Nyai Roro Kidul is a well-known figure in Javanese mythology who is still venerated by the Javanese today as the spirit queen of the Indian Ocean. Living in her palace on the bottom of the ocean off the south coast of Central Java, she rules the ocean, the spirits, nymphs, and other beings from the underworld. Her rare excursions ashore are believed to be accompanied by the occurrence of unusual natural phenomena, such as spring tides. As queen of the Southern Ocean, she is held responsible for disappearances and deaths near or in the ocean. Therefore, like burial grounds, the ocean is also regarded as a dwelling place for the spirits of the dead, especially of people who die unnatural deaths by drowning.
She is the most prominent of the four guardian spirits of the cardinal directions in Java who receive special veneration even in modern day Surakarta. The four spirits are Kanjeng Ratu Kidul herself who guards the south, Sunan Lawu, the ruler of the spirits on Mt Lawu on the east, Kanjeng Ratu Sekarkedaton, tutelary spirit of Gunung Merapi on the west and Sang Hyang Pramoni, resident of the northern forest Krendawahana.
Although the name “Kanjeng Ratu Kidul” (literally means “My Lady Queen of the South”) is also commonly used, she is affectionately known as Nyai Roro Kidul. The use of the word “Kanjeng” and “Nyai” in addressing the spirit queen and other Hindu-Buddhist Javanese spirits derived from the traditional habit of the Javanese of considering their relationship with their Hindu-Buddhist gods, deities and ancestral spirits as a relationship to senior but intimate kin. Therefore, they consistently use the kinship terms for their deities and spirits, such as Hyang (exalted ancestor), Eyang (honored grandfather or grandmother), Kiyai (master), or Nyai (madam or mistress), as well as the honorifics for kings or high officials, such as Gusti (Your Highness), Kanjeng (My Lord or My Lady), or Sunan (Your Grace).
Kanjeng Ratu Kidul is said to have been named Ratna Suwida, the daughter of a ruler of the West Javanese kingdom of Pajajaran although the accounts differ as to who her father was. There are various reasons for her transformation from a princess of the court into the guardian spirit of the Southern Ocean.
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