasan was dedicated to, or, in
other words, which image of this Buddhist goddess sat on the main
throne of Candi Kalasan. In answering this question I use two
approaches: historical and iconographic.(1) Beyond this I want to
see if Tara has left other traces in Javanese society and whether,
with the decline of Buddhism in Central Java, her position may not
have been (re)taken by another goddess.
Little is known about the origin of the Buddhist goddess Tara, or
about the probable time of the origin of her cult or about possible
influences on this cult by Hindu and non-Aryan or tribal elements
(BLONAY 1895; SHASTRI 1925; SIRCAR 1967; GHOSH 1980). Concerning the
rise of her cult in Northeast India, Ghosh posits that "there is no
evidence (whether literary or archaeological) of the existence of
Tara before the Gupta period," circa the third to fifth centuries
C.E. Although a few early expressions of devotion are known from the
Indian literature, the Javanese Kalasan inscription of 778 seems to
be "the earliest epigraphic reference to her" (GUPTE 1980, 117; cf.
SIRCAR 1967, 130).
Because the Kalasan inscription is evidently also the earliest dated
edict proclaimed by a Sailendra ruler, its interpretation has
occupied various scholars in connection with their attempts to
reconstruct the role of the Sailendras in the dynastic history of
Central Java. The Sailendras are connected with the building of many
Buddhist shrines - of which Borobudur is the best known - in Central
Java during the late-eighth and the first half of the ninth
centuries. Very little is known of this period of nearly a hundred
years (known in the literature as the "Sailendra Interregnum") other
than the remains of temples and a few inscriptions. Thus the origin
of the Sailendras is still a great mystery, even after the countless
pages devoted to this subject by scholars, in which the
interpretation of the Kalasan inscription, or more accurately its
second strophe, has played a crucial role. In BOSCH's early
translation this reads as follows: "After the gurus of the Sailendra
ruler the great king dyah Pancapana had persuaded the rakryan
Panamkarana, they had a splendid Tara temple built" (1928, 60).
The controversy here, in brief, concerns whether this passage refers
to two rulers or only one - that is, whether there was an unnamed
Sailendra ruler who via his guru(s) involved a Javanese king
Panamkarana (elsewhere known as Panangkaran) in building the Tara
temple, or whether there was a Sailendra ruler who was himself named
Champions of the first explanation see Panamkarana as a Javanese
vassalking or as a scion of an original non-Javanese dynasty, but
are divided on the question of whether he descended from a royal
line that directly or indirectly emigrated from, or was driven out
of, India, or whether he originated from the kingdom of Srivijaya in
South Sumatra or the state of Funan on the Southeast Asian mainland.
Proponents of the second interpretation see Panamkarana as the son
of a local Hindu ruler who converted to Buddhism and became the
ancestor of a separate branch of a bifurcated Javanese Sailendra
dynasty, most of whose members were also adherents of Buddhism.
About the second half of the ninth century the two branches are
thought to have been reunited by the marriage of a Buddhist crown
princess to a Hindu prince who, if not himself descended from the
second house, was closely allied with it.(2)
Since it is beyond the scope of this article to go into the origins
of the Sailendra dynasty, let it suffice to make a few comments
about the Kalasan inscription that are relevant to the study of the
goddess Tara. I want to first of all point out the very real
possibility that the guru(s) named in the Kalasan inscription could
be identical with the one(s) mentioned in a Kelurak inscription
dated four years later as involved in the foundation of Candi Sewu.
It is moreover mentioned in the latter inscription that the guru,
named Kumaraghosa, came from Gaudidvipa, which has been identified
by Bosch as Gauda (Gaudavisaya), one of the names for the state of
Bengal (Vangala) ruled by the Pala kings.(3) The involvement of one
or more gurus from this area would be a plausible explanation for
the long-noted scriptural similarities between the Kalasan
inscription and those of the Bengal ruler Devapala (ca. 810-850) and
his predecessor Dharmapala (BHANDARKAR 1887, cited in BOSCH 1928,
It is known of these Pala rulers that they especially venerated the
goddess Tara, who was attributed the role of "savior." This was
possibly connected with the vital importance to their state of
maritime trade - Tara was to merchants and sailors first of all a
goddess of navigation (SIRCAR 1967, 108, 113). The importance of the
goddess for Dharmapala is evident from the fact that he carried her
effigy in his banner (DASGUPTA 1967, 123; GHOSH 1980, 14). According
to SIRCAR, the "Tara of Dharmapala's standard or banner [was] very
probably the dynastic emblem of the Palas for their standard or
banner just as the Dharmacakra was for their seals" (1967, 131-32).
The primacy of Tara is further evident from the temples built in her
honor in India, especially in Northeast Indian sites like
Candradvipa, Nalanda, and Somapura, which were ruled by the Pala
kings (SIRCAR 1967, 113, 128; GHOSH 1980, 9, 30). According to
Sircar, Khadiravani-Tara, who because of her green color was also
known as Syama-Tara, was probably the Tara worshiped in Candradvipa,
and was "one of the most celebrated deities in Bengal during the age
of the Palas." Sircar not only calls this image of her the
"commonest" representation, but notes that "it also appears that
Syama of the green variety is one of the earliest forms of Tara,
Syama as the name of the Mother-goddess being still very popular in
Bengal" (SIRCAR 1967, 128-30).
However important Candradvipa may have been as a Bengal pilgrimage
site, in places such as Nepal, Tibet, China, Sumatra, and Java it is
Nalanada that is remembered. It was here, for instance, that a
Sailendra prince, Balaputra, after having been driven out of Java
and enthroned in Srivijaya in Sumatra (Suvarnadvipa), had a
monastery built with the aid of king Devapaladeva. In the
accompanying edict his father is mentioned as king of Java as well
as an "ornament of the Sailendra dynasty." Also interesting is the
information about his mother, the queen of that king; named Tara,
she was the daughter of the great ruler Dharmasetu (Varmasetu) of
the lunar race and was said to resemble the goddess Tara herself
(SHASTRI 1925, 32).(4) Moreover, Srivijaya itself was also an
important center of learning in the Buddhist world, not only for
many Chinese pilgrims who called there on their way to and from
India, but also for Indian monks and scholars. One of these was
Atisa, who came from Northeast India and who for twelve years
(1013-25) lived at the court of Srivijaya. Later he went to Tibet to
"renew" Buddhism there and gave a fresh impulse to the veneration of
Tara, so that she would develop more or less into "the national
goddess of Tibet" (SCHOTERMAN 1986, 23; cf. DAS 1893, 53-83; BOSCH
Although Atisa must have been a devotee of Tara long before his
sojourn in Sumatra, in Srivijaya he found a kindred soul in his
Sumatran teacher, who was no less devoted to the goddess. A Tibetan
source puts it as follows:
Here in Tibet, five traditions have come down to us.... Among these,
the most distinguished is the school of Atisa: both he and his own
teacher Dharmakirti of the Golden Isles continually saw the face of
the Holy Lady, and upon them was bestowed the tradition. (BEYER
1978, 417-18; cf. SCHOTERMAN 1986, 23).
