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The Story of Sri Tanjung Within The Performing Arts of Bali  

by on Thursday, 5 March 20092 Comments | 1,512 views

Agung Bawantara

In Bali, the arts have a major role in the teaching of moralistic and spiritual values. The arts are one of the three elements that guide us in reaching enlightenment. From a young age, the Balinese are educated that the truth (sat yam) and holiness (sivam) should always be accompanied by beauty (sundaram) in their every action. Through customary teachings, Balinese are educated in order to find and to celebrate beauty within truth and holiness. In the practice of daily life, this concept of beauty is expressed, amongst others, in the form of art.
‘From a different point of view, the Balinese are also educated to practice three basic aspects which support the Hindu religion, which is philosophy (tattwa), ethics (suc;ila) and ritual (upacara) within the context of their daily life. These three aspects which are integral to one another shapes culture in Bali. The teachings of philosophy and ethics are almost always closely related with the act of ritual in the temples and in daily life, and vice versa. Thus every religious ritual is accompanied by artistic performances, and there is always a small ritual before every artistic performance. However, due to the sociological and political background, the Balinese, for a long time, have been more strict in the sense of ritual and ethics, but have almost forgotten philosophy. The act of ritual and teaching of ethics are observed almost every day, but intellectual discourses on philosophy in the context of present situation is limited to group of small number. It is lucky that there are artistic groups who take in the results of the process mentioned above and disseminate it to the people through the various form of performing arts.

Arja and Drama Gong
Amongst the many forms of the performing arts in Bali which functions as media for disseminating ethical and philosophical messages, one of the most popular form is the arja, a dance-drama in which the dialogue is sung. It is thought that etymology of arja is the word ‘reja’ (sanskrit) which means ‘beauty’. The subtle and refined music which accompanies the arja called the gaguntangan enhances the beauty of the dancer’s singing.

It is hypotheized that arja first appeared during the 1820s, during the era when I Dewa Agung Sakti ruled as the king of Klungkung. With a fresh mixture of jokes incorporated throughout the performance, arja became a very popular form of the performing arts. In the beginning, arja was danced by men, but by the 1920s, women had started playing the major roles, including some of the male characters which were refined in character, until the end of the 20th century, the arja muani, an all men arja troupe was formated.
The stories taken up in the performance of arja are, first of all, the Panji stories from the period of Majapahit. Later, other stories were born, such as the Bandasura, Pakang Raras, Linggar Petak, I Godogan, Cipta Kelangen, Made Umbar a, Klimun lIang Srepet Teka, Cilinaya and Dempu Awang. Folk tales are also performed as the arja, such as the Jayaprana, Sampek Ingtai, Basur, Cupak Grantang, and so are some episodes of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

After the independence, one story which became very popular was that of Sri Tanjung. This story of love is about a nobleman called Sida Paksa who is loyal to King Sulakrama of the kingdom of Sinduraja who gives his faith to the King Sulakrama of the kingdom of Sinduraja. Sida Paksa is ordered by the king to obtain a potion from the BhagawanTambapetra. He falls in love with his cousin Sri Tanjung and takes her as his wife. After their marriage, Sri Tanjung is brought back to the kingdom of Sinduraja. When the king sees Sri Tanjung, he crazily falls in love with her, and searches for a reason to separate Sri Tanjung and Sida Paksa.

Sida Paksa is sent to the heavens with a letter which is to be given to the god Indra. With help from Sri Tanjung, who had been given a sacral sash from her father Sudamala, Sida Paksa succeeds in reaching the heavens. When Indra reads the letter, he orders the gods to capture and kill Sida Paksa. However, upon realizing that Sida Paksa is a descendant of the Pandawa, Indra frees him and blesses him with power.

After Sida Paksa’s departure, King Sulakrama asks Sri Tanjung to marry him. The king tells her that Sida Paksa was killed in the course of his duty. Sri Tanjung refuses the king’s proposal and at this point, Sida Paksa returns. Seeing Sida Paksa, the king accuses Sri Tanjung of adultery, that because of her loneliness, Sri Tanjung had come to the king for his love.

Burning with jealousy, Sida Paksa murders Sri Tanjung. Nevertheless, because of her holiness the pureness of her love, Sri Tanjung is brought back to life by the goddess Durga. When she is once more alive, she refuses to return to Sida Paksa unless if he succeeds in killing the king and bring to her the king’s head to be used to wipe her feet.

Drama gong was born around the year 1966. It is a combination of traditional theater (arja, prembon) and modern theater (sandiwara). Here, actors do not dance, but acts with dialogue in everyday Balinese, and because actions and transitions of scenes are accompanied by the gamelan gong kebyar, the performance came to be called the drama gong. The drama gong’s stock characters and most of the stories performed follow those of the arja, including the story of Sri Tanjung.

The drama gong’s hight of popularity was around the year 1970. At this point in time, interest in the drama gong was stronger than in any other form of traditional performing art. Every major stage, which was before dominated by the arja, was taken over by the drama gong. In the middle of the 1980s, this art form began to lose its sensation, and in the present day, it is rarely performed.

