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Nyi Roro Kidul, Goddess of the Ocean

An Indonesian princess who overcame a curse


Published: 4 Apr 2022

Time taken : >15mins

In Indonesia, the legend of Nyi Roro Kidul is a popular one. Also known as the Goddess of the Southern Sea, there are many versions of how Nyi Roro Kidul became a protector of the Southern Sea (Indian Ocean). However, one thing is for sure! She is a powerful goddess and is known to command storms, tsunamis and marine creatures. The legend of the powerful guardian of the ocean has inspired many dances, music and works of art. Even today, her story continues to inspire! Kadita, a character in a game called Mobile Legends, is based on her.

But how did a once ostracised princess become a powerful goddess? Read on to find out, then do our quiz.

A long time ago in the kingdom of Pajajaran, lived a king, Prabu Siliwangi. The king was an avid hunter.

One fine day, he went out hunting in the forest. However, he was so engrossed tracking his prey that he was separated from the rest of his hunting party. He looked up only to find himself lost, deep in an unknown part of the forest. He turned left, he turned right but wherever he went, he ended back where he started. Panic surged through his veins.

Suddenly, in the distance, a shadowy figure appeared. The king squinted his eyes to get a better look at who it was. It was a woman.

What is she doing in the forest? Is she lost? Maybe she can help me. Questions and doubts filled the king’s mind but he had no other choice but to ask for help. 

He took a step forward.

“Excuse me, kind stranger. I was out hunting and now I am lost. Can you please show me how to get out of the forest?” Prabu Siliwangi asked. 

The woman replied as she stepped out from the shadows, “I have lived here for a long time. I know every inch and corner of this forest. I can help you but on one condition.” 

 “What is the condition?”

“For a long time, I have lived here alone in the forest with just my servants. I would like to make a humble request that you be a guest in my home for a few days before I show you the way out.”

The king thought it over. He would rather spend a few more days in the forest than be lost forever. And so, he agreed. 

The woman led him to her house. To their surprise, the two of them became good friends. They would stay up till late at night talking and laughing, and every meal was spent together. The woman showed him around her palatial grounds and the surrounding forest, and they would spend their days hunting. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. Without realising it, their friendship turned into love, and the king and woman got married.

However, one day, the king finally said, “My queen, I need to go back to my kingdom. My kingdom cannot be left alone without a ruler. Please come back with me.” While his wife loved him immensely, she turned him down as she did not want to leave her home. However, she made him promise that he would come back to visit her again.

While he was sad to leave her, he knew he had to do the right thing. He swore to his queen that he would come back as much as he could to visit her. With that, he departed for Pajajaran.

When he arrived at Pajajaran, Prabu Siliwangi’s people celebrated his homecoming with much fanfare. However, having left his kingdom on its own for so long, there was much work to be done.

A promise broken

Months passed. Prabu Siliwangi was so busy that he forgot all about his promise to his beloved wife.

One day, while sleeping, he heard the cries of a baby. Rising from his bed, he looked around to see where the cries came from. 

To his shock, he found a baby at his doorstep. Whose baby is this? Who dares to bring this child to my doorstep? He picked up the child and was about to call out to his servant but a bright light shone and a figure appeared before him. It was his wife. 

“That baby is our child. I am leaving her in your care. Treat her like you would any human being.”

“Human being? What do you mean?” the puzzled king asked.

“I am a spirit and a guardian of the forest. I want you to love and bring her up like you would a human child.”

Before he could reply, she disappeared. 

Prabu Siliwangi brought his daughter to his room. He had so many unanswered questions, but one look at his daughter’s sweet smile, all his troubles melted away. She was as beautiful, serene and calm as her mother. He named her Dewi Kadita.

A princess loved by many, despised by one

Kadita grew up to be a beautiful and kind-hearted young woman – generous and well-loved by the people of Pajajaran. Kadita was the spitting image of her mother and was a reminder to the king of his wife. For years, he tried looking for her but he could never find her again.

But without a wife and a male heir, he had no choice but to marry again. He then asked for Kadita’s permission to marry a princess from another kingdom, Dewi Mutiara. Because she loved her father, she agreed, “Your happiness means everything to me, father. You have my permission to marry.” And so, he married Dewi Mutiara.  

At first, his second wife was loving and kind to everyone, especially to Dewi Kadita. A few months later, the queen received news that she was pregnant with her first child. This was when things took an ugly turn. She turned into a jealous, angry and selfish queen. Her demands became increasingly worse. She even insisted that the beloved princess be sent away. This upset the king that he admonished her in front of the entire court. She was ordered never to speak of it again.

A queen scorned

Angered by her husband and determined to get Kadita out of the kingdom, Mutiara went to see a witch. She commanded the witch to put a curse on her stepdaughter. How she hated the princess! She wanted her gone and out of her life. Because of her, her husband had rebuked her in front of everyone. She wanted revenge. 

That night, as Kadita slept, a pungent smell drifted through the palace grounds and into the princess' chamber. Kadita tossed and turned but throughout the night. 