According to BEYER, in Tibet Atisa becomes another famed teacher of
Mahayana Buddhism (either directly or via Nagarjuna), associated
with the so-called Twenty-one Taras and with the green
Khadiravani-Tara (1978, 320).
Undeterred by the absence of concrete indications in the Kalasan
inscription, KROM wrote, "There are no further indications which
Tara is meant and thus it is undoubtedly Syama Tara, the Tara par
excellence" (1923, 1: 257). As far as I know, Krom's thesis has
never been explored in the archaeological literature, although
BERNET KEMPERS did once suggest that "a large image of the Buddha in
bronze seems to have sat enthroned [in the central cella] in former
times" (1959, 50), without, however, providing a single argument in
support of this proposition. As will be shown, it is likely that
Bernet Kemper's suggestion was based primarily on the shape and size
of the main throne, from which it can be deduced that it was meant
to seat an exceptional figure, which certainly could have been
Buddha if this were not contradicted by the Kalasan inscription.
The data about Tara's throne come primarily from BRANDES's
comparative research into the main thrones in three Buddhist temples
in Central lava, namely Candi Sewu, Candi Mendut, and Candi Kalasan
(1904). Only the thrones of Candi Mendut and Candi Kalasan are
relevant here because these are nearly identical in form and
decoration, as is clear from the drawings in Brandes's article.
In brief, Brandes maintained that the main throne of Candi Kalasan
must have been occupied by a seated statue with its legs hanging
down, as is the case with the statue of the Buddha in Candi Mendut
[ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. However, the statue was much
larger: "Where the Mendut statue is 'only' 3 meters in height from
the soles of its feet to the top of its head, that of Kalasan must
have measured 6 meters. Both... are thrones for statues of gods
sitting in the European manner" (BRANDES 1904, 162). Later Brandes
notes another important difference that became apparent to him not
only because of the colossal size of the missing statue but also
because of traces of a join in the cushion of the throne, indicating
that the Candi Kalasan statue was probably not made of stone but of
metal, probably bronze.
It seems probable that Bernet Kempers's suggestion regarding a
bronze Buddha on the Candi Kalasan throne is based on the
combination of the above-mentioned data. The European manner of
sitting was possibly the deciding factor, because according to
iconographic handbooks this sitting posture, known as
pralambapadasana or bhadrasana, is relatively unique, and seems to
be especially characteristic of Maitreya, the future, human Buddha
(AUBOYER 1937, 90; GORDON 1939, 24; LIEBERT 1976, 216). As was
pointed out, the only thing that contradicts this identification is
the information in the Kalasan inscription, which speaks explicitly
of both a temple and a statue of Tara, information that in my
opinion cannot be ignored.
Rereading the literature on Buddhist iconography with this
assumption, I recalled that there is indeed a Tara characterized by
the bhadrasana posture: Vagya-Tara [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2
OMITTED], also known as Vasyadhikara-Tara (BHATTACHARYYA 192528,
1:178; KIRFEL 1959, 99; LIEBERT 1976, 36; GUPTE 1980, 140; GHOSH
1980, 36). DE MALLMANN too notes that bhadrasana was the seated
posture most frequently attributed to Vasyadhikara-Tara, but adds
that her admittedly tentative description does not correspond to
what would be understood as a European sitting posture (1975, 10).
This latter she calls paryanka, which, relying on a secondary Hindu
source, she attributes to the form Mahattara Tara. Most authors,
however, consider paryanka to be a cross-legged position.
That Vasya-Tara is the only Tara explicitly connected with this
sitting position is very important, as it gives our identification a
degree of certainty. With the other sitting positions this is not
the case: not only can other forms of Tara sometimes take these
positions, but it also happens that one and the same Tara can take a
different position depending on the context.
The only Tara whose seated posture is not strictly prescribed is the
earlier-mentioned Khadiravani-Tara, which for this reason, if only
theoretically, could also be depicted in bhadrasana. As the asana
(seating posture) alone is thus not decisive, it becomes useful to
look at the iconographic characteristics of Vasya-Tara and
Khadiravani-Tara in order to determine their mutual differences and
similarities. It then becomes immediately apparent that the two
goddesses have much in common. Both have only one head and two hands
and both are emanations of the Dhyani Buddha Amoghasiddhi, whose
image they bear in their crowns. Their color is green, just like
that of their "spiritual sire." They further have in common the
"boon-giving" mudra (varadamudra) of their right hands and the blue
lotus in their left. According to Ghosh, who studied the development
of the Buddhist iconography in which Tara takes a central position,
both Vasya(dhikara)-Tara and Khadiravan-Tara belong to the eleven
Tara for whom the sacred Taramantra (om Tare tuttara ture svaha) is
prescribed and who all bear the utpala as an attribute. All in all
the correspondences are so numerous that it should not be wondered
that some authors tend to consider the goddesses as identical (e.g.,
KIRFEL 1959, 99; LIEBERT 1976, 333).
However, there is a difference between them: while Vasya-Tara is
always presented as standing alone, Khadiravani-Tara is said to be
attended by two companions, namely Asokakanta Marici on her left and
Ekajata on her right (KIRFEL 1959, 99). BHATTACHARYYA seems to give
the unattended status the character of a differentiating criterium
when he writes that Vasya-Tara "is described as single and as such
is not accompanied by any god or goddess" (1968, 230). Although
GHOSH leaves some room for errors in identification, she proposes
that "within the limitations of the present state of our knowledge,
we may, for practical purposes, ascribe to Khadiravani those images
which are not in the paryanka or vajra-paryanka attitude and which
are attended by Asokakanta-Marici and Ekajata" (1980, 64).
If greater importance is given to the independence of Vasya-Tara
than to the indeterminate seated posture of Khadiravani-Tara, this
is additional reason for us to think that Vasya-Tara must have been
the goddess whose statue was seated on the main throne of Candi
Kalasan. That is, in contrast to the other temple-chambers, there
was room here for only one statue. BRANDES notes that
there is not only room in this temple for a main statue, but in the
secondary chapels one always finds 3 altars of which the most
important ones, still to the sides of the main seat, show grooves
that indicate that two smaller ones stood next to that statue, so
that for each of the chapels one is concerned with 5 statues; that 6
niches can be found in the antechamber, which gave access to the
main chamber, each of which was in turn also intended for a statue."
