PART 2-Puteri Gunung Ledang: goddess and demon
The first part of this essay established the story most associated with Puteri Gunung Ledang, of the proposal of the Sultan of Melaka and eventual rejection. It may seem that the Sultan’s proposal is too ambitious, insane even, but it may not be as such. The marriage between mortal and immortal is quite common in legend and literature, such as the numerous romantic affairs of Greek gods with mortal women. In classical mythology, the goddess Aphrodite fell in love with the mortal youth Adonis, the god Cupid with Psyche, while in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, men from a lower’ race, such as humans, would fall in love and marry a ‘higher’ or nobler race such as the Eldar, or elves. These unions include Beren and Luthien (the Silmarillion) and of Aragorn II and Arwen Undomiel (the Lord of the Rings).
In this light, it would not be surprising to see the proposal of the Sultan of Malacca to Puteri Gunung Ledang as a kind of symbolic marriage ritual between ruler and indigenous goddess, later abandoned by the Sultan due to the taxing demands it placed upon the ruler and kingdom, or abandoning a complex ritual for a relatively simpler creed.
Mulaika Hijjas in ‘The Legend You Thought You Knew’, interestingly forwarded this theory, by comparing the Malacca-Gunung Ledang proposed union with that of Java, namely the ritual of symbolic union or alliance between the kings of Mataram and Yogyakarta with the Ratu, or Nyai Roro Kidul, Queen of the South Seas:
“Ultimately, both Puteri Gunung Ledang and Ratu Kidul may originally have been indigenous chthonic deities who became associated with the Hindu goddesses Durga and Kali and /or the Tantric Buddhist Tara.”
This view of Puteri Gunung Ledang being a remnant of an ancient goddess was also forwarded by earlier scholars, such as R.J. Wilkinson in Malay Beliefs (1906):
“The old Menangkabau religion appears in some measure to have been a worship of every localized divinities, the Gods of particular mountains and rivers, deities, in fact, like the Fairy Princess of Mt. Ophir near Malacca. This last Goddess is represented as having dwelt in a lovely garden on the summit of the great mountain, as having been guarded by a tiger, and as being in possession of the power of changing her appearance…”
Also, Wessing in The Soul of Ambiguity: the Tiger in Southeast Asia (1974) suggested an origin of Puteri Gunung Ledang as an Indianized nature divinity, due to her association with the forest, mountain, and feared beasts such as the tiger:
“According to Provencher (1984: 142ff), this princess, Puteri Gunung Ledang, may have been the consort of a Hindu god who has the animistic ability to change to change into a tiger when she is threatened. Either she herself in tigrine form or her tiger familiar act as a spirit helper to a well known shaman.”
With the advent of Islam in the region, however, the role of Puteri Gunung Ledang as goddess has been reduced, first to a respected spirit or enchanted fairy, but ultimately transformed to a demonic entity, consorting with were-tigers, sorcerers and ghosts.
By the time of the story in Sejarah Melayu, the Puteri Gunung Ledang was already ‘demoted’, a respectable figure, but ultimately whose demands of propitiation could be ignored by the king.
Even the Portuguese chronicler Tome Pires, while writing the Suma Oriental around 1512-1515, noted this view of Puteri Gunung Ledang:
“(While passing by Nias island) They say that opposite of Priaman there is an island where there are only women and they have no men, and that they are got with child by others who go there to trade and who go away again at once and that others are made pregnant by the wind. This opinion is held by the people of these parts in the same way on the enchanted queen in the hill of Malacca calledGulom Leydam. The people believe in this, as others believe in the Amazons and the Sybil in Rome.”
And eventually, she was a kind of proto-hitchhiker, in her old woman disguise, whose stories are still heard even at the end of the 19th century, as recorded by R.O. Winstedt (1951):
“A were-tiger guards even the Fairy Princess of Mt. Ophir, who reclines in a cave, a beautiful girl on a couch of dead men’s bones. Some relate how every morning she appears as a girl, every noon as a woman, and every night as an old bedlam. One legend tells how in the guise of a hag carrying a cat, and a long bag of saffron, she will ask boatmen on the Gemencheh river (in Negeri Sembilan) for a lift: if it is refused, the boat runs aground; as soon as she is taken abroad, it glides off. When she leaves the boat, she gives each man a piece of saffron that turns to gold in his hand.”
This demotion of status of the Puteri did not stop at benevolent spirit. In time, due to the influence of monotheism, such as Islam and Christianity, the old goddess was relegated to an increasing demonology (not unique to the east and in religious texts. In the epic poem, Paradise Lost, by John Milton, the old gods of Greece and the Middle East were re-casted as fallen angels and demons that followed charismatic Lucifer).
In the early 17th century, Godinho de Eredia in his Declaracam (1613), the Puteri Gunung Ledang was considered a malevolent figure, a demonic threat to the Christians of Malacca. In Eredia’s words:
“The monte de Gunoledam resembles Mount Athlante on the Sybilline caves…thos this mountain (according to the story of the Malaios) retired the Queen Putry, companion of Permicuri, founder of Malaca: here the enchanted Putry remains for ever immortal and here she lives to this day by the magic arts.”
