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Sri Tanjung : About Sri Tanjung  

by on Thursday, 5 March 20093 Comments | 1,900 views

Mari NabeshimaThe first traces of the story of a young woman named Sri Tanjung are found on stone reliefs at various archaeological sites around East Java which date to the Majapahit period. These are the Candi Jabung (1354) in Probolinggo. the Gapura Bajang Ratu (1369) in the southeast of the Trowulan archaeological complex in Mojokerto, the Batur Pendopo (1375) within the Candi Panataran complex in Blitar, and Candi Surowano (1400) in Para, Kediri. Other stories depicted at these sites include Sang Satyawan and Bubuk Sah-Gagang Aking, which deal with the theme of deliverance, the freeing of the soul from worldly concerns. Similarly, amongst the various reliefs depicting Sri Tanjung’s story, it is her journey riding a giant fish to the gates of heaven that appears most prominently. It is probably not coincidental that, of the archaeological sites above, all but the Batur Pendopo of Candi Panataran were built to commemorate a deceased ruler or aristocrat. It is likely that the stories depicted on the relief’s were intended to guide the deceased’s soul on its final journey.

Texts of the kidung (verses of poetry written in the Middle-Javanese language), of the story of Sri Tanjung which have survived to the present day trace its origin to the 17th century. The opening verse of Kidung Sri Tanjung recounts that a hermit by the name of Citragotra who had finished writing the story of Sudamala brought the Dewi to life (Dewi Sri, who came down from the heavens in the form of Sri Tanjung). Theodoor G. T. Pigeaud, in his magnum opus Literature of Java: Catalogue raisonne of Javanese manuscripts in the library of the University of Leiden and other public collections in the Netherlands (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1967 -1970), placed the Kidung Sri Tanjung amongst works which he described as ‘Original Old Javanese and Javanese-Balinese exorcist tales and related literature in a bellestric form’. Other titles placed in the same category are Calon Arang, Sudamala, Wargasari, Nawa Ruci, Subrata and Sang Satyawan. What Pigeaud classified as ‘Javanese-Balinese’ is the poetic literature composed in the Middle Javanese language that in the literary activities of the East Javanese dynasties up to Majapahit, and which was inherited by the court of Gelgel in Bali. These literary works, traditionally engraved on Ion tar (palm leaf manuscripts), were able to survive through the ages due to the process of copying alias rewriting by the scribes, and we have two locations for where the copying of the Kidung Sri Tanjung took place: Blambangan and Bali. Blambangan, the last Hindu kingdom of Java, already existed when the kingdom of Majapahit collapsed in the late fifteenth century. In the late sixteenth century, Blambangan had been taken into the dynasty of Gelgel reigned by Dalam Baturenggong, and after Gelgel was shattered into small pieces in 1651, both Buleleng, followed by Mengwi, ruled Blambangan. In 1768, Blambangan was occupied by the Dutch Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VaG) and shortly after, its capital was relocated from Kota to Banyuwangi. The etymology of the name Banyuwangi is said to refer to the fragrant water, or fragrant blood in some versions of the story, that flowed from the body of Sri Tanjung when she was brutally murdered by her husband Sida Paksa (the meaning of ‘banyu’ is ‘water’ and ‘wangi’ is ‘scent’).

The verses of the Balinese version of the Kidung Sri Tanjung, are written in Middle-Javanese, in the form of wukir (more familiarly known as adn), a pupuh (or meter) of the tembang in Bali. A verse in pupuh wukir consists of nine lines, with each line ending in with the vowel u, e, i, u, u, e, u, a, a. The Blambangan version of the work, of which the story-line is very similar to the version in Bali, was also written in meters of the tembang (macapat or sekar alit in Java), namely the wukir, mijil, durma and mahisa langit. In Bali, the various pupuh of the tembang including adri are still very much alive in today’s traditional performing arts, most notably in the arja dance-drama, where dancers must be able to impulsively create their lines in Balinese, according to the metric structure of the pupuh of their choice, and sing the lines with embellishing on the basic melody of each pupuh, depending on the mood and character they are playing. The Middle-Javanese language itself is more often observed in the older and obsolete works of kidung, written in meters known as tengahan (which means ‘middle’ or ‘middling’), such as the demung sawit or rara kadiri. The structural characteristics of the tengahan meters are more flexible and thus complex than those of the tembang, and kidung written in these meters are thematically and musically more esoteric in nature than those written in the meters of tembang. It is presumed that works of kidung in tengahan meters were written in Bali during the Gelgel period and beyond, before compositions in the tembang meters of a more profane nature became popular. The newer composition in meters of the tembang, written in the Balinese language, became popular during the 18th century, and they were no longer called kidung, but became known as geguritan.