(1904, 166; cf. IJZERMAN 1891, 25, plates 1-4).
However, there is insufficient room for attendants on or next to the
main throne of Vasya-Tara, while the walls of this temple-chamber
also do not contain the niches that were found in the other chambers
[ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED].
Unfortunately it is impossible at this point to use the data about
Vasya-Tara as a point of departure for a hypothetical reconstruction
of the mandala (divine cosmic plan) of Kalasan, that is, the
specification of the other goddesses and gods in the pantheon and
their distribution on the remaining thrones and in the inner and
outer niches.(5) The only thing that can be said is that, aside from
the main throne, the total number of spaces is twenty-one, the same
number that came up in connection with Atisa's propagation of the
twenty-one Taras in Tibet. On the basis of the available data it is
impossible to determine whether these twenty-one Taras were also
present at Kalasan, but it does not seem very probable, given what
is written about them. According to BEYER, the twenty-one were
"ordinary" Taras all seated in the same way ("with their right feet
extended and their left drawn up"), and distinguishable from each
other only on the basis of the colors of the bottles in their hands
or the attributes on the lotuses (1978, 333-35,470). This cannot
have been the case with Candi Kalasan - there seated statues were
located on the thrones and standing ones in the niches. Moreover,
not all of the niches were of the same size and decoration, as can
be determined from the ones preserved in the antechamber to the main
Earlier we mentioned Tara's role as both "savior" and as "goddess of
navigation." It is not completely clear how the latter role arose,
but it may relate to the etymology of the name Tara. LIEBERT writes
this word [Tara] should properly, regarding its etymology, be
interpreted as "star, constellation" and may therefore, as the name
of a deity, be connected with the Babylonian Istar. But since the
word may also be associated with the verb tar- (caus. Tarayati
"cause to arrive at, lead over or across, rescue, save"), it is
generally understood and translated as "saviouress"; thus especially
in Buddhism. (1976, 294-95; cf. DE MALMANN 1975, 368)
After examining the evolution of this Buddhist goddess and
identifying many notable correspondences between her and the Brahman
Devi (Durga), GHOSH concluded that Tara "is conceived essentially as
a savioress liberating people from various perils" (1980, 8). For
example, one of her well-known forms is Aryashtamahabhaya-Tara, who
protects against the eight dangers of the lion, elephant, fire,
snake, thief, fetter, water, and demon (GHOSH 1980, 40). It is easy
to see why sea-fearing merchants and navigators should emphasize
especially her protection on water, and why she became a goddess of
navigation for them. Among the Tibetans the idea of deliverance is
primary, as is evident from, among other things, the translation of
the name as "Unloosener (of difficulties)" (GHOSH 1980, 8). In a
similar way, the geographical and climatological differences between
Bangladesh, Java, and Sumatra on the one hand and Nepal and Tibet on
the other appear to be the most plausible explanation for the fact
noted by BEYER that "the various minor goddesses, occasionally
assimilated to forms of Tara, who may be grouped together as one or
another type of snake goddess (e.g., Janguli, Parnasabari), evoked
almost no response in the hearts of any but the most scrupulously
studious Tibetans" (1978, xiii).
In regard to the symbolic meanings of the above-mentioned attributes
of Tara, Ghosh notes that green represents "youthful vigour,
freshness, activity, and divine energy," while bhadrasana signifies
"sovereignty." The latter seems to correspond with the indication
"Vasyadhikara," which means "having authority over the subject
ones," as is also the case with VasyadhikaraLokesvara (see LIEBERT
1976, 333), but does not fit as well with Liebert's translation of
Vasya-Tara as "the tamed, subjected Tara." This translation,
however, seems to contradict Liebert's own observation that the
pralambapadasana, taken to mean the European way of sitting,
symbolizes "authority."(6) "Sovereignty" or "authority" (terms whose
meanings overlap considerably) must be taken as the most probable
meaning, as is also evident from the fact that sovereignty is
precisely the meaning attributed to the ornamentation of the main
throne, consisting of a makara, a standing lion or elephant (AUBOYER
1937; SAUNDERS 1960, 129). Perhaps the image's unattended status
should also be understood in terms of independence and sovereignty.
It seems probable in any case that the Vasya-Tara of Kalasan was
given the status of a supreme goddess.
Finally, I would like to indicate the meaning of one of Vasya-Tara's
attributes: the flower utpala (synonymous with nilotpala). The
utpala is a water lily or blue lotus that Bhattacharyya calls a
"night lotus" and Margaret STUTLEY rather cryptically says is
"sacred to the moon" (1985, 102). GHOSH elaborates as follows:
The blooming time of utpalas which open at the sunset and close at
the sunrise is night and, accordingly, these flowers are associated
with the moon, just as the lotus, which opens in the morning and
closes by night, is connected with the sun. Both these flowers with
their prolonged life symbolize rejuvenation of life. The promise of
a prolonged life together with the idea of Tara delivering devotees
from the dark elements may be the reason for the preference for this
particular flower. (1980, 26)
JAVANESE MYTHOLOGY AS A SOURCE OF "MEMORY"
Before we turn to more recent data from the mythology of Java in
this examination of the Tara of Kalasan, it must first be asked
whether such an approach is valid. Some support is provided by the
fact that many historical names still remain from that era, albeit
in somewhat corrupted form, despite the passage of over a thousand
years and the occurrence of various drastic cultural and historical
changes in Javanese society. Kalasan, for example, can only have
been derived from the old Kalasa. Other examples include the name of
the old state of Mataram, the Hindu-Javanese names of rivers like
the Sanjaya, the Serayu, and the Progo, and temple names such as
Borubudur, Prambanan, and Ratu Boko.
It goes without saying that one has to be far more careful with data
relating to former religious ideas and practices than with data
relating to old names. Even so, useful points of departure can be
found, especially in the mythology surrounding the Central Javanese
goddess Ratu Kidul, alias Nyai Lara Kidul. Elsewhere (JORDAN 1984) I
have suggested that this mythological figure, which is still
venerated as both the spirit queen of the Southern Ocean and the
spouse of successive rulers of Central Java, should be understood in
relation to the original pan-Indonesian ancestral figures (often
with the titles Nyai, Nyi, and Ni) who were connected with natural
fertility and the welfare of the land. Their ability to continually
rejuvenate themselves, plus their close association with underworld
beings, especially the snake, led me to suspect that Nyai Lara Kidul
could herself have been a snake goddess (nagini). This made it
possible to compare her with similar mythological figures in the
area, such as Po Nagar, a goddess who is prominent among the Cham of
mainland Southeast Asia and who is likewise closely connected with
In order to explain the current weakened and veiled connection
between Nyai Lara Kidul and agricultural fertility, I proposed,
following STUTLEY and STUTLEY's lead (1977, 88, 222), that in the
Hindu-Javanese period she must have been subjected to a process of
association and identification with Hindu goddesses such as Uma,
Durga, and Parvati, which are often considered mother-goddesses.
