QUEEN OF THE SOUTH SEAS
The myth of RATU KIDUL and Parangtritis Beach
It is told that one night a Prince of the Mataram dynasty, Senopati (whose tomb one can find at the Royal Mausoleum of Kotagede southeast of the city), went to the South Coast accompanied by five of his courtiers. He came there to find a solution to a problem dealing with the succession of the Mataram Kingdom, heir to the Mojopahit Empire of old. By the beach he found a solitary rock quite big in size and decided to take a rest upon it. A bit later he was woken up by his counselor Juru Mertani, whereby he saw a strange thing unfold in front of his eyes. A very bright shooting star the size of a coconut fell from the skies straight into his chest. Upon asking the star who or what this meant as he had never experienced such an event, the following was transmitted to him:
The star was a guardian spirit sent by Roro Kidul, the Queen of the South Seas, to tell him that Senopati had received the grace of the Almighty, and he was to become the next King of the Isle of Java, as well as his line of descendants. Upon return to his Palace in Kotagede, his counselor Juru Mertani told Senopati to not yet accept this sign as a confirmation, and asked him to double-check the prophecy by going back to meditate on the South Coast, while Juru Mertani himself was to meditate on the Merapi volcano. Senopati took off alone this time, following the Opak River southwards.
Puri Cepuri, Parangkusumo beach, the meeting place of Panembahan Senopati with Ratu kidul
Senopati arrived at the beach, and decided to meditate on top of the huge rock (the rock is still there and is the subject of a specific cult by the Javanese people). He performed a fast named ‘topo ngeli’, whereupon suddenly the waves in the sea increased in terrifying sizes, a violent wind arose and the sea itself started to boil, causing the death of many fish instantaneously. Witnessing this unusual event, the Queen of the South Seas appeared and saw the Prince of Mataram in meditation. She approached him and told him first that the prophecy of his imminent Kinghood was to be reality, as well as for all his descendants. This confirmation by Ratu Kidul made Senopati very happy, and immediately the natural elements all around them calmed down.
According to the Javanese lore, Nyai Roro Kidul then fell helplessly in love with this most powerful human being, and thereupon promised to help the new King by becoming his faithful spouse as well as his descendants consecutively. Following their initial union by the rock, he then brought her to the Palace in the building named Bale Sokodhomas, where they consumed the union for three days.
The place of the meeting between Senopati and Nyai Roro Kidul can still be visited, it is today known as the Puri Cepuri on Parangkusumo beach a bit west of Parangtritis and it encloses the two rocks where he meditated and finally united with her. This place is also a symbol of a promise Senopati made to the Queen following her oath of protection, whereby the Kraton (Palace) of Mataram was forever to be only a visible part of the Mataram empire and actually linked to both the Merapi volcano Kraton as well as the Kraton in the South Sea, both populated by the spirit inhabitants of the land of Java. An annual ceremony named Labuhan is held by the Kraton each year to commemorate this promise by an expansive and colorful ritual of offerings (flowers, ritual food, Sultan’s clothes, hair and nails…) to the spirits of the volcano and the sea. The procession starts at the rock at the Puri Cepuri and ends by the beach where the offerings are thrown in the waves. This is a visual proof that illustrates the contemporary belief of the Javanese people in the powers of the spirit realms.
Sumur gumuling, at Tamansari complex, another meeting-place between the Sultans with Ratu Kidul
The myth of Ratu Kidul is still seen to be hugely relevant to the existence itself of the Yogyakarta Palace. Indeed, it is inconceivable for most Javanese to ignore the meaning of the relationship between the Sultan and the spirit Queen. Yet what does this relationship represent in reality?
In several books on Javanese culture, a main point always resurfaces, that traditionally the Javanese have always put a huge importance on keeping steady levels of social harmony, wealth and a balanced life. As it is ingrained culturally that life itself is never separated from the surrounding nature and universe, a huge emphasis has always been placed on understanding the deeper meanings of the surrounding Nature/Universe and the coexistence therewith. Javanese believe in the powers and the benefits of a direct two-way communication relationship with nature, as nature/universe possesses higher powers than humans, and thus the usage of symbolic analogies are frequently used and actualized. Related more specifically around subtle beings, the spiritual movement of Javanism or Kejawen conceives of unique powerful spirits ruling places such as the Gunung Merapi, Gunung Lawu, Dlepih and the South Sea. John Pemberton (1995) describes this phenomenon as the ‘Topographies of Power” of the land of Java. The Sultanate of Yogyakarta is situated in the middle of these four corners of power, and it is thus expected that the Sultan himself will have to communicate with the spirit rulers of these places in order guarantee wealth, harmony and peace in his society. Indeed it is seen as an intrinsic quality of the ruler here in Java that he possesses strength of a pure mind or what is known as batin, so as to manage the affairs of the kingdom properly. The communication capacity with Ratu Kidul here figures prominently in this task. This happens through the acquisition and implementation of invisible powers and perceptions, on behalf of safety and peace. The labuhan ceremony described above is an example of this belief related to the Sultan’s capacity in his task to guarantee the welfare of his people.
Other manifestation of the belief in Ratu Kidul are expressed through the medium of arts, i.e. the sacred dances known as Bedaya Semang and Bedaya Ketawang which are performed ritually once a year to honor the Queen, usually on the anniversary day of the coronation of the present Sultan. It is believed that Roro Kidul at one point during the dance completes the 9 other female dancers on stage. Another famous site is the Tamansari bathing complex west of the Kraton Ngayoyogyakarto Hadiningrat. The spring named Sumur Gumuling is believed to be yet another meeting place for the Sultan with the Queen.
The appreciation for the myth of Kanjeng Ratu Kidul is not only shown and implemented by the Palace alone, but also by society at large in the Sultanate. One proof is the belief that if people drown and go missing at Parangtritis beach, this is the result of that person being “taken” by the Queen to serve her Court.
Lastly, it is important to realize that besides the stories and beliefs concerning Ratu Kidul there are certain valuable teachings that are connected to her character amongst Javanese people. Ratu Kidul spiritually symbolizes the ultimate level of Patience within one’s personal self. A Higher Self containing patience as vast as an ocean forms a person that is worthy to become a leader or a King even. The sea is the logical final container of all drops of water from various sources inland and in the sky, as such a patient King is able to wisely contain and manage all the aspirations, worries and suffering of his people. The name Parangkusumo where the rock of Senopati lies, has the meaning of Marang Kusumo or Marang Kaluhuran or “approach to glory”, whereby patience is necessary if glory or wealth is to be an outcome. Parangtritis beach takes its name from the saying Titis ing Tindak, Tetes ing atunggul which means that with patience one will surely be accurate in action, speech and thoughts. Then there’s Parang Endhog beach, reminding one of the concepts Eling (awareness) lan Waspada (alertness) which lead to the wisdom realization encapsulated by the saying sangkan paraning dumadi. Where consciousness or awareness is practiced, happiness is sure to follow; this will be advantageous both for oneself and for nature surrounding oneself (Hamemayu hayuning Bawono). All of these Javanese wisdom concepts are very relevant these days.
Amongst Javanese people and even some foreigners, you might find some that claim to have met and seen the Queen of the South Seas through meditation or dreams. They might describe her as either horribly terrifying or on the contrary immaculately beautiful. One of them, a famous Indonesian painter named Affandi, has painted her after having had a direct experience with Roro Kidul. This image is very popular as many others have corroborated her aspect as depicted in Affandi’s painting.
BY: Moko Pramusanto and Patrick Vanhoebrouck