The Princess and the Monkey

The Princess and the Monkey

Today’s folk tale comes from Indonesia. Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populated country and is now a republic. However, a thousand years ago the islands were split up into many small kingdoms, each ruled by a different king. This story comes from that time and finds its origins upon the largest island of Java.

There was once a king who had two daughters. To his dismay he had no son; and so, when he grew older, he knew he must pass on rule of the kingdom to one of his daughters. Purba Rarang, the eldest, was shrewd and ambitious, but unpopular. Purba Sari, the younger, was kind, fair and generous, and her beauty had won the hearts of the people. So the old king appointed Purba Sari as his heir and passed away in peace, knowing he had made a good choice.

Everyone was pleased with their new queen. Everyone, that is, aside from her elder sister Purba Rarang. She felt cheated. As she was the elder, she thought, the throne should have been hers. She became increasingly jealous of her sister and plotted against her.

Purba Rarang visited an evil witch, and paid her to put a curse upon the beautiful queen. Soon afterwards, Purba Sari developed a hideous skin disease which gave her black spots, gaping sores and a smelly rash. Jubilant, Purba Rarang declared that her sister was no longer fit to rule and banished her away to live in a lonely house in the middle of a deep forest.

No one came to visit the once beautiful Purba Sari and so she lived quite by herself, with only the animals as her company. One in particular, a black monkey, became her closest companion. She named him Lutung Kasarung. Every day he brought her fruit and vegetables to eat, and lived with her, half-tame, in the little hut.

It should be said that Lutung Kasarung was no ordinary creature. He liked to meditate like the monks in the faraway temple where the people lived. Purba Sari was fond of her little friend and felt that he could talk to her; but she did not know that each night he prayed to God for her deliverance from the disease of which she suffered so much.

One night of the full moon, Lutung Kasarung was praying as usual. Up sprang a trickle of water from the rocks on which he sat, which soon developed into a spring. The water flowed stronger and stronger and pooled into a hollow, becoming first a pond and then a lake. The water was very clear and smelled very sweet. When morning came, the monkey woke up the young princess and bade her follow him to the lake. Purba Sari bathed in the water, and to her surprise and great delight her skin disease was washed away. Her skin was once again smooth and fair, and she rejoiced with Lutung Kasarung on her new-found fortune.

Not long afterwards, Purba Rarang came to visit her sister in the forest. Expecting to find her repugnant, she was shocked to see that Purba Sari was now even more beautiful than before the witch’s spell was laid upon her. Angry, she now saw that she would have to prove her beauty was greater than Purba Sari’s, or relinquish the kingdom to her.

Purba Rarang was famous for her long, luxuriant hair, while Purba Sari had almost no hair, due to the disease which had made it fall out. So, Purba Rarang offered her sister a challenge; the one with the longest, most beautiful hair would win. She then left Purba Sari alone in the forest, to return in three days’ time.

Purba Sari was distraught, her new-found happiness shattered by the calculations of her sister. However, she was comforted by the attentions of her animal friends of the forest. The monkey Lutung Kasarung prayed earnestly each night, and each day Purba Sari returned to bathe in the magical lake.

When Purba Rarang returned to visit her sister once more, she was enraged to discover that Purba Sari’s hair was now long and beautiful again; more so than hers. She quickly set another challenge. She who had the most handsome fiancé would be queen. Purba Rarang was pleased at her own cleverness, for her fiancé, Indra Jaya, was one of the most handsome men in the kingdom.

Purba Rarang asked her sister to bring forth her fiancé so that he might be judged alongside her own. Purba Sari named Lutung Kasarung as her betrothed. Purba Rarang laughed long at her sister and mocked her for choosing a monkey as her husband; a creature who could never compete against the famed beauty of Indra Jaya. Purba Sari wept.

Lutung Kasarung, however, sat down on the ground to meditate, as he had done so many times before. Then before their very eyes, he became a man. Turning to Purba Sari, he explained that he had been punished by God for a sin he had committed long ago, and forced to live as a monkey in repentance. Every night he had selfishly prayed for himself, but it had not been until her arrival in the forest that he realised that it was more blessed to pray for another than oneself. Only in praying for her had he attained the deliverance that he had sought.

Purba Rarang could see that Lutung Kasarung was far more handsome than her own fiancé and so conceded to her sister, falling to her knees to beg forgiveness. Purba Sari forgave her sister gladly, and returned to the palace where she was crowned queen of the kingdom. She married Lutung Kasarung and together they ruled happily for many years.


One Comment on “The Princess and the Monkey”

  1. Karen Huddleston says:

    These stories are wonderfully told. I stumbled across your blog accidentally, but I’m delighted by it. I’ll be back regularly (and will recommend it to my folk-obsessed friends and family).

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