Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Submerging palanquins containing offerings into the Indonesian Ocean at Parang Kusumo (Photo by Gaura Mancacaritadipura)

Kanjeng Ratu Kidul—Goddess of the Southern Ocean

Babad Tanah Jawi (History of Java) evidences the existence of traditional (not religious) beliefs in a goddess of the Southern Ocean called Kanjeng Ratu Kidul since the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Along the southern coast of Java, in places like Pareng Kusuma, Pelabuhan Ratu, and Cilacap, some people still believe in Ratu Kidul and make offerings on special occasions. At least three times a year, large crowds converge at Pareng Kusuma to witness the larung ceremony in which three palanquins containing offerings including batik cloth worn by the Sultan are taken to the ocean in ceremonial procession and submerged. Annually on the eve of the Javanese New Year (Sura) thousands gather on Pareng Kusuma Beach, and some make flower offerings. On the anniversary of the King’s ascension to the throne, the sacred Bedoyo Ketawang Dance is peformed annually before the kings in Java and symbolizes the meeting of the king with Kanjeng Ratu Kidul, who is believed to appear and mystically guide the dancers.

The goddess is depicted as an exceptionally beautiful woman dressed in greenish cloth, residing on the ocean floor with her many servants. Out of respect for the goddess, wearing green is still considered taboo for visitors to the south coast of Java. Ratu Kidul is believed to be a spiritual being who provides guidance to leaders, while her servants may also inflict punishments in the form of natural disasters if leaders neglect to perform noble actions for the benefit and welfare of the people. There are various legends about the origin of Kanjeng Ratu Kidul. She exists on the subtle plane and is approached through meditation and spiritual practices.

Reference

Dr. Budya Pradipta, Emeritus Faculty of Cultural Science, University of Indonesia, Interview, 29/08/09.