As retold by Samsuni
Lutung Kasarung is a poem well known in Sundanese society in West Java, Indonesia. The poem tells about the journey of Sanghyang Guruminda from heaven to earth in which he turns into a lutung, a long-tailed black monkey. On earth, he gets lost in a jungle, thus the name Lutung Kasarung (The Lost Monkey). There he meets Purbasari, an expelled princess. Despite his monkey form, Lutung Kasarung gets married with the princess. How does it come? Find out in the following story of Lutung Kasarung.
In ancient time in West Java, there lived a wise king called Prabu Tapa Agung who reigned in Pasir Batang Kingdom. The king fathered seven daughters; each of them had an unbearably beautiful look. They were Purbararang, Purbadewata, Purbaendah, Purbakancana, Purbamanik, and the youngest, Purbasari. Of the princesses, five of them were already married and being queens for other kingdoms. Only Purbararang and Purbasari were yet to get married. Purbararang, however, had already had a fiancé, a well-built and agreeable man called Raden Indrajaya. He was a son of one of the king’s ministers.
In the last few days, Prabu Tapa Agung often sat alone looking mourning on his throne. There seemed to be a big problem in his mind. So the queen tried to talk to him.
“My husband, you’ve been looking sad for days. What is it bothering you? Maybe I can help,” asked the queen in a soothing voice.
“Oh, honey, I am getting old. I could no longer lead this kingdom well. I've been thinking of stepping down. But..." said Prabu Tapa Agung.
“But what, my husband?” asked the queen again.
Prabu Tapa Agung told her that he could not yet decide which one of Purbabarang and Purbasari would succeed him. According to the reigning traditional law, the most rightful successor would be Princess Purbabarang as she was the oldest daughter. But the king himself did not think she would fit the position, knowing her traits. She was an arrogant, boastful, and sly woman. Purbabarang frequently made a tactless decision that caused bad situations. The king preferred his youngest daughter to replace him. Contrary to her sister, she was kind, wise, and clever. In the end, the king made up his mind. Purbasari would be queen once he retired.
Purbabarang refused the decision. She could not accept that her father favored Purbasari over her. Feeling she deserved to be queen, Purbabarang lamented the bad news to her fiancé.
“My father is being unfair. He is planning to crown Purbasari instead of me. I am his oldest child for God’s sake,” moaned the princess.
Raden Indrajaya, Purbabarang’s fiancé, became angry at once.
“It can’t happen that way. You’re the real queen!” shouted him.
“What do we do?” Purbabarang panicked.
“We need to get rid of your impudent sister,” said Indrajaya.
After a long discussion, they decided to see a psychic, Ni Ronde. They asked her for help to cast a spell on Purbasari.
Several days later, Pasir Batang Palace burst into a tumult. All of a sudden, Princess Purbasari was struck by a bizarre illness. She felt itchy all over her body and there were black spots on her skin. The king was surprised to see his dearest princess' condition. He called a few medicine men right away but she did not get better. Purbabarang, meanwhile, took advantage of the adversity. She urged her father to send Purbasari into exile.
“Father, maybe this is what we get when we don’t comply with our tradition. The ancestors must be offended and cursing Purbasari. I’m afraid our entire kingdom will get the curse too,” reasoned Purbabarang.
Prabu Tapa Agung was coaxed. Reluctantly, he moved his youngest daughter to the forest to ensure that the kingdom would stay safe. Purbasari realized she did not have any other choices than to accept everything.
The king commanded his prime minister, Uwak Batara Lengser, to take Purbasari to the jungle. After making a hut for the princess deep in the wood, the kind-hearted prime minister advised the princess, “Be patient, Princess. This hardship shall end soon, may God protect you. I will come here every now and then to deliver food and drink. You’d better take a rest now.”
“Thank you, Uncle. Your word calms me down,” said Purbasari.
Since then, Purbasari lived alone in the jungle. To amuse herself, every morning she took a stroll around to see the landscape and have fun with the animals. In only a few days, she had already made a lot of friends. The animals were so kind to her. They helped the princess to get fruits.
One day, while Purbasari was playing around with the animals, someone was staring from afar. It turned out that he was a lutung, black monkey. He came over to the hut before long. The princess was taken aback when she realized a scary creature standing beside her.
“What are you doing, monkey? Please leave!” Purbasari looked scared.
“Don’t be afraid of me, Princess. I won’t do any harm,” answered the monkey.
Purbasari was even more frightened to know that the monkey could speak like human.
“Who are you?” she asked timidly.
“My name is Guruminda, the son of Sunan Ambu who dwells in heaven. I did something bad that I was expelled to earth in this body,” the monkey explained.
The princess calmed down. Asking no more questions, she smiled and introduced herself. Their situation was almost similar as both were expelled to the jungle. They soon became good friends. Since then, Purbasari called the monkey Lutung Kasarung, meaning the lost monkey. Wherever the princess went, the monkey was behind her. He helped her pick fruits every time she felt hungry.
On a full-moon night, quietly Lutung Kasarung went to a tranquil place to meditate. There, he begged God to help Princess Purbasari get rid of her illness. Not long after that, the ground on which he sat turned into a pond. The water was so pure, fresh, and fragrant. When the sun beamed its light at daybreak, Lutung rushed to see Purbasari to take her to the pond.
“Hey, Tung!” Purbasari was confused.
“Where are you taking me to? Oh, here. What a beautiful pond that is.”
“Get in the water, Princess. It will cure you,” said Lutung Kasarung.
Purbasari slowly walked into the water. Miraculously, just a moment after she soaked herself in the pond, the black spots on her skin disappeared, leaving no traces whatsoever. Her skin was back clean and immaculate as it had used to. She was speechless, being amazed and happy at the same time.
“Thank you, Tung. Very kind of you,” said her gratefully.
What happened that morning only made Purbasari love the monkey more. Never did she complain about living with him and other animals in the jungle. Her heart had meld with the jungle life, forgetting her real home.
One day, Prime Minister Uwak Batara Lengser visited her and got taken aback to know that the princess had got rid of her illness. He then tried to take her back to the palace.
“My Princess, for the sake of your father, would you come back to our palace?” said the prime minister.
Deep inside her heart, Purbasari felt so hard to leave the jungle. But then she realized that it was not her place to be with the animals and that she was more needed in the palace.
“Well, Uncle, let's go back home. But on one condition, you have to let me bring Lutung along. He has helped me greatly that I won’t be able to thank him enough,” said the princess.
“As you wish, my Princess. I think the king would love to see that monkey,” said the prime minister.
Princess Purbasari went back to the palace with Prime Minister Uwak Batara Lengser and Lutung Kasarung. There they were welcomed cheerfully by the whole palace, except Princess Purbararang and Raden Indrajaya. While the others were laughing and crying in happiness, the mean couple was busy devising another plan.
“Father, I don’t agree with your decision to enthrone Purbasari. I am your most rightful heir. For justice, Father, I urge you to hold a contest. The winner will get the throne, the loser will get hanged,” said Purbararang.
No matter how he did not like the idea, for justice Prabu Tapa Agung granted Purbararang’s wish. There was going to be two contests: cooking contest and long-hair contest. Urged by her father, Purbasari accepted the challenge.
“Don’t you worry, Princess! I sure will help you,” whispered Lutung Kasarung.
“Thanks, Lutung. I hope you will,” answered Purbasari.
On the given day, the people of Pasir Batang gathered in the palace court to see the contest. Not long after, the two daughters of Prabu Tapa Agung came up. The first was cooking contest, in which the tastier food would determine the winner.
When ready, a gong was hit to start the contest. Purbararang promptly prepared the spices, helped by tens of royal servants. Purbasari, on the contrary, tried to do things as quick as she could with only Lutung Kasarung lending her a hand. Soon after, Purbararang was almost done. She seemed happy to see her sister start panicking. But then, Lutung used his supernatural power. He called some heaven's fairies to get down to earth and help Purbasari. Nobody could see them. Aided by the fairies, Purbasari finished cooking in time with much tastier food. She finally came out as the winner.
Going on to the second contest, in which their hair-lengths would be compared, Purbabarang was confident. She untied her hair to show how long it was. The princess’ hair was dark and thick and hung to below her knees.
“Come on, Purbasari! Show me your hair! You won’t win again this time!” said Purbararang arrogantly.
Purbasari bowed her head, speechless. Her hair was no more than waist long.
“Why quiet, Princess?” asked Lutung Kasarung who stood beside her.
“Well I’m losing this one, Lutung,” whispered Purbasari.
“Don’t you worry, Princess. I will call some fairies to make your hair longer,” said the monkey.
Not long after Lutung Kasarung meditated, another flock of fairies came to lengthen Purbasari’s hair without anybody noticing. When the princess untied her hair, everyone was amazed. It was a dark, sparkling, soft hair hung loose to her heels. Purbararang could not believe what she just saw. She was embarrassed and shocked as her sister got the better of her again. But she did not run out of ideas at all. She called on his father for another contest: which one was handsomer between the princess’ men.
“If Purbasari wins again, I won’t mind to get hanged,” said Purbararang in front of the people.
Prabu Tapa Agung was not sure about the contest as Purbasari had not had any men with her yet. If some random man was commanded to be her fiancé at the time, he could not be handsomer than Indrajaya. Purbasari, however, was willing to take the challenge. The king nodded his head.
Proudly, Purbabarang came out on the stage holding Indrajaya’s arm. “O, people of Pasir Batang! Have a look at my fiancé, Indrajaya! I will sure be queen of this kingdom, won’t I?” exclaimed Purbararang.
Everyone would agree that Indrajaya was indeed a charming man. Nobody could match his look. They were sure that Purbasari would lose this time, moreover when she awkwardly got on the stage with Lutung Kasarung.
“This is my future husband!” said Purbasari proudly.
“Yes, this monkey is my fiancé!” she yelled again.
Purbararang, Indrajaya, and the rest of people laughed at the seemingly disturbed princess.
“Hey, Purbasari! Isn’t there any handsomer monkey than that one?” mocked Purbararang.
Lutung Kasarung was insulted. He could not stand seeing Purbasari being a subject of despising laughter. He tried to gather power to turn into his original form. Apparently, after what he did to Purbasari, heaven forgave all his wrongdoings. A moment later, he changed into the charismatic and handsome Guruminda. Everybody was mesmerized by his look, including Purbasari herself.
With Purbasari winning the contest, she inherited the throne of the kingdom. Purbasari and Indrajaya should be hanged for losing but Purbasari did not have the heart to do that. She did not want to kill her own sister. She cancelled the punishment and let her sister stay in the palace with her.
Purbasari became the Queen of Pasir Batang Kingdom. She was known to be a wise leader in his prosperous and peaceful homeland.
Lutung Kasarung, like normally folklore stories, contains morals. There are at least two things we could learn from the above story: 1) we should never look down on other people, and 2) we should be willing to forgive and give up grudges.
Purbararang challenges Purbasari to fight for the kingdom’s throne, thinking her younger sister will not be able to do anything to beat her. Surprisingly, Purbasari does with the help of Lutung Kasarung. As a result, Purbararang is threatened with hanging. Indeed, we should not look down on anybody. Here is a passage from the Malay verses of wisdom:
Kalau suka merendahkan orang, (If you like to hold others in disdain)
Alamat badan dimakan parang. (You might get a blade trouncing your body)
Later on, Purbasari does not hold a grudge for her sister, even after she gets hurt. She forgives Purbararang, sets her free from hanging, and lets her stay with her in the palace. It is with forgivingness like this that a family should keep themselves from disputes and enmity. As said in the Malay verses of wisdom:
Kalau suka memaafkan orang, (Forgive others)
Kusut selesai sengketa pun hilang. (Over be dispute, quarrel no more)
Kalau suka bermaaf-maafan, (Apologize to each other)
Hidup rukun hati pun nyaman. (Live peacefully, feel serenity)
Translation by Reza Daffi
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Tenas Effendy. 2006. Tunjuk Ajar Melayu. Yogyakarta: Center for Research and Development of Malay Culture in cooperation with AdiCita Karya Nusa Publisher.