Balinese say to their children each day
you must never wear blue and green
for these are the colours of Lara Kidul
she will steal you away if she can
beware my child take care my child
for there’s monsters and demons
all manner of evil . . .
always look to the mountains high
and stay on the land in between
hear what I say be careful don’t stray
stay away from the Queen of the Sea
she will beg you to play
and then take you away
forever to sleep in the watery deep
anak you must listen to what I say
take care my child, beware my child
never wear blue and green
*This story or kidung (song) is based on a legend told about
Kangjeng Ratu or Nyai Lara, Goddess of the Southern Ocean.
The Story of Nyai Lara Kidul
Queen of the Southern Ocean
“Come Dewi Srengenge! A kingdom awaits you.
You will regain your beauty and live forever!”
A voice from the watery deep beckoned the princess
to become Queen of the Indian Ocean. Nyai Lara Kidul’s maiden
name was Dewi Srengenge or Sun Maiden. Throughout the land her
loveliness was unsurpassed. The king of Banyumas, in central Java,
came to hear of Dewi Srengenge’s great beauty, fell in love
with her and made her his favourite wife. This made one of his
other wives, Dewi Kundati, mad with jealousy. Secretly, Dewi Kundati
employed the services of an old wizard who used his magical powers
to turn Dewi Srengenge into an ugly and frightening creature.
Dewi Srengenge, as you can imagine, became terribly
distressed at her horrible transformation and fled from the palace,
far from the prying eyes of people. One day as she walked aimlessly
about she met a kind-hearted man who listened to her tale and
took pity on her. The old man reported the story to the king who
immediately sentenced Dewi Kundati and the wizard to death. However,
no one could restore Dewi Srengenge to her former beauty.
In her sadness she wandered from village to village
until she finally reached the southern coast of west Java. At
the beach near Samudra, she heard a voice calling, “Come
Dewi Srengenge! A kingdom awaits you. You will regain your beauty
and live forever. Come!” Lured by the voice, Dewi Srengenge
hesitantly entered the sea¾and from that moment became
known as Nyai Lara Kidul, Queen of the Southern Ocean.
It happened that Lara Kidul possessed a beloved
sister who had been searching for her a long time. In due course
her search led her to the exact same place where Lara Kidul entered
the sea. Grieving over the loss of her beloved sister, she stood
at the water’s edge sobbing. Suddenly, she heard a voice,
“You need a fishes tail . . . if you wish to join your sister.”
Lo and behold, when she stepped into the ocean, Nyai Lara Kidul’s
sister was transformed into a mermaid. She swam off quickly into
the ocean to join her long lost sister.
Many years later, Senopati, King of the Mataram
Empire, went to a beach to meditate. Nyai Lara Kidul closely observed
the lone figure of the king on the shoreline and made herself
known to him. It was love at first sight and Senopati determined
to make her his wife. In time, the king had his way and they were
married. On their wedding day, however, the Queen of the Southern
Ocean made a solemn vow to Senopati - if he, or any of his descendants,
were ever in need she would come their aid.
Thus was established the tie between Queen Lara
Kidul and the great royal family of Mataram.
The deep spiritual significance of the union of
Queen Lara Kidul and the king of Mataram can be witnessed during
the Labuhan ceremony, still celebrated annually at the water’s
edge. The ceremony, which takes place after the birthday of the
Sultan of Yogyakarta, is in honor of Queen Lara Kidul, and seeks
her continued blessing on the sultan, his court, and his people.
Offerings are brought from the sultan’s palace to Parangsumo,
on the southern coast facing the Indian Ocean. The offerings include
money, petals and female garments such as a shawl and a length
of batik. There are also offerings of the sultan’s hair
and fingernail clippings.
The offerings are first brought to the village of
Kretek on the western bank of the river Opak in the early morning.
They are then carried across the river and down to the village
of Pangtritis, at the water’s edge. This is where the sixteenth
century ruler was said to have first met Nyai Lara Kidul. The
offerings are placed on a bamboo raft and cast out to sea by the
kraton officers. An enthusiastic crowd watches as the raft is
tossed about by the waves, throwing offerings into the sea. When
the offerings are eventually washed back to shore, spectators
scramble to collect them, believing they contain supernatural
powers. The sultan’s hair and fingernail clippings, however,
are buried in the sand, in a special walled-in area on the beach.
These too are eventually dug up by the spectators and are kept
as sacred souvenirs.
Today, the legend of Queen Lara Kidul is still very
much part of the local tradition and beliefs. When a swimmer is
swept away by the treacherous waves along the Samudra beach, near
the resort at Labuhan Ratu, in west Java, local folklore says
that Queen Lara Kidul has taken another to join her entourage
in the watery deep. During violent thunderstorms the villagers
of nearby Sukabumi lock their doors and fasten their windows because
they fear Nyai Lara Kidul’s fearsome display of temper.
On special festivities, Queen Lara Kidul is again venerated in
a palace dance named Bedaya Ketawang.
This legend explains the relationship of the Queen
of the Southern Ocean to the royal family of Yogyakarta and Surakarta
(Solo), and perhaps it also helps to explain the origin of the
legend concerning the mermaid called ‘air matang duyung’.
. . which means longing tears.
Treacherous waters with strong tidal currents surround Bali. The
Coastline is exposed to the full force of the monsoons. There
are also many dangerous coral reefs to catch the unwary. To the
east is the Lombok strait, where some of the deepest water in
the whole archipelago is to be found. The Balinese believe the
sea to be magically dangerous, a place to be shallows, and because
of this fear of the sea, most Balinese are unable to swim.
There are a few fishing villages on the coast, but
fishing is generally very low key, as Balinese are not fond of
fish, and it features little in their diet. However, turtle meat
is an exception and is considered a delicacy; and it is required
for some of the ritual offerings made to the gods.
Fishermen venture out to sea at sunset, their beautiful
fragile outriggers looking like exotic dragonflies; searching
for the elusive giant sea turtle. The prahu has a triangular sail
with its apex pointing downwards. The prow is carved and painted
with the head of the mythical elephant fish (which the Balinese
believe enables the prahu to see the lurking demons of the sea).
The magical elephant fish prow will give protection and ensure
safe fishing, for most certainly the sea demons and monsters will
think it is one of them!