The Dewaruci Mythology: A Wayang Story

Posted on Selasa, 29 Januari 2008 by Agepe

The Dewaruci story is drawn from the Indian Mahabharata epics, even though it is entirety Javanese in concept, and is traditionally told in the wayang kulit or shadow puppet theaters. This wayang story is used by all mystical sects in Java to serve as an allegory for potential spiritual transformation in their lives, but it also touches the deepest levels of reality in Javanese day-to-day life and cultural worldview.

The Dewaruci epic influences all classes of Javanese society to some extent, where, as praxis its adherents make the true meaning of the Dewaruci real, which is expressed through their culturally determined worldview, thereby establishing the true spirit of Javanese life. It is because of that, without understanding the Dewaruci story itself, the observer may fail to see the whole point of the Javanese culture and their worldview. Because of the important influences that the Dewaruci story has on the worldview of Javanese society and culture, it requires further analysis of its esoteric messages before relating its connection to the praxis of everyday life in Java.
In its esoteric mystical sense, the story of Dewaruci symbolizes the union of man with god; the spirit of man, represented by the Dewaruci, leads the self and soul of the adherent toward harmony, thus providing spiritual awakening and fulfillment of life in the mystical union with God. For the non-mystics, who recognize that the ultimate goal of union with the divine is for the very few, it represents the satisfaction obtainable by ordering the inner and outer aspects of their lives. The account of Dewaruci revolves around its main character that is named Bima; he is one of five Pandawa brothers whom, accompanied by Krishna, are destined to join battle against their one hundred Kurawa cousins in order to reclaim the lost kingdom of Ngastina, which the Kurawa wrongfully usurped from them.

The story begins with Suyudana, the king of the Kurawa, who plots the death of his enemy Bima. Suyudana enlists Durna, a trusted spiritual guide to both the Pandawa and Kurawa, to send Bima on a difficult journey that will certainly kill him. Durna tells him to search for the water of eternal life in which he must bath, as it will protect him from his enemy Suyudana. Durna instructs Bima that the water of life can be found in the Candramuka Cave at the top of a mountain; however, Durna knows there are two powerful giants that live on the mountain who are sure to kill Bima when he comes to disturb them.

Ignoring the entreaties of his concerned brothers, he sets off to the mountain and inadvertently awakens the two giants from their meditations as he is searching the mountain for the water of life and must fight them. He realizes during the ensuing struggle that he must strike the giant’s heads together in order to kill them. In killing the giants Bima frees the gods Indra and Bayu from Batara Guru’s (a manifestation of Shiva) curse as incarnations of giants and they in turn gratefully inform him that there is no sacred water on the mountain.

Bima then suspiciously returns to Durna who explains that he was only testing his protégé’s resolve before sending him on his real journey to find the water of eternal life. Durna now tells him the water of eternal life is to be found at the bottom of the sea, hoping that sea monsters will surely kill Bima as he searches the depths of the oceans. His brothers again warn him that he should not go, but he ignores their pleadings, he enters the sea and begins his search for the magic water.

After entering, prevailing over and surviving of the rough sea, he is confronted by a naga, or a sea dragon named Nemburnawa, who he must fight. After a long frustrating time he finally defeats the naga by slicing it to pieces with his magical thumbnail (pancanaka) and continues into the depths of the sea on his quest. At the bottom of the sea, it becomes tranquil where Bima in time chances to meet an exact thumb size miniature of himself in the form of Dewaruci, an incarnation of his own spirit.

He tells the Dewaruci he is seeking the water of eternal life and after some discussion the Dewaruci responds by inviting him to enter his left ear. Bima at first questions how he might enter the left ear of such a small entity, but the Dewaruci assures him that the whole universe is contained within him and that he must therefore also surely fit Bima inside.
After entering the Dewaruci, Bima became disorientated and lost his sense of direction for a time, before he finally focuses on the Dewaruci and slowly begins to regain his sense of direction and to recognize the sea, the land, mountains and sun again. He then experienced four colors of light; three being black, red, and yellow that represent the undisciplined human emotions, and white representing peace obtainable within his heart.

