Across the volcanoes and valleys of Java, myths of ancient civilizations like dragon princess daughter whisper through the ages.
Tales of wonder and woe, love and loss permeate Javanese culture with bittersweet stories offering ways to counsel caution and keep local history alive.
Yogyakarta is a mystical place – if you don’t know the story of the sultan who married the ocean queen then asks the nearest Javanese person for the tale. There’s plenty more where that story came from, with bittersweet myths that talk of love in different forms.
For an alternative take on the month of love, we present you with three of the most intriguing legends from the area with a disclaimer that there are multiple versions of these stories and you and your loved ones might know them with different names, details, and endings.
The Goddess Dressed in Jasmine
In the times of the Majapahit empire, Ki Ageng Sukuh has spent his life as a courtly magician. In his retirement, he got to hear of a woman desperate to keep her beautiful daughter, Nini Klabang Retno, happy.
The daughter was desperate for her flower garden to stay in bloom, even though the dry season. She was upset that her well-tended garden was going to die and was impatient to get water flowing into her flower beds.
Exasperated by these demands and wanting to give everything she should could for her daughter, the mother made a public offer: anyone who could give her daughter the blooms she wanted would also take the girl’s hand in marriage.
Ki Ageng Sukuh took up the challenge, using his many students to dig out a tunnel from the local temple down the garden of Nyai Gadung Melati and revive the flower garden. Happiness returned to the daughter once the water began to flow and the flowers were given new life.
When Nyai Gadung Melati met the genius, who had solved her problem, she realized the winner of her challenge was but an old man. Could she really allow her young, beautiful daughter to marry this man? Even if he was a descendent of the Majapahit family?
Angry that he had been rejected after his hard work, Ki Ageng used all his magic powers to banish Nyai Gadung Melati to life as a stone on Mount Merapi and her daughter to be a lion in the jungle. Now, the goddess spends her life nurturing the small animals on the volcano and warning locals of imminent eruptions in their dreams.
The Princess of Prambanan
Two competing kingdoms once quarreled the lands between Merapi and the ocean; Pengging, ruled by a wise old sultan, Prabu Damar Moyo and his battle-hardened warrior Bandung Bondowoso, and Boko, with Probu Boko the man-eating demon and his evil sidekick Patih Gupolo running the show.
When Probu Boko and his ghostly army attack Pengging, Bondowoso and his army repelled the attack and he slaughtered Probu Boko on the battlefield. The hero of the hour then went to Boko and instantly fell madly in love with the grief-stricken daughter of the ruler he had just slain.
The princess, Roro Jonggrang, saw his infatuation as a way to exact revenge. She promised to marry the warrior if he can build her one thousand temples and the deepest well in the world – all before the next dawn.
Lovelorn and intent on taking the princess as his bride, Bondowoso drew on all the spirits and demons he could and set to work. The well was dug at a pace that shocked and worried Roro Jonggrang, so she challenged him to head to the bottom to check it was deep enough whilst her father’s trusty sidekick Patih Gupolo covered it over with rocks.
A few stones couldn’t stop Bondowoso, who quickly escaped and still wanted to marry the princess, despite the recent assassination attempt. With the help of his supernatural support, temples were scattered across the lands of Java, landing in jungles and on mountains near and far.
How would the princess stop his progress? Would she have to stick to her word and marry her father’s murderer? Thinking on her feet, she went to the villages and woke up all the women in the dead of night – sending them outside to start threshing the rice.
The sounds of dawn coming from across the lands sent the spirits helping Bondowoso back into their hiding places, fearing the rising of the sun.
Yet the sun didn’t show its face for hours. The kingslayer had been duped and didn’t build enough temples without his helpers. In his anger with the princess he once professed to love, he condemned her to be the most beautiful temple of all – Prambanan.
The Dragon Child
Baru Klinting wasn’t a normal child – he came from his mother’s womb as a dragon. Even when his grandfather Ki Damang Taliwagsa asked his mother to get rid of him, she loved him too much to say goodbye and kept the dragon at home.
Knowing he was no normal child, the dragon continually asked his mother about his father – to be born a dragon his dad had to be something interesting, right? After years of persisting, his mum gave in…
Years earlier, she had been lent a knife by the powerful magician Ki Agung Mangir – the man who had wowed the husband of the ocean with his powers. The knife, a traditional Javanese keris, looked unassuming yet was filled with a curse that meant it couldn’t sit on the lap of a virgin.
When Sarinem borrowed the keris, she was warned “this knife cannot be placed on your lap” and promised to be careful during the village ceremony she needed it for. The celebrations got too big, too rowdy; Sarinem forgot herself and put the keris on her lap. Before she knew it, the knife disappeared into her belly. The knife’s owner did what he could to save her honor and married Sarinem, yet disappeared immediately to concentrate on his magic. She bore the baby dragon alone.
Wanting to find his father, Baru Klinting headed towards Mount Merapi where he was told to find him – at the peak and meditating. He reached the Progo river and began to cause problems for the villagers, so many problems that Ki Agung Mangir came down from the volcano to confront the growing dragon.
When Ki Agung saw the snake, he knew this was the living embodiment of his family’s keris. “I’m here to find my father,” Baru Klinting declared.
“Head up to the peak to find him. Wrap your whole body around the mountain and then your father will appear,” counseled Ki Agung Mangir. Seeing the snake’s body almost reach around the mountain, and the tongue stretching out to complete the circle, Ki Agung slashed the tongue off which turned into the spear called Kia Baru Klinting.