The story of Sri Tanjung is also performed as wayang (shadow puppet theater) performed at purification rituals (upacara panglukatan). I Wayan Sija, a renowned dalang (shadow puppet master) from the village of Bona, Gianyar has performed the story many times in the villages around Denpasar, Badung, and Tabanan. The people ask especially for this story to be performed as a part of their purification ritual for a member of their family who has been cursed by an illness or some other bad omen. Sija usually performs the story of Sudamala as the first part of the performance, and then continues onto the story of Sri Tanjung.

The Sudamala reaches its climax when Sahadewa is comes to face with Durga as her victim. At this point, he throws a sugar cane, the tebu sala to the direction of the guardian of the cemetery while voicing a mantra of purification. Durga is transformed, and from her terrifying appearance, she returns to become the beautiful Uma Laksmi. Until today, tebu sala is an important part of

the offerings in Bali. From the linguistic point of view, tebu sala is connected to
‘tebusala’, which means to free oneself from one’s sins or mistakes in Balinese. The mantras during this scene are a part of the story as well as to free the audience from negativity.
Before returning to the heavens, Durga gives her blessings of victory towards the Pandawa. Aside from this, she also gives Sahadewa a powerful secret, the knowledge about human beings and his four brothers Anggapati, Prajapati, Banaspati, and Banaspati Raja. Every man who has succeeded in meeting with the four brothers will become a man of eternal life.

After this victory, Sahadewa wonders around until one day, he reaches the kingdom of Prangalas. The kingdom of Prangalas was in sadness because the princess was deeply ill. Sahadewa succeeds in curing the princess, and as a gift, he is given the princess to take as his wife. In the meanwhile, Nakula, who is sent by Kunti Dewi to look for Sahadewa, finds his brother in Prangalas, and he is also given the king’s daughter to take as his wife. However, because they are called from their country, Nakula and Sahadewa are forced to leave their wives. Before returning to Astina, Sahadewa hands a sacral sash to his wife, which can take a man to the heavens. This is the end of the first part of Sija’s performance. The next part begins with the birth of two babies. A boy to Nakula’s wife and girl to Sahadewa’s wife. Nakula’s son is named Sida Paksa, and Sahadew’s daughter is named Sri Tanjung.

After the children had grown, they go on a journey to Astina to look for their fathers. On their way, they meet with the King Jaya Wikrama, who is a close friend of Duryadana, a member of the Korawa who has promised revenge against the Pandawa. Jaya Wikrama pretends that he is very happy to have met them, for as a king who is loyal to the Pandawa, he was ordered to look for Sida Paksa and Sri Tanjung, in order to have them married before they reach Astina.

Jaya Wikrama gives order to Sida Paksa to go to the heavens with a letter to the god Indra, in order to invite Indra to attend their wedding. With the sacral sash which was given to him by Sri Tanjung, Sid a Paksa departs for the heavens. What happens in the heavens is the same as in the arja. In the end, Indra recognizes him and advises him to go to Astina and ask for his father for his help to punish Jaya Wikrama. However, after Sida Paksa return to the earth, he forgets what Indra had told him, and goes directly to Jaya Wikrama. Like in the arja, when Jaya Wikrama sees Sida Paksa return he accuses Sri Tanjung of tempting him during Sida Paksa’s absence. Sri Tanjung is killed by Sida Paksa.

After Sri Tanjung’s death, Sida Paksa feels as if his life is useless and wonder around until one day, he arrives at a cemetery and witnesses people in the middle of a holding a mecaru (ritual for purifying the butha kala). When the people were gone, Sida Paksa looks through the remains of the offerings, and finds a handful of rice, two pieces of the kepeng coin, and an egg. When he continued on his journey, he grasped the rice and egg in his hands, and mysteriously, the egg in one of his hands hatched. Spontaneously, he gave the rice in his other hand to the chick.

Not long after, the chick grew to be a hen, who never lost in a fight. The gods took an interest, and Indra asked Sida Paksa for the hen. When the hen was in Indra’s hands, it fought against his fold and flew. Spontaneously, Sida Paksa chased after the hen.The hen landed on the lap of a young woman. It was Sri Tanjung who had become a nymph after her death. Sida Paksa asked Sri Tanjung to return with him to earth, but Sri Tanjung refused. She would return only if Sida Paksa can bring Jaya Wikrama’s head to her to be stepped on. With help from the Pandawas, Sida Paksa succeeds in fulfilling Sri Tanjung’s wishes.

Closing Remarks
If we compare the placement of the story of Sri Tanjung in the three different forms of performing arts mentioned above, we are able to observe differences in adapting the same story. This is due to the difference in the character of the art alone. In the wayang, the story of Sudamala and Sri Tanjung are given philosophical and ethical aspects, and also a mystical character. This is possible because in the wayang, the dalang alone controls the story-line and acts out the different characters.

On the other hand, in the arja and the drama gong, the organization of scenes and messages can only be based on the order of the pepeson (order of appearance), and inevitably, the story’s mystical aspects are lost. Also, the philosophical and ethical aspects are not as intense as in the wayang. This is even more so in the drama gong. Messages of well being are scarcely visible, buried deeply in the vulgar dialogues and slapstick jokes.

Whatever the reason, the story if Sri Tanjung is hardly known in Bali today. Its popularity has been taken over by the domination of television in our private quaters where it provides stories of love in the form of soap operas called sinetran or telenovela.

Reference :

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