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Princess of the Southern Sea

Updated on July 18, 2017

The South China Sea has witnessed its fair share of deaths and local residents and fishermen often have to brave strong winds and high waves to bring in their share of the spoils. The sand here is softer and finer than that on the west coast of the peninsula and it is highlighted by a succulent light golden hue that prevails throughout the year.

There are many small and scattered islands located on the South China Sea and piracy is not infrequent. Only in recent times has the situation calmed down somewhat.

According to popular myth, the sea comes under the dominion of a Princess called the Princess of the South Sea and every year, without fail, she claims at least seven lives. It’s an obscure myth but local residents are observant and careful not offend the Princess when ferrying on her waters.

The myth may have originated from the Island of Lombok and the Princess is believed to be the spiritual consort of the rulers of Mataram. Interestingly enough the word Mataram is an extension of the Sanskrit word mantra. Loosely translated it means spells.

As legend would have it the Princess of the Southern Sea was initially a beautiful maiden called Dewi Kadita who was born in Pajajaran which was part of the Sunda Kingdom (a Hindu kingdom based in Western Java). Her unparalleled beauty invoked the jealousy of her rivals, who cast an evil spell on her which resulted in her skin being covered with malignant tumors. As a result of the treacherous plot, the Princess turned hideously ugly and unable to live with herself; she fled to the Southern Sea and upon reaching its shores, threw herself into its swirling waters.

The occupants of the sea rescued her and rid her body of the festering growth and turned her into a maiden who was human from head to waist and fish below (a mermaid) and crowned her the Princess of the Southern Sea.

Many years later a young Prince aspired to establish the Kingdom of Mataram and overthrow the Pajang overlord that ruled Mataram. He went to the shores of the Southern Sea and there he performed all manner of austerities. His meditation caused the sea to churn and it troubled the princess who resided within its deep waters.

She rose to the surface to determine the cause of the disturbance. There she spotted the handsome Prince and she fell instantly in love with him. The Prince stopped his mediation and agreed to take her hand in marriage. With her assistance he was eventually crowned as the rightful king of Mataram.

There is another version of the myth, which suggests that the princess was an unknown Queen who was suddenly stricken with leprosy. She left her kingdom to avoid being seen by others and restricted herself to the shores of the South Sea.

She became an ascetic and often prayed on the seashore. One day while she was in the midst of prayer she was grabbed by a huge wave that pulled her to the depths of the sea and there she came in contact with sea spirits who cured her of her ailment and granted her the throne of the South Sea.

The third version of the myth has the princess as the daughter of a widowed local king who remarried. When his new wife fell pregnant, he was forced to choose between his daughter and his new wife.

Wanting to be spared the burden of choosing, the devious king employed the services of black magicians to use their skills and have the skin of his daughter covered with malignant tumors.

The black magicians complied with the king’s wishes and thus lifted the burden of choosing from his shoulders. The child became so grossly disfigured that the king was forced to banish her.

He had his guards abandon her in a jungle close to the sea. The young princess wandered around for hours before she was compelled by a mysterious voice to go to the shores of the South Sea and when she reached its shores, the voice prompted her to throw herself into its waters. The spirits of the sea took kindly to her and cured her of her ailments and had her installed as the Princess of the Southern Sea.

The final version of the myth has the Princess as a Majapahit Queen, who was gifted with physic abilities. In time the Queen immersed herself in the waters of the South Sea to become its ruler.

© 2016 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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