The Widow and The Virgin

Calon Arang as Rangda
Calon Arang as Rangda

There was a small village known as Girah in the kingdom of Daha, the place now we know as Kediri, East Java. Although the village had known for its beauty and tranquility, it also kept a dark secret. Inside the village, there was a widow who lead a very evil path, for she was a witch. The Witch lived in a hut, deep inside a magical forest. Please be careful whenever you step your feet near to that forest, for there are trees who can speak to you, and enchanted you to come closer and closer. Suddenly, you are already inside the Witch’s hut, and you won’t see the light of day anymore.

Calon Arang was her name. She was very upset, because her daughter Ratna Manggali was still a virgin and it seemed no one wanted to marry her. It’s not because Ratna Manggali herself, but it’s because of Ratna’s mother. No man was brave enough to marry a daughter of a witch, especially when it came to Calon Arang. Rumor had it, that Calon Arang used to kill a person only to make her powerful. She used to chant and pray in the middle of the night, asking Betari Durga to give her more power. She had to be powerful so every man in Kediri afraid of her. But her power was useless for her daughter. The more powerful she was, the more frightening she became.

Calon Arang couldn’t take it anymore. She went berserk.  She cursed all of Daha and spread the famine, started from Girah.  The famine was too great. There were no empu could block or create an antidote. It was a terror for Girah, a lot of people died without any symptoms. Corpses found everywhere,  children lost their parents, husbands lost their wives. People at Girah were crying over desperate times.

This national tragedy came fast to the capital city of Daha. But Daha was still safe, for there was one powerful and respected priest, Mpu Baradah. The King of Daha, King Erlangga, asked Mpu Baradah to stop this madness and kill the Witch.

Mpu Baradah were thinking hard. It was almost impossible to kill Calon Arang without stealing her book of sorcery, and it was also impossible to steal it from Calon Arang by himself. So, he decided to bring his son whose name is Bahula with him and asked Bahula to steal it from Calon Arang by marrying her daughter first. So Mpu Baradah and Bahula visit Girah. There, Bahula tried to win Calon Arang’s heart by marrying Ratna Manggali. Later Bahula realized, that he fallen in love with Ratna Manggali for real.

It was easier for Bahula to steal Calon Arang’s sorcery book when he shared a hut with the Witch. Without Calon Arang acknowledgment, Bahula stole the book and gave it to his father, who patiently waiting while the the treachery process begin. As soon as Mpu Baradah grabbed the book, he confronted Calon Arang.

Calon Arang was furios when she knew that all of this is only a big plan to murder her. How could she, the most powerful Witch in Java, became blind just because her daughter is finally getting married?

She was mad, and horribly sad. She transform herself into a big, giant monster, with a long white hair and sharp yellow teeth. She was bare chest, and her breast were hanging, touching the ground. She looked awful and scarier than ever, and also looks very sad. This beast form of Calon Arang, known by the Balinese as Rangda.

Without her sorcery book, Calon Arang lose her power to summon Betari Durga. Hence, it’s easier for Mpu Baradah to kill her.

Calon Arang dead in her sorrow and despair. Her daughter, Ratna Manggali cried over her mother’s death. But she finally forgave her husband, for she knew that Calon Arang’s death was her destiny, and it’s doing a greater good for the Kingdom of Daha.

***

The story you’re just read is the popular one. There is the second version, who said that Calon Arang is actually a good Witch. A Buddhist Witch who help Erlangga to spread his smaller existing kingdom, Daha into the greater one, Kediri. We could trace the origin of Calon Arang story in the 12th century, from the literature of Kediri. The story itself is more considered as a legend than a myth. Her historical evidence and fact are highly questionable, although the setting (Kediri) and the name of the Kings (Erlangga) are accurate. The theatrical version of Calon Arang is still very popular in Bali until now.

Some scholar and historian – especially the feminist one – said that the first version of Calon Arang – the one which I told earlier – is the example of how this story represents Javanese way of thinking when it comes to women, especially in the modern times. Calon Arang was a widow, or in Bahasa Indonesia : Janda. The Balinese for widow is Rangda.  This widowness of Calon Arang somehow lead her character into the evil version of herself. It was like her evilness and black magic correlated with her widow status.