The next morning, the peace and quiet of the early dawn was shattered by a shrill and piercing scream. 

“Ah!!!! My skin! What is happening to me?” the cries came from Kadita’s room! Her entire body was covered with pus-filled sores and the smell of rotten flesh filled the air. She clawed and scratched at her sores but the more she scratched, the worse it got. Nobody but her father dared to come close to her. Everyone was afraid of her. 

Seeing his daughter in agony was too much for the king to bear. For months, he ordered the best healers in all of the land to cure his beloved daughter. One by one they tried, but nothing worked.

An ostracised princess

The queen knew that the moment was right. She sidled up to the king and whispered in his ears with her evil intentions that were shrouded as care and concern. 

“My king, we don’t know what this disease is. All the healers from all over the land have tried but nobody knows what this diseases is. How can we protect our unborn son if we don’t know what is happening to her? What if she brings harm to us, and worse still…to our unborn son? You have to ask her to leave.”

Prabu Siliwangi had to make a choice. Holding back his tears, he finally said, "Kadita, You must leave. I can no longer help you. I am sorry, my daughter." And with that, he turned his back on her and walked away. Kadita was heartbroken. She had never expected her father to abandon her in her time of need. 

Dewi Mutiara wasted no time and spoke up, “Dewi Kadita, if you love your father, leave now before the rest of us become like you! Don't bother coming back until you find a cure.”

Sobbing and with tears streaming down her face, Kadita left.

Dewi Kadita walked aimlessly for days until she came to the foot of a mountain. She got down on her knees and silently begged and prayed for a cure. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a bright light appeared in front of her and a voice greeted her.

Kadita was overwhelmed by what was happening before her very eyes. “Who…what are you? Is this real? What do you want? Please don't hurt me.” 

“Do not be afraid. I am your mother, Kadita. I know how you have suffered and have been abandoned by the only parent you have known all your life. I also know what you have prayed for. But better days are ahead of you. You are no ordinary human being. You are my child. If you want to be cured, listen to me. Make your way to the shores of the Southern Sea.” Before the princess could reply, the light vanished as quickly as it appeared.

Hesitant but with no other choice left, Kadita heeded the advice. It took days but she finally made her way to the shores of the Southern Sea. 

When she reached the beach, she heard her mother’s comforting voice again, “Kadita my child, go into the ocean.” 

With her heart thumping, Dewi Kadita gingerly took a step into the warm waters of the Southern Sea. She waded further into the sea. The water reached up to her knees, then her waist and up to her neck. Everything was calm.

Suddenly, the water started heaving and gigantic waves came crashing down on Kadita. It was relentless. Kadita was pulled underneath the currents. She was completely submerged in the water. Her body was getting dragged further and further into the dark, sinister depths of the ocean and she was tossed around like a loose pebble. The salty ocean water stung her eyes and she could not breathe or see anything. 

But without a warning, everything came to a sudden standstill. The ocean stopped swirling around Kadita. Suspended and floating weightlessly, she found herself cradled by the warm waters of the ocean. Her skin tingled all over. She felt light and calm. All the fear she had felt earlier, left her body. She found herself being able to breathe. Slowly, she opened her eyes. She was still underwater.

Mesmerised by the beauty of the ocean and all the beings that lived in the sea, joy filled Kadita’s heart once again. Her pus-filled boils disappeared one by one. Kadita glided through the silky waters of the Southern Sea with pure delight. The ocean had healed more than just her skin; it had healed her broken heart. She owed the sea a debt of gratitude.

A transformation

It was at that moment that Kadita knew. Even though she had wanted to be cured so that she could return home to be by her father’s side, she was grateful for what the sea had done for her. She did not hold a grudge against her father for sending her away, but she knew then that she had to be a part of the ocean. 

Her desire echoed through the sea. The spirits of the sea heard her wishes and knew how much she loved the ocean. And so, they not only fulfilled her wish to be a part of the ocean but they also crowned her the queen and guardian of the Southern Sea.

With her transformation, Dewi Kadita became the all powerful Nyi Roro Kidul, the Queen of the Southern Sea. The heart of the ocean became her home and she built an army so vast that she ruled an underwater empire that commanded both respect and fear. The little helpless girl was now a worthy guardian to the vast ocean.

Not only is she said to have the powers to control the sea as she wishes, turning them into violent waves or to calm them down into gentle ripples at her command, she also protected the creatures and fishermen that made a living from the sea.

It is believed that Nyi Roro Kidul is still so well-respected and has immense powers that some communities in Java, Indonesia, still make offerings to appease her.

Illustrations by Norulhijriah

Did you know that the myth and legend of Nyi Roro Kidul has inspired many people to create works of art. There is even a dance called the Bedhaya Ketawang (Dance from the Sky) danced in Nyi Roro Kidul’s honour. The dance has been around since the 17th century (that's about 400 years!) and is usually accompanied by a gamelan ensemble. Let’s find out more!