The Rise and Fall of the Forgotten Empire

Even with its riches and long history, Srivijaya was, for a long time, largely forgotten. Although Palembang, the capital of Srivijaya became a part of Indonesia, even the modern Indonesian people never heard of the empire until the first hint of its existence was alluded to by French scholar George Coedes who published his findings in Dutch newspapers in 1918, based on inscriptions found in Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. It was not until 1992 that another French scholar, Pierre-Yves Manguin, pin-pointed the center of Srivijaya as the Musi River, between Bukit Seguntang and Sabokingking in South Sumatra.

The Lady of the South Seas

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.

The Strange Beauty of the Castrati

When Farinelli, the most famous castrato of his time, sang in London, one woman squealed “One God, one Farinelli!”. “Long live the knife, the blessed knife!” screamed other estatic female fans at opera houses as the craze for Italian castrati reached its peak in the 18th century.  Farinelli was later summoned by the Queen of Spain to sing her husband, Philip V, out of his depression, and went on to become the most potent politician in Spain as well as owner of his own opera house.

Ancient History of Shadow Puppetry

The art of shadow puppetry, or shadow play, is an ancient form of storytelling which utilizes flat translucent screen. It has a long history in China, India, Nepal, and Southeast Asia, as well as in Turkey and Greece, surviving everything from war and famine to cultural revolutions. Shadow puppetry is so embraced by many different cultures that each culture seems to have their own history and legend of the first shadow play performance— therefore claiming it, or at least different versions of it, as their own.

The Warrior Nun

They are rarely mentioned in historical records but female warriors have increasingly been studied and researched. Of female martial artists, the accounts are rarer still, and generally become a mix of historical facts and legends. One such story is the Shaolin Abbess Ng Mui, her student Yim Wing Chun, and their roles in the conception of a martial art called the Wing Chun Kung Fu.

Dyah Gitarja

The picture of a powerful empire politically and culturally dominating the whole of the Indonesian Archipelago is attached to the “Golden Age” of Majapahit in the fourteenth century. It was the time of the famous poets Prapafica and Tantular, and of the sculptors of reliefs that have been preserved on the Surawana, Tigawangi and Kedaton temples. The two men largely credited for this success are the great king Hayam Wuruk (1350-1389 CE) and the prime minister Gajah Mada—both their names and likenesses are still venerated in the region today. Gajah Mada especially is credited with bringing the empire to its peak of glory and serves as an important national hero in modern Indonesia—a symbol of patriotism and national unity. However, paving the way for the two heroes was a woman

Thieves of Fire

As fire is “divine” and heavily associated with creation (creation of food, creation of warmth and so on), a lot of ancient myths imply that fire was meant for the gods, not mankind, to control. Therefore, the giving of fire or, more often, the theft of fire for the benefit of humanity who were not meant to hold such power, is a theme that recurs in many world mythologies.

The Goddess with the Golden Scales

One afternoon in the 1960s, the people of Magelang in Java, Indonesia, gathered on the edge of the main road which connects Magelang and Yogyakarta and sounded anything they could find which could make a loud noise. After some time, the wind blew from the south. This southern wind, according to the local legend, was a Lampor. A Lampor refers to trips to several regions in Java which are carried out by the soldiers of Nyi Roro Kidul, the mythical Queen of the Southern Seas, led by her commander Nyi Blorong.

Tales of the Divine Monkeys

Stories of Hanuman’s heroic deeds have been passed down through generations for thousands of years. us monkey was born in East Asia through the first Chinese novel Hsi-Yu Chi (“Journey to the West”). The story is based on a Buddhist monk who journeyed to India in search of Buddhist sutras from 602-664 CE. Protecting him on his journey, according to the book, are four companions also led by a divine monkey, Sun Wu Kong.

The Monstrous Faces of the Guardians of Time

Apart from being a shrine to the Lord Buddha, Borobudur is also a temple for Buddhist pilgrimage. A pilgrim’s journey begins at the base of the monument and follows a path around the temple. The pilgrim then ascends to the top of the monument through the three realms in the Buddhist cosmology. Those three realms are Kamadhatu (“the world of desire”), Rupadhatu (“the world of forms”) and Arupadhatu (“the world of formlessness”). However, to experience this journey, the pilgrim will first walk through the gate of the temple adorned with a terrifying head which gives the illusion of the gate looking like the open mouth of the giant. The giant head represents Kala (“time”).

Semar, the Great and Powerful

Semar is probably one of the oldest characters in Indonesian mythology who was said to not have been derived from Hindu mythology. He was made famous by performances of Wayang (Shadow Puppets) in the islands of Java and Bali as a rather unattractive, short man with breasts, a great sized behind, and uncontrollable urge for farting. However, underneath his peculiar appearance, Semar plays a major part in the Indonesian creation myth as the elder brother of the supreme god Batara Guru (the Hindu god Shiva).

Ancient Mothers of the Olympics

The Olympics took place every four years for more than a millennium. However, as important as this was to the Greeks, participation in the Olympics was open primarily to men and boys. Women were of course discouraged to participate. But this did not stop the ladies from having their own athletic competitions, even competing against the men and winning.