Drawing on the work of SCHRIEKE (1925) and PIGEAUD (1962, 211), I
concluded that a connection with Durga and Sridevi (who came to be
called Dewi Sri in Java) seemed most likely, because together these
two more or less encompassed the original Nyai Lara Kidul's
ambiguous, vacillating nature. While Durga primarily represented
Nyai Lara Kidul's demonic side, Sridevi, the goddess of welfare, was
associated with her benevolent aspect. However, these associations
did not everywhere develop in exactly the same way or to the same
degree. In large areas of Java, for instance, Sridevi, as Dewi Sri,
gained influence at the expense of Lara Kidul and ultimately took
over the latter's position as goddess of agriculture, especially in
the case of wet rice cultivation.
However, for both of these goddesses the dissociation resulted in a
mutilation of their original characters. Although Dewi Sri, as rice
goddess, never became as ambivalent and capricious as the ancient
Indonesian ricespirit (cf. VAN DER WEIJDEN 1981, 225), she did
acquire a number of traits that were foreign to her, or at least
unusual in the Indian context. These included the ability to change
herself into a snake and to have food crops grown from her dead
body. The damage to Lara Kidul was greater, however.
Presumably, because of the weakening of her connection with
fertility, the bond with the vast majority of the agricultural
people became increasingly meaningless and loose; in the process her
identity finally dissolved into a mysterious demonic power, which
was connected with the Southern Ocean. (JORDAAN 1984, 112)
In a later article I explored Nyai Lara Kidul's mythological
relations with the female ancestral figures of a number of peoples
in Eastern Indonesia and beyond (JORDAAN 1987). Here too there
existed an associative complex in which recurrent folkloristic
elements (such as ever-rejuvenating old women, skin disease, snakes,
the underworld, and agricultural fertility) were combined in various
ways, supporting the notion of the pre-Hindu origin of Ratu Kidul.
Retrospectively, my 1984 article is especially lacking in references
to Buddhism and Buddhist goddesses. My current thinking is that
mutual relations, both between Hinduism and Buddhism and between
these and indigenous beliefs, were probably less exclusive and not
as antagonistic as certain influential studies on old Central Java
would have us believe. There were cases, for example, in which
rulers cooperated in building temples, such as Candi Kalasan, Candi
Plaosan, and Candi Prambanan. This could only have taken place on a
basis of a mutual understanding of each other's religious
conceptions and practices. There may even have existed a drawing
together of religions in a process of syncretism, such as the
Siva-Buddha cult, where the lines of differentiation were formal
rather than real.
Although the origin of the Siva-Buddha cult is usually considered an
East Javanese development during the period from the tenth to the
fifteenth centuries, an earlier dating to the Central Javanese
period would provide the most satisfactory explanation for some
long-known discoveries that are often disposed of as "stray finds."
These include images in various temples from both pantheons, images
such as a silver statue of Siva in the temple area of the Buddhist
Candi Sewu (ANOM 1992, 68) and a bronze image of the Bodhisattva
Vajrapani and (I suspect) the goddess Tara(7) in the "Hindu" temple
Candi Sambisari (SUAKA PENINGGALAN n.d.; see also FONTEIN 1990,
223). The most striking example is probably a silver statue of Durga
with the Buddhist creed "ye dharmma hetupabhaw..." inscribed on its
backpiece in the Nagari script, which was closely related with the
Buddhist Sailendra dynasty (BRANDES 1887, 24).
The above-mentioned data seem to fit well with studies on the
development of Mahayana Buddhism and Tantrism oriented more to the
Indian subcontinent - WAYMAN's article, with its telling title "The
twenty-one praises of Tara, a syncretism of Saivism and Buddhism,"
comes to mind here (1959). Ghosh, however, in contrast to Wayman and
many other authors, does not believe that Tara as supreme goddess
began with the Buddhists and was subsequently admitted to the Hindu
pantheon; rather, she holds that "the chief inspiration for the
Buddhist goddess Tara was derived from the Brahmanical concept of
Devi (or Durga)" (GHOSH 1980, 20). As one of the most important
factors in this she cites the rise of Brahmanical Hinduism under the
Guptas, which, as it were, forced the Buddhists to compromise by
expanding their elementary pantheon into a host of gods and
goddesses in order to assure the continued existence of their
To make their religion attractive and also acceptable to the maximum
number of people of various ethnic groups including aboriginal and
tribal... the Mahayanists and afterwards the Vajrayanists introduced
the Buddhist counterparts of the Brahmanical gods and goddesses and
folk-divinities.... [T]he Buddhists did not hesitate, even at the
cost of their original precepts, to take over the concepts and even
iconography of many of the Brahmanical gods and goddesses and
regional ideas and beliefs. (GHOSH 1980, 15)(8)
The background Ghosh provides, particularly that relating to the
conceptual relationship between Tara and Devi, would have benefited
my earlier article. Even so, it would have remained an open question
whether Tara was connected directly with Nyai Lara Kidul or
indirectly through separate incarnations, to better account for Nyai
Lara Kidul's ambiguous character. Just as the epithet "Devi," "the
Great Goddess," is applied to a number of Hindu mother-goddesses
(like Durga, Parvati, and Uma), so too the deity Tara takes on a
variety of forms, such as Parnasabari and Vasudhara, which appear to
have rather opposite characters. While Parnasabari shows a striking
demonic similarity to Durga (BHATTACHARYYA 1978, 14-18), Vasudhara
is in many ways reminiscent of Dewi Sri (CHATTERJI 1960, 91-92); the
goddesses could, therefore, be readily connected with the
destructive and beneficial aspects of Nyai Lara Kidul. In the
meantime interest in Ratu Kidul has increased, not only among
ordinary and educated Javanese but also in scholarly circles, which
has led to a broadening and, in some areas, a deepening of the
research on the subject (e.g., WESSING 1988; BRAKELPAPENHUYZEN 1988;
BRAKEL 1995; BOGAERTS 1990; SCHLEHE 1991, 1992; FLORIDA 1992; SUTTON
1993; CHANDRA 1995). It might therefore be useful to review some of
this recent and ongoing research and compare it with the new data on
TELL ME YOUR NAME AND I WILL SAY WHO YOU ARE
One recurring point of discussion in the literature concerns the
rather confusing number of names that appear in connection with the
goddess. These include Nyai Lara Kidul, Kanjeng Ratu Kidul,
Nyaigedhe Segarakidul, Ratu Lara Kidul, Mbok Rata Kidul, Raja
Angin-angin, and Retna Dewati BOGAERTS 1990, 9). These days Ratu
Kidul, literally "Queen of the South," is probably the most common.