The same thing was actually happened with Ratna Manggali. Calon Arang seems to be worried so much, that no man will marry her daughter, and she will end up virgin still. The important question that raised from the critical scholar when it comes to the main story is, what is wrong for being a virgin?  And what is wrong for being a widow?

In the first version of Calon Arang, the main story is about how scary and frightening Calon Arang was. And that makes no man want to marry her daughter. And this condition – the daughter is not getting married – lead her to berserk and spread the famine.

I won’t discuss about feminism here, for it would require more space, and I’m not really good at women issues. It just interesting to see how we could learn from two different side of Calon Arang. The evil Witch, and the good one. Some of the argument said that Calon Arang was supposed to be a good one, because she was one of the ancestors of respected empu-empu in Java and Bali (this highly to be happened because Ratna Manggali was married with Mpu Bahula, son of Mpu Baradah), although I thought this argument is too feudalistic.

Any point of view is actually interesting, although it might be true, that Calon Arang is an example of how women are always living inside the history, not able to make one or to speak on one. Calon Arang was a widow, who was mad because her daughter’s status (that she thought was bad), spread famine across the village, deceived by his son in law, killed in a form of a beast, and still be remembered as a symbol of an evil force centuries later.

7 thoughts on “The Widow and The Virgin

  1. I’m curious about the story in which Calon Arang was a good witch.. did she get mad for her status and nobody wanted to marry her daughter? did she died in the bertrayal of her son in law as well? well I bet her daughter is very beautiful ya hehe..

    anyway, the first thing to came in my mind was also about “what if she’s a widow?” and “what if her daughter was still virgin?” “what’s wrong with the unmarried women?” — though I don’t know the answer hehe.

    this womanly topic surely needs a long discussion.

    1. Hi Dai.😀
      You must read the second version of Calon Arang story. Well, I don’t know if it considered as the ‘second’ one, actually. You can find its example in the book which title is “Janda Dari Jirah” (A Widow From Jirah) by Cok Sawitri. It’s a very interesting Calon Arang version. The main story about “Janda Dari Jirah” is about how King Erlangga asked Calon Arang to help him making Daha bigger and stronger.
      In this version, Calon Arang is the Buddhist Priest who has a magical power, so is Ratna Manggali. Ratna Manggali has an ability to tell the future. She had foreseen that Calon Arang will be remembered as an evil force, that she is an evil witch, and how history and legend won’t be taking her side.

      1. And about your question regarding to the ‘womanly issue’, I agree with you that it will needs a long discussion. But the interesting part of Calon Arang story is – in my opinion – not only in its magic and mysteriousness, but more about the feminism issue itself. If the real story of Calon Arang is the ‘second version’, like I’d already told before, than is it possible that Calon Arang story had changed alongside with the way Javanese of thinking about women?

  2. I see…… yea we don’t know which one is ‘the first’ and ‘the then’ right? but the original story might be the one in which Calon Arang iwas a good priest. and since she’s a widow, negative interpretations of the people slowly changed the story and Calon Arang became ‘bad’. hmmm…

  3. This is such an interesting tale and like you said, it shows how women are ever so often dichotomized into either good or bad. Her status as a widow and her daughter’s as an unmarried woman (old maiden, perhaps?) seemed to lead them to be categorized into the “bad” ones, at least in the first story. it is sad how people sometimes make assumptions based on someone’s status. it is easy to guess a feminist’s view on this story, but it’ll be interesting to know how modern men view it. Will there be the same negative assumptions revolve around a woman’s status?
    Anyway, i stumbled upon your blog by chance, i enjoy your writing as it eases my longing for epic tales. Do keep up the good work🙂

    1. Thank you for dropped by.🙂 Ratna Manggali is young, and that makes this story more interesting, because it turned out her ‘unmarried’ status made her mother angry, even though she’s still a girl. And yes, it would be very interesting to examine how modern men view it. I’m a man and honestly, I don’t think being widow and unmarried make a woman less than she supposed to be. But i gotta say that there are some ‘negative’ talk about that thing. People might not spoke it out loud, but we could actually feel it, don’t we?

      1. “People might not spoke it out loud, but we could actually feel it”- it’s so true, isn’t it? Latent prejudice can be more scary than blatant ones. At least when it’s done blatantly, you know who you’re “enemy” is😀. But, yes, latent prejudice is a social poison in modern society.

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