By Pramoedya Ananta Toer
"Centuries ago, there was, in the eastern part of the island of Java, a kingdom by the name of Daha..." So begins The King, the Witch and the Priest, a fable with contemporary allure that is based on the story of Calon Arang, a Javanese legend dating from the twelfth century.
As tradition tells it, Calon Arang was a powerful witch from the village of Girah who had a beautiful daughter named Ratna Manggali who could find no husband. No man would have her for fear of her mother.
Calon Arang became so angered by her daughter’s plight that she spread pestilence throughout the kingdom. To deal with the problem, King Erlangga ordered his most respected priest, Empu Baradah, to get rid of Calon Arang. This proved to be no easy task as Calon Arang owned a book containing all the secrets of sorcery.
This ancient tale, as retold by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, exhibits a remarkable relevance to contemporary life with timeless lessons such as the triumph of good over evil and the ever-possible eternal salvation of one’s soul.
The King, the Witch and the Priest: A Twelfth Century Javanese Tale; As told by Pramoedya Ananta Toer; Translated and edited by Willem Samuels; Equinox Publishing, 2002; 127 pp
An English translation of Pramoedya Ananta Toer's Calon Arang, a 12th-century Javanese tale that he retold and published half a century ago, has now seen the light of day.
Originally intended as a reader for junior high school students, the story is nevertheless interesting for adults as well. In the tale, Pramoedya depicts the clash between good and evil, with the final triumph going to the former.
Calon Arang is a witch, notorious for causing misery to ordinary people. She and her followers are feared, because they sacrifice people as offerings to the Goddess of Durga, the Destroyer, so that their magic will become ever stronger.
The witch has a daughter, Ratna Manggali, but no man dares to approach... [continues]
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