The name derives from the belief that the goddess, ruler of a host
of spirits, nymphs, and other beings from the underworld, has her
palace on the bottom of the ocean directly off the south coast of
Central Java.(9) Her excursions ashore are said to be accompanied by
the occurrence of unusual natural phenomena, such as spring tides. I
do not know of any mention of the existence of queens or kings of
other oceans or the other cardinal directions, except for Behrend's
reference to Kanjeng Sunan Lawu, the ruler of the spirits on Mt
Lawu, to the east of Solo (Surakarta). BEHREND writes that
Sunan Lawu (east) and Ratu Kidul (south), together with K. Ratu
Sekarkedaton, tutelary spirit of Gunung Merapi, the active volcano
west of the capital, and Sang Hyang Pramoni (= Durga), resident in
the forest Krendawahana north of the city, guard the cardinal
directions and receive special veneration in Surakarta. (1982, 88)
There is no doubt that Ratu Kidul has the most prominent position in
In view of the royal features on the main throne of Candi Kalasan,
it is obvious that Tara too was venerated as a ruling deity. The
fact that she occupied the main temple chamber as an unattended
deity indicates that she was a supreme goddess who tolerated no one
in her presence. This interpretation is supported by a Tibetan hymn,
translated by WAYMAN, that suggests she is capable of making her
influence felt everywhere (as when it calls her the "Lady who fills
the quarters, intermediate directions and space with the sounds of
Tuttara and Hum") (1959). Tara's power is formidable, as may be
inferred from expressions like "Lady [who is] able to summon the
multitudes of all local genii," "[who is] placed above all by the
elementary spirits, vampires, songster spirits, attendants of Siva,
and secret folk," "who shatters the seven underworlds with the Hum
made by her contracted brows." Tara even appears stronger than
death: "So as to defeat Death (Mara [mrtyumara]), she gives life
force (prana) to the living beings."
Such a superiority over death can also be detected in Nyai Lara
Kidul. She is an ever-rejuvenating woman who, as a virgin, marries
successive Javanese rulers. In Javanese court circles it is even
claimed that the rejuvenation occurs much faster - the late Sultan
of Yogyakarta, Hamengku Buwono IX, declared in an interview that her
change of form runs more or less parallel with the waxing and waning
of the moon (ROEM et al. 1982, 103). Ricklefs cites the Serat Surya
Radja to the effect that "she is the queen of the spirits, thousands
of years old, but can be either young or old depending on whether
the moon is new or old." According to the sultan, who was personally
consulted about this passage, the name for Kanjeng Ratu Kidul is
Retna Dewati when she is young, that is, during the first half of
the lunar month (RICKLEFS 1974, 200). It is relevant here to note
that Tara must also have been able to rejuvenate when she developed
into an omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient goddess of Buddhism.
One of her characteristics is visa-rupa, "having all forms," and in
one case at least she seems to have taken the form of an old woman
who helped a believer in trouble (GHOSH 1980, 10, 33-34). And, as we
noted earlier, connections have been made between Tara and the moon,
as in the case of the night-lotus. We will return to this below.
The difference between the terms nyai and ratu, both part of the
Queen of the South's official titles, has also been a point of
discussion in the literature, though the matter has not yet been
fully dealt with. KOENTJARANINGRAT suggests that the use of nyai
indicates that this deity's place in the category of Javanese
Hindu-Buddhist supernatural beings is with the Javanese ones rather
than those deriving from Islam:
The relationship of man to the Hindu-Buddhist gods, the heroes of
the wayang [shadow puppet] epics, the nature deities, the ancestral
spirits, and the spirits of local saints is conceived by the
Javanese as a relationship to senior but intimate kin, whereas the
relationship to the Allah of Islam, to Muhammed, Allah's prophet,
and to the other prophets, the walis [proselytizers], and the Muslim
saints is considered as one to powerful but distant beings.
Consequently the Javanese consistently use the kinship terms hyang
[ancestor], eyang [refined term for grandfather or grandmother],
kiyai [old man], nyai [old woman], or mbah [ordinary term for
grandfather or grandmother] to refer to or address the deities or
spirits, and the titles for kings or high officials, such as gusti
[Your Highness], kanjeng [My Lord or My Lady], or sunan [Your Grace]
to refer to or address Allah, the prophets, and the walis. The
supreme eternal spirit of the universe, for instance, is called Sang
Hyang Guru; the latter's destructive aspects is called Sang Hyang
Batara Kala; the spirit of the ocean is called Eyang Lara Kidul, or
Nyai Lara Kidul; the local spirit of a particular area is called
Mbah Untung and so on. Allah, on the other hand, is called Gusti
Allah, His prophet is called, or addressed as, Kanjeng Nabi
Muhammad; the individual walis are called Sunan Kali Jaga, Sunan
Bonang, Sunan Giri, Sunan Ngampel, etc. (1980, 132-33)
Although this dichotomy is seductive in its simplicity, it must be
rejected because it does not conform to the facts. As BOGAERTS
rightly points out, the use of Nyai Lara Kidul is not universal, and
many Javanese commonly use Ratu Kidul or even Kanjeng Ratu Kidul Sri
Kencana (1990, 10).(10)
Yet I suspect there is more going on here: that the names Nyai Lara
Kidul and Ratu Kidul apply to different matters, with Nyai Lara
Kidul referring to the Old Javanese fertility goddess and Ratu Kidul
to the indigenous goddess who under Hindu-Buddhist influences was
promoted and given a role as the sakti of deified Javanese rulers.
While the latter identity is now generally known,(11) the notion of
an Old Javanese fertility goddess is apparently too daring for some
scholars. SCHLEHE, for instance, is convinced (ganz eindeutig) that
Ratu Kidul, simply because she is rarely mentioned as having
children, is neither a mother nor a fertility goddess (1991, 199).
This conception of a fertility goddess is clearly rather limited, as
is further shown by the absence of any reference to the connections
earlier researchers have identified between Nyai Lara Kidul and Dewi
Sri (e.g., PIGEAUD 1962, 211; SCHRIEKE 1925; JORDAAN 1984).