He experiences another light flash of eight colors and comes to realize from this experience that the water of eternal life exists waiting to be found within his own heart and that his inner most being is truly one with the divine, inseparable and in union with God. He then sees a small pearl like figure radiating light in front of him that represents his soul.
Following the revelations Bima became reluctant to leave the Dewaruci but finally relented after the Dewaruci instructs him that he must leave to fulfill his predestined worldly duties. Empowered by this experience within the Dewaruci and instructed to keep secret his experience of enlightenment Bima rejoined his relieved brothers in the world and successfully helped them to regain their kingdom of Ngastina from their one hundred defiant Kurawa cousins.


The story of Dewaruci is thus suffused with mystical esotericism that is often interpreted within a range of subjective understandings, as different authors and gurus seek to give structure and explanation to its deep symbolic spiritual meaning. But as Stange explains, ‘there is no accepted code of “correct” interpretations [in wayang stories] – different mystics, even the same person on different occasions, put the same imagery to very different uses.

Nevertheless it is implicitly apparent that the Dewaruci story is about the transformation of Bima from a worldly entity to that of enlightened being, each part of the story symbolically representing the stages he had to pass through to find spiritual enlightenment and ultimate union with God. The clear message of this story is that the water of life, or the attainment of enlightenment, is not to be found in the outer material world but within one’s self, the Dewaruci is Bima’s own true spiritual being. However, this story is more than symbolic myth for the reason that it serves to inform would-be mystics of the stages of consciousness they must also experience in obtaining the inner spiritual realization enjoyed by Bima.

The Dewaruci story thus signposts the journey of Bima’s spiritual awakening, albeit concealed within esoteric symbolism, on at least seven levels. At the first level Bima climbs the mountain in search of the water of life. At this level, he questions the outer-world and he begins to search for the water of life and holy knowledge through meditation. The metaphorical mountain is believed to symbolize the parts of the head, the mountain his nose, the giants his eyes, the cave his third eye or locus of insight.

Representatively, the meaning of approaching the mountain is to meditate and train the mind for sharpening thought and developing insight in the search of divine union. Through his symbolic killing of the giants, Bima is woken from the illusion that the outer material worldly desires of food and wealth is where truth lies, only to see that the inner-world of the self is where divine truth ultimately exists.
Upon this realization, Bima shifts his focus toward the second level located in his heart, symbolized by the ocean vast and deep, and toward the realm of intuition and feeling. At this point, he lets go of the idea that he can find the divine truth through rational thought and outward related perceptions. This revelation leads him towards entering the ocean (his heart) where he must give up conscious bound thought to intuition, feeling and compassion.

The ocean is the third level representative of where Bima becomes fully aware of his emotions as symbolized by the turbulent ocean. At first the ocean is rough, but as he gains control of his emotions through meditation the ocean becomes calm, he struggles to overcome his unpleasant feelings and thoughts and steadily pacifies his desires and senses. This symbolism seeks to signify that the adherent must develop forgiveness and compassion through having a heart with the capacity of an ocean.
Having overcome his emotions, Bima moves to the forth level of spiritual dilemma, between the pure union with the divine and the temptation to gain and use power for material growth. The sea dragon, or naga, represents the five unbridled senses which lust for supernatural powers such as invulnerability, charisma, healing and extra sensory ability, powers that are released through meditation on the different chakra levels; or centers of spiritual power within the body. In overcoming these compelling temptations to gain power, he must reach a decision to fight lustful desire by defeating the symbolically disruptive naga and by this means controlling his five senses.

The fifth level symbolizes Bima’s struggle over his five senses and how he uses Pancanaka, his thumbnail, to defeat the naga. The Pancanaka represents the five senses that Bima has sharpened through meditation to control his attitude towards lust for power. In overpowering the naga he has defeated the I, me, mine of desire and materialism, become compassionate, accomplished modesty, developed a correct sense of right and wrong, dispelled his past wrongdoings, sought only good for him and others and reached corporeal harmony. At this point the metaphorical ocean is completely calm, he is in control of his emotions and is no longer concerned by the material world, his inner feelings have become serene, obedient and responsive. Once he has overcome the naga he is able to move to the next level where he meets his true spiritual self.