“She makes her home in a cavernous cave on the summit of the mountain, and here she lies on a raised couch decorated with dead men’s bones: she takes the form of a beautiful young girl, adorned with silk and gold.”
“…Farther away from this grove are the forests occupied by tigers who guard the Queen Putry…this story must be a fairy-tale; but the natives regard it as true…”
Fairy-tale she might be, but not to the Portuguese, who were harassed by the wild-men, or Banua (orang Benua), who he claimed to have learned the dark arts from the devil and the Putry, and in turn taught these arts to sorcerers and a special kind of demon-witch, called the ponteana. And these sorcerers would change into arymos and began harassing the Malaccan villagers. This would occur until 1560, when Dorm Jorge de San Lucia, first Bishop of Malacca, excommunicated the wild-men and sorcerers, and they ceased their attacks on the Christians.
By the 19th century, British colonial officers serving in Malaya would record an alternative view of Puteri Gunung Ledang, but as a ghost princess in Bukit Jugra, such as recorded by WW Skeat in Malay Magic (1900):
“One of these sacred spots (mountains) is said to have been situated upon the “Mt. Ophir” of Malacca, which is about 4000 feet high, and on which a certain legendary princess known as Tuan Putri Gunong Ledang is said to have dwelt, until she transferred her ghostly court to Jugra Hill, upon the coast of Selangor.”
“It was on Jugra Hill, according to tradition, that the Princess of Malacca fasted to obtain eternal youth.”
And in this identity, she was most associated with the feared were-tigers, and ghostly entities:
“By far the most celebrated of these ghost tigers, however, were the guardians of the shrine at the foot of Jugra Hill, which were formerly the pets of the Princess of Malacca (Tuan Putri Gunong Ledang). Local reports says that this princess left her country when it was taken by the Portuguese, and established herself on Jugra Hill, a solitary hill on the southern portion of the Selangor coast, which is marked on old charts as the “False Parcelar” hill…”
And Skeat recorded the story vouched by a Mr. G.C. Bellamy, formerly of the Selangor Civil Service, of his place that was full of hantu, and while discussing with the Malays was interrupted by cried of thelangswayer, and the bajang:
‘But the Putri of Gunong Ledang holds the premier position amongst the fabulous denizens of the jungle on the hill…’
‘(In Jugra Hill) the lady remained for some time, and during her stay constructed a bathing-place for herself. Even to this day she pays periodical visits to Jugra Hill, and although she herself in invisible to mortal eye, her faithful attendant, in the shape of a handsome tiger (rimau kramat), is often to be met with as he prowls about the place at night…’
Her reputation transformation, from goddess to demon to fairy spirit also reflected in the way locals view her, especially in rituals such as mantras. These mantras originated from indigenous traditions, given a Hindu name, and turn to Hindu gods, and later Islamic figures as subjects of their petitions in their mantras, such as the Prophet Muhammad, the four Caliphs, the Nabi Joseph, Elijah, Khidir the Green, and the Archangels. Puteri Gunung Ledang was also invoked in these mantras.
Haron Daud’s wonderfully comprehensive work of 1071 pages, “Ulit Mayang: Kumpulan Mantera Melayu” (DBP, 2004), recorded at least two mantras about the Puteri Gunung Ledang. The first mantra is a pemanis mantra, one used to increase one’s beauty. Well, the first is not exactly about the Princess per se:
Merak Puteri Gunung Ledang, (Peacock of the Princess of Gunung Ledang)
Bertapa di Gunung Ledang (Who meditates in Gunung Ledang)
Naik seri muka aku (Increase the radiance of my complexion)
Berkat seri muka padaku (Bless my complexion with radiance)
Akulah yang manis (I who am of sweetness)
Berkat doa Lailahaillallah. (Blessings of the prayer Lailahaillallah)”
(Mantra by Mak Joyah, Jitra, Kedah)
The second mantra is no less interesting. It is an agricultural mantra:
Tuan Puteri Gunung Ledang
Kau jangan kacau padi aku ini (Disturb not my paddy)
Setakat ini sahaja kau makan padi aku (This is your share of my paddy)
Sekarang ini kalau kau makan pula (If you consume more than your fill)
Nabi Muhammad pun murka (the wrath of the Prophet is upon you)
Kalau makan lagi (If you consume more than your fill)
Nabi Muhammad murka pada kau (The wrath of the Prophet is upon you)
(Mantra by Dollah Awang, Machang, Kelantan)
The second mantra would also suggest another possible origin of Puteri Gunung Ledang, as an ancient rice goddess propitiated less she destroys the crops, but now demoted to a malevolent spirit subservient to the name of the Prophet.
(End of Part 2)
*Part 3: Puteri Gunung Ledang as human
*Part 4: Puteri Gunung Ledang in books and films
*Part 5: Bibliography