The results of BOGAERTS' recent study considerably strengthen the
association between the two goddesses (1990). Where I concluded, on
the basis of the information in the Babad Tanah Jawi, that the
earlier relationship of Lara Kidul and agriculture had disappeared
and could only be recovered indirectly (for example, via the
mythological relationship to her "sister" Tisnawati [the goddess of
dry rice cultivation] and the religious conceptions of isolated
peoples like the Tenggerese), Bogaerts demonstrates that Nyai Lara
Kidul's position as fertility goddess - whether or not as an
incarnation of Dewi Sri - is clearly evident in the stories of the
Panitik Sultan Agungan. She also confirms my suspicion that Nyai
Lara Kidul was closely associated with snakes and should maybe even
be identified as a snake goddess (BOGAERTS 1990, 113).
The only important point upon which Bogaerts and I differ is in
what, precisely, constitutes a snake goddess. Bogaerts maintains
with SCHLEHE (1991, 198) that there is no indication of Nyai Lara
Kidul's having had a "snake-like appearance"; moreover, such an
appearance seems to Bogaerts difficult to reconcile with the beauty
for which Nyai Lara Kidul is famed. For this reason she thinks it
better to speak of a snake queen. This rejection, however, may be
somewhat premature, as it ignores the information provided by my
Javanese informants,(12) who remembered that in their youth Nyai
Lara Kidul was spoken of as a naga, a mythical snake. Nor does her
position take cognizance of my 1987 article, which focuses on the
close relationship between Nyai Lara Kidul and snakes. Further
evidence is provided by Behrend, who discusses Pangung
Sangga-Buwana, the twenty-eight-metertall palace-tower, in a
top-floor room of which the amorous meetings between the ruler of
Surakarta and Ratu Kidul are said to take place. Especially
important here is the painting that used to hang in this room. The
painting, which depicted a man riding on a flying snake, was
recognized by Behrend as a sengkala memet, a Javanese pictographic
representation of the founding date of the tower (1782 C.E.). In a
note he adds the following:
The picture may also be a symbolic depiction of the relationship
between the king and Ratu Kidul. "Riding" is a metaphor for sexual
intercourse, and the snake may represent the chthonic nature of the
Queen, though I am not familiar with any other such likening of the
two. (BEHREND 1982, 87, n. 205).(13)
Finally, it should be remembered that the Sultan of Yogyakarta would
meet with Ratu Kidul in a room in the tower of the so-called Water
Palace (Taman Sari), which led me to examine parallel examples on
the Southeast Asian mainland, such as the nightly unions in the
Phimeanakas, a tower-like structure in the Angkor Thom complex, of
Khmer kings with a "serpent goddess" who appeared in the guise of a
beautiful woman. The fertility goddess of the Cham could also appear
in the form of a naga (JORDAAN 1984, 113 n. 8).
More difficult is the discussion about the precise meaning of the
term Lara, which is usually translated as "girl" or "maiden," but
which, according to some researchers (myself included), ambiguously
refers to illness (or which, more precisely, might include a
connection with illness in spite of its derivation from rara
[girl]). The latter notion, however, is firmly denied by some,
despite the claim in some myths that Nyai Lara Kidul suffered of a
skin disease before taking up residence in the Southern Ocean.
BOGAERTS (1990, 10) argues that there is a tendency in Modern
Javanese for two "r" sounds to go ill together when occurring in one
word. Through regressive dissimilation in the course of time the Old
Javanese rara/rara changed into the New Javanese lara, in which the
meaning of "maiden" was retained. The Old Javanese rara developed
historically out of the honorific prefix *da+ *DaRa, "maiden." Lara
as "unmarried woman" or maiden and lara as "illness" are simply
homonyms, she suggests.
This argument does not adequately deal with the situation. By
concentrating on laws of phonetics,(14) Bogaerts ignores the
well-known tendency of the Javanese to use puns and veiled language,
especially when mysterious and politically sensitive subjects are
concerned. By speaking of "only" homonyms, she not only does
violence to the mythological reality but also ignores the fact that
mythologies are often purposely vague and ambiguous, which is the
source of their power and the reason for their continued
It is Nyai Lara Kidul's association with snakes that shows the
capacity of the Javanese to connect the various meanings of lara
with each other in an ambiguous way. This can be seen with Nyai Lara
Kidul's double, Nyi Pohaci Sangyang Sri, the West Javanese rice
goddess: Nyi Pohaci, like Dewi Sri, is able to incarnate as a snake,
and for this reason the Sundanese use the names of snakes to
indicate the various stages in the growth of the rice crop (KERN
1948). Nyi Pohaci herself is addressed as "Nagini" in some rice
mantras, while mention is repeatedly made of her skin
(SUKANDA-TESSIER 1977, 43; ATJA and DANASASMITA 1981, 29). It is
obvious that the skin disease mentioned in the myths refers to the
shedding of a snake's skin. Comparison with variant myths from
elsewhere in the archipelago shows that the skin disease of certain
ancestral figures and the shedding of the snake's skin are both
related to the ability to rejuvenate (JoRDAAN 1987).
This information is important for the interpretation of the Javanese
mythological material about Nyai Lara Kidul collected by Bogaerts
and others.(16) For example, a popular motif in connection with the
beauty of Javanese princesses is their ability to change shape
several times a day. With normal princesses one might tend to
imagine a change of makeup or clothing, but Nyai Lara Kidul, with
nine changes daily, surpasses all ordinary mortals. While the
Panitik Agungan makes some rather contradictory comparisons with a
white water lily that continually changes color, I was reminded
instead of the snake's skin-shedding, the goddess's skin diseases,
and the latter's "snake-like appearance." Regrettably it is not yet
possible to test this hypothesis, since the other Javanese and
Sundanese texts that speak of this change in shape or beauty are
known only from Dutch summaries, in which there is no explanation of
the terms used in the originals (DJAJADININGRAT 1913, 253).
Elsewhere it has been pointed out that a sick princess not only
served as the king-maker of the House of Mataram but also
contributed to the decline of this dynasty (her capture by the Dutch
promoted the ascension of the V. O. C., the Dutch East Indies
Company) (JORDAAN and DE JOSSELIN DE JONG 1985, 273, n. 7). A number
of Serat Kanda stories concern a princess of Pajajaran who suffered
from leprosy.(17) Her marriage to the king of Holland is said to
have resulted in the occupation of West Java by the Dutch during the
reign of Sultan Agung. The most plausible interpretation of this
mythological explanation seems to me to be that in indigenous
thought the sick princess in reality represented the goddess of the
earth and fertility, just like Nyai Lara Kidul, and that the one who
married her - in other words, who became her ally - as a matter of
course came into possession of the land and the people.(18)
It is not clear from the literature whether the goddess Tara was
ever associated with skin disease in any special way. Although there
is a Tara who is known as a serpent deity, this being is not an
"embodiment of the principle of creation and preservation," but the
deity Janguli, a variety of Tara who cures or prevents snakebites
(BHATTACHARYA 1967).(19) For the time being I will keep to my
previous thesis that skin disease is an attribute of Austronesian
chthonic beings. A curious fact in this connection is MACKENZIE's
eye-witness report of a leper colony in the neighborhood of Candi
Kalasan (1814, 29). Regrettably it can no longer be determined
whether this location was chosen accidentally or whether it had
something to do with the Tara temple.