There are numerous versions of the story of Sri Tanjung, including that of the Kidung Sri Tanjung, all varying in its narrative detail. For example, in one orally transmitted version, Sri Tanjung is accused of murdering her son. There is no such incident in the Kidung Sri Tanjung, and in addition, many of the orally transmitted versions which are connected to the etymology of Banyuwangi seems to end with the tragic death of Sri Tanjung, whereas the Kidung Sri Tanjung does not, nor does the version depicted on the stone reliefs. Along with the Kidung Sudamala, the Kidung Sri Tanjung exists as a carangan, or something which was created as a deviation from the main story, in this case, the Mahabharata. The Kidung Sudamala tells of how Sahadewa of the Pandawa clan frees the goddess Uma from a curse which was put upon her by Siva, entrapping her in a demonic state. The story of Kidung Sudamala ends with Sahadewa, who was given the name Sudamala (meaning ‘one who cures sickness’), healing the Begawan Tambapetra, and is given the Begawan’s two daughters to take as his wives, of which, one is given to his twin brother Nakula. These events from the Kidung Sudamala serve as the background for the narrative of Kidung Sri Tanjung. During the course of the story, many allusions are made to the Kidung Sudamala which, in turn, affects the turn of events in the Kidung Sri Tanjung. Most notably, Begawan Tambapetra’s grand-daughter, Sahadewa’s child Sri Tanjung, is put to death by Sida Paksa, and is later ritually purified and brought back to life by Sang Dewi (goddess Durga) at a cemetery called Gandamayu, the same place as where Durga was freed from her curse by Sahadewa. At her encounter with Durga, Sri Tanjung is told of how the goddess was once saved by father.

Like the story of Sri Tanjung, the story of Sudamala is depicted on various archaeological sites from the Majapahit period, namely the Candi Tigowangi

(1400) in Plemahan, Kadiri, Candi Surowano in Para, Kediri and Candi Sukuh (15th century) situated on Mount Lawu, Central Java. In the case of the Sudamala, the characters of the Mahabharata along with Durga are clearly depicted, suggesting that the story was created as a carangan of the Mahabharata, highlighting the aspect of purification or penglukatan, which is an essential aspect of the Javanese-Balinese belief system that survives to the present day. However, the situation is quite different in the case of the Sri Tanjung reliefs. We are not able to observe Durga, or the other Hindu deities and Mahabharata characters that are mentioned in the Kidung Sri Tanjung. Instead, images of Sri Tanjung’s journey to the gates of heaven on a giant fish seem to invite us into the realm of archaic myth. This is also the case with the Kidung Sri Tanjung, where it is described that Sri Tanjung’s journey was guided by a white crocodile, a creature which is said to have been the basis for the image of the dragon in China. Thus, we are tempted to believe in the indigenous origin of this story which was later incorporated into the Hindu-Javanese culture as a carangan of the Mahabharata.

In Bali, both the Sudamala and Sri Tanjung have been popular as repertoires of the wayang kulit staged at purification rites before the dalang (puppeteer) would proceed to prepare holy water. The performance may not be an essential part of the ritual, but it is believed that there is significance of its own in having these stories brought to life through the mastery of the dalang. In the present times, however, purification rites are not conducted as often as they used to be, or in the scope that they used to be, and it has become rare for these stories to be performed, more so, the story of Sri Tanjung. Again, this may be because in the case of the Sri Tanjung, its aspect as a carangan of the Mahabharata is not as strong as in the Sudamala.

Speculations aside, we should look once more into Sri Tanjung’s death and the role of Durga. If the character of Sida Paksa represents weakness, Sri Tanjung’s fragrant blood is the symbol of a pure heart, as we see in her peaceful acceptance of her death. The role given to Durga as the one who brings Sri Tanjung back to life may not be the most conventional one. Nevertheless, if we search into the cosmological significance of the goddess’s existence, we have before us, a dramatic story of a heroine who is blessed by the Mother Earth, destined to live and stand against the negative forces of the world. Indeed, imagery of Sri Tanjung’s journey to the gates of heaven depicted on the various candi of East Javanese may be for appeasing the soul of the dead, but the story of Sri Tanjung itself is an inspiration for life.

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