The Story of Nyai
Lara Kidul Queen of the Southern Ocean
Come Dewi Srengenge! A kingdom
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 Kiduls
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 Srengenges great beauty. He fell
in love with her and made her his favorite 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
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 was walking aimlessly
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 sea and 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
waters edge sobbing. Suddenly, she heard a voice, "You
need a fishs tail . . . if you wish to join your sister."
Lo and behold, when she stepped into the ocean, Nyai Lara Kiduls
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 that if he, or any of his descendants,
were ever in need she would come to 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 waters 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 Sultans
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 Sultans 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 Parangtritis,
at the waters 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
Sultans 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
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 Kiduls fearsome display of temper. On special festivities,
Queen Lara Kidul is again venerated in a palace dance named Bedaya
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.