ATTRIBUTES: ORIGINAL OR DERIVED?
Now that Nyai Lara Kidul's skin disease has been linked to the
attributes of Austronesian chthonic beings, the question arises as
to which, if any, of her other aspects are derived from
Hindu-Buddhism. One possibility is the color green, which Nyai Lara
Kidul and Tara have in common. I hesitate to draw this conclusion,
however, because of the fact that Tara's green color is usually
attributed to her relationship with Amoghasiddi, her spiritual sire
who is the guardian of the north; Nyai Lara Kidul is connected only
with the south. It may be that the link between Nyai Lara Kidul and
Tara was made in another way - for example, via Tara's statue in the
southern chapel of Candi Kalasan, or, somewhat less far-fetched, via
the two goddesses' association with the sea (other Indonesian
spirits associated with the sea, such as Putri Hijau and Nabi
Chidir, are also said to be green). Evidently the notion of a
"savioress" was so flexible that Tara was able not only to develop
into a guardian of navigators and seafarers, as was the case among
the Pala kings, but also take on the identity of a sea goddess in
Hindu literature (GUPTE 1980, 117).(20)
The last point of correspondence between Tara and Ratu Kidul
concerns their use of the night flowers the utpala and the
wijayakusurna,(21) respectively. This similarity is difficult to
explain, because it is not clear how and why Tara obtained the
utpala. According to local belief, Ratu IGdul came into possession
of the wijayakusuma by purloining it from Arjuna (VAN HIEN 1994,
7-12). The flower gave her immortality, but did not release her from
her god-cursed life.
In this article I have demonstrated that Vasya-Tara was the Buddhist
deity venerated as the supreme goddess in Candi Kalasan. Just as
with the Hindu goddesses Durga and Dewi Sri, she was probably
associated to the old Javanese fertility goddess, Nyai Lara Kidul.
However, because of a lack of information it is not possible to see
how this association between Tara and the ambiguous Nyai Lara Kidul
developed, whether directly or via a division into polar
personalities like Parnasabari and Vasudhara. That Nyai Lara Kidul's
dual relationship with the Hindu goddesses Durga and Dewi Sri is
still evident is probably due to the decline of Buddhism on Java
owing to the disappearance of the Sailendra dynasty and the further
development of Hinduism. With the coming of Islam, Durga and Dewi
Sri receded somewhat into the background, while Nyai Lara Kidul
remained to claim her rights to the Javanese throne. Thus her title
I would like to dedicate the present article to the memory of the
late G. J. Resink, particularly since it was in connection with our
research on the Javanese goddess Nyai Lara Kidul that I first came
to know him.
1. The contents of this study derive in part from a forthcoming
archaeological article about the Tara temple at Kalasan, to be
published in the Bulletin de l'Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient.
2. For the purpose of this article, the discussion of this long and
complex topic has been kept to a minimum. For the interested reader,
SARKAR 1985 and CHANDRA 1994 are the most recent publications on the
3. DASGUPTA also discusses this issue (1967). Although I agree with
his argument, Dasgupta incorrectly posits that the involvement of
the guru of Gauda in the building of the Tara temple is mentioned in
the Kalasan inscription rather than in the dedication of a Manjusri
image, as noted in the Kelurak inscription. He writes, "The
information regarding Dharmapala's banner bearing the effigy of Tara
when judged in the context of the information regarding the
construction of a temple of Tara in Java by the Sailendra guru who
hailed from Gauda would show that the cult of Tara migrated from
Gauda to the Far Eastern islands" (DASGUPTA 1967, 127; repeated by
GHOSH 1980, 14).
4. For the time being I do not want to draw conclusions based on the
name Tara, since I agree with the chronological and other objections
raised by BOSCH (1929, 141) against connecting this queen with the
Kalasan Tara, as Stutterheim has done. MOENS, moreover, suggests
that this ambiguity could be intentional, since the name of the
queen was not so much a reference to the Buddhist goddess as to the
Tara who was married simultaneously to both Bali and Sugriva (1937,
411). Moens's unorthodox interpretations, however, drew sharp
criticism from NILAKANTA SASTRI (1938).
5. Much iconographic research remains to be done on the mandalas in
which Tara figures (BHATTACHARYYA 1978, 63, 65, n. 108-14; GHOSH
1980). All kinds of inconsistencies in the literature, some of which
are mentioned in the text, could be analyzed and solved in that way.
6. According to LIEBERT, the symbolic meaning of the manner of
sitting is that it brings "material wealth" (1976, 36). After
checking her references I suspect that she based this opinion on
WALKER (1968, 74), without having given sufficient consideration to
the fact that Walker's description of this posture does not
correspond with the European manner of sitting (see also DE MALLMANN
1975, 10, n. 3).
7. The small bronze statue is vaguely described as an area wanira
(statue of a woman) but might well represent the Buddhist goddess
Tara, since it displays the varadamudra in its right hand and holds
an utpala (?) flower in its left; both are emblems of Tara par
8. Similarly, BHATTACHARYYA writes: "The Vajrayana Buddhists
extracted all possible iconic concepts from any explorable source,
and incorporated them into their own pantheon so that it looked
attractive, and therefore, was accepted by a maximum of people"
9. The usual English rendition of Ratu Kidul - "Queen of the
Southern Ocean" or "Queen of the South Seas" - does not seem
problematic to me despite the fact that there is no mention of the
ocean or sea in her name, since the underworld over which she rules
is identified by the Javans as on the floor of the sea. The
underworld is situated in the sea among other Indonesian peoples as
well. Notions concerning the location of the underworld have not
remained unchanged, however, but have in the course of time been
influenced by imported ideas, including those of Islam. This has
sometimes led to its being situated in the west.
10. Confusion and disagreement surround the use and meaning of Nyai
Lara Kidul both among some Javanese today and among a number of
researchers who base their theories on the current data. Some, e.g.,
GRONEMAN (1895, 56), SUTTON (1993, 128), and FISCHER (1994, 100),
consider Nyai Lara Kidul to be Ratu Kidul's patih or regent, and
thus a being separate from her. BIGEON (1982, 121) and SCHLEHE
(1991, 198-99) even differentiate a third figure, Mbok Rara Kidul,
who assists the queen in the form of an old court servant (abdi
dalem). The question is whether this configuration, interpreted by
Schlehe as a division of power (Gewaltenteilung), is original, or
when and why it arose. I suspect that this conceptual
differentiation is a fairly recent one, dating to the nineteenth
century - for example, in the Babad Tanah Jawi the name Nyai Lara
(Rara) Kidul is consistently used, despite the fact that she is
presented as the ruler of countless spirits (BOGAERTS 1990, 11).
Moreover, I do not think the different names relate to a division of
powers, but rather to the fragmentation of the deity's mythological
character resulting from an increasing unfamiliarity with her
original identity as the goddess of fertility. This fragmentation is
best illustrated by the problem of how the different, apparently
contradictory forms of address should be understood. While nyai and
mbok can both be used as polite forms of address for an older woman,
rara means unmarried girl or virgin. That this problem is only
apparent is evident from the mythology itself.
11. Some "Hindu" affinities have also been noted by a number of
current authors, such as LIND (1974), HOSTETLER (1982), and BRAKEL
(1995). In this connection it should be pointed out that Tara, just
like Nyai Lara Kidul, is a goddess who is open to all. DASGUPTA
reports that "the Tibetans, who also look upon her as the great
mother, aver that she can be approached without the help of any
intermediary, which is not the case with other divinities of the
first rank. This may account for her popularity" (1967, 116; cf.
KINSLEY 1986, 167).
12. My informants were Pram Sutikno, a social anthropologist and
former librarian of the Royal Institute of Linguistics and
Anthropology (KITLV) in Leiden (Netherlands), and the late R. M. T.
S. Poerbodipoero, a scion of the Pakualaman dynasty of Yogyakarta.
13. FISCHER also noted the association of Nyai Lara Kidul with naga
in Javanese folk art, but was unable to give a satisfactory
explanation for the harmonic relationship as he was unaware of the
chthonic nature of the goddess. The relevant part of his description
of a batik painting is that "there is an awesome naga (mythical
snake) entwined around the throne and she holds a portion of this
awesome creature [but all is seemingly in harmony in this depiction
of Ratu Kidul's realm]" (1994, 105).
14. I wonder why rara developed out of dara if indeed the process of
regressive dissimilation is as strong as Bogaerts proposes. In view
of what happened to Lara Jonggrang, the old name of the statue of
Durga at Candi Prambanan, a reverse development of rara from lara
also seems possible, as it is only since the Second World War that
the temple complex has come to be known as Candi Rara Jonggrang.
15. In LIND's dissertation, with which Bogaerts is in agreement,
illness is mentioned next to hotness, impurity, disorderliness,
wildness, and ugliness as one of the symbolic elements in the
paradigmatic set that are connected with Kala-Durga and thus also
with Ratu Kidul (1974, 133). See also JORDAAN and DE JOSSELIN DE
JONG 1985, about Indonesian political myths, in which skin disease
is discussed as a polyvalent metaphor.
16. One of these researchers is FISCHER, who studied likenesses of
Ratu Kidul in the folk arts of Java. In one of his descriptions of a
batik painting he points out the goddess's speckled skin, which led
him to guess about a possible dotting with sea life, but which is
"more likely a reference to skin disease" (1994, 101). He also noted
that "her skin may or may not show traces of a previous disorder"
17. In other Javanese tales, such as the Serat Baron Sakender, there
is a certain princess Tanuraga who suffers from a skin disease but
also has a flaming womb (PIGEAUD 1927, 325). Other princesses who
were said to have flaming wombs, such as Ken Dedes, appear to act as
kingmakers, because every man who has a sexual relationship with
them is crowned king. A flaming womb evidently has a symbolic
meaning similar to skin disease: where skin disease is connected
with the snake as a chthonic being par excellence, the flaming womb
could refer to volcanic, earthly powers. (This last suggestion was
made to me by Robert Wessing.)
18. This may be the reason why the sacred court dance, the Bedaya
Ketawang, is only performed at coronations and their annual
commemorations. Judging from the prescribed bridal clothing worn by
the dancers, one could interpret the annual commemoration as a
periodic ritual confirmation of the marriage of the ruling king with
Nyai Lara Kidul, who in reality represents the people of Java.
19. BRANDES notes the interesting fact that Amoghasiddi, the
spiritual sire of Vasya-Tara, has a nimbus that is sometimes crowned
and intertwined with snakes, which other Dhyanibuddhas do not show
(1886, 253, n. 1). Whether Vasya-Tara herself can be connected with
snakes in this way is unclear.
20. This development also depends on the notion of the savioress,
which, as can be seen in the following citations, can be considered
more or less figuratively: "As I help men in crossing the great
ocean of peril, people call me Tara" (BHATTACHARYYA 1978, 35), as
opposed to, "Tara, the mother who can control the rush of waters, is
the chief of those saktis who navigate or guide the boats and have
dark complexion [sic]" (GUPTE 1980, 117).
21. The identification of this flower is controversial. In spite of
its mythological character, which is reminiscent of the Holy Grail,
the flower is still of current interest. According to some the
flower is the relatively rare Pisonia sylvestis, Teysm. et Binnend
(Nyctaginaceae), while others indicate the Epiphyllum oxypetalum.
The legendary wijayakusuma seems to have a great attraction,
especially to Javanese rulers. At the coronation of a new ruler in
the Javanese principalities (especially in Surakarta), a deputation
solemnly collects these flowers, said to bloom on a tree that grows
on a couple of rocky islands in the Segara-anakan-(sea). It is
believed that this promotes the prosperity of his reign, and that
the number of prosperous years is directly related to the number of
flowers obtained (OCHSE 1931, 540). It is not known whether this
expedition actually results in the finding of any flowers. According
to the folklorist van Hien, the wijayakusuma is the flower of a
mythical tree on the island Nusa Kembangan off the south coast of
Java, and Nyai Lara Kidul herself sees to it that this tree never
blooms. This would fit the mysterious nature of the search of the
Javanese court servants. It is said that they obtain the flower
while meditating underneath the tree at midnight, and that the
flower is caught in a special, closable bowl that may only be opened
by the ruler of Surakarta and is kept by him in the innermost part
of his palace (RAHARDI et al. 1991, 150).
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Sewu: Its history and restoration]. Bagian Proyek
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ATJA and Saleh DANASASMITA 1981 Sanghyang siksakanda ng karesian
(Waskah Sunda kuno tahun 1518 masehi) [Sanghyang siksakanda ng
karesian (an old Sundanese manuscript from 1518 A.D.)]. Bandung:
AUBOYER, J. 1937 Un aspect du symbolisme de la souverainete dans
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