The sixth level points to Bima’s meeting of and entering into the Dewaruci. The Dewaruci symbolizes Bima’s spiritual self that will lead him to union with the divine, with God, servant and master. Once inside he swims in a boundless sea where nothing can be seen, the spaces were empty and without form and he could not perceive north or south, east or west, low from high until he realizes his spirit, the Dewaruci, is his source of direction, the center of his universe.

When Bima finds his direction by focusing on the Dewaruci, he perceives four colors, black, red, yellow and white respectively, which are the four interdependent positive and negative drives of humanity that truly represent the obstacles to be overcome before reaching enlightenment; for example as one interpretation explains:
Luwamah (egocentripetal force) which originates from the element earth and is located in the flesh. Its color is black. Its nature is, among other things, evil, greedy, lazy, lusty etc. Its positive nature comes when the negative ones are subdued and disciplined. It forms the basic power which gives support to action.
Amarah (energy, driving force) originates from the element fire, located in the blood, and its color is red. It has in its nature, among other things, anger, perseverance, etc. Anger leads to destruction, while perseverance forms the main element of success.

Sufiah (desire, wish) originates from the element water, and is located in the marrow. Its color is yellow. Sufiah is the passion that brings about love, lust and keen involvement in everything.
Mutmainah (egocentrifugal force) originates from the element ether. Its color is white. If it is developed and cultivated it gives rise to unselfishness, and brings about purity of mind.
The Dewaruci explained to Bima that he had accepted his inner drives represented by the four colors and had overcame these obstacles, not by destroying them, but by balancing them. For if the ego-centripetal drive (Luwamah–black) is supported by desire (Sufiah–yellow) it leads to the world of the passions of the flesh. If desire of the flesh is supported by the energy (Amarah–red) they will increase greatly. But when desire (Luwamah–black) is supported by ego-centrifugal forces (Mutmainah–white) the outcome will be deeds of compassion that benefit others.

To control these competing forces Bima held faithfully to five perceived expressions of good behavior, being; non-attachment in order to restrain desire; acceptance in order to restrain greed; truthfulness in order to support high morality; patience in order to restrain anger, and high virtue that leads to purity and integrity of action. Thus Bima did not allow his ego and desire to drive his behavior to negative outcomes, but to unselfish positive actions, deeds that lead him closer to spiritual union in harmony and therefore, via the Dewaruci, to his next level of awakening.

Bima then saw the four colors vanish into a single flame of eight colors as he overcame those obstacles, and gained insight into what is true reality and he received the grace to accept union with God. The Dewaruci explains to him that the single flame represents the union of self with God; it demonstrates that all things in heaven and on earth are in everybody to be realized and that between the macrocosm and microcosm there is no distinction. He has thus moved away from relying on deliberate thought, mastered his feelings, overcome his five senses and reached true union of self with God and thereby eliminated all duality of thought.

At the seventh and last stage the Dewaruci spoke out against Bima’s desire to remain inside him in a total state of bliss wishing for more knowledge and explains why he must leave the Dewaruci and return to the world to fulfill his destiny. The Dewaruci reveals to him that his first union was with the world’s every action giving him the power to perceive the world through his spirit; Bima could no longer be fooled by the illusion of the outer material world. The next revelation was that the outer aspect of human spirit was in fact inside Bima, that the inner human spirit was his true spirit, and that these were never divided. This revelation explains that Bima was once deluded by outward looking worldly pursuits and had forgotten his true inner self, until he realized that truth lay within him, that to find inner peace he must journey to his inner spirit. The last revelation was that true union with God symbolizes that all things were within Bima always and that servant and master are as one indivisible, much as the Shadow Puppet and Shadow are one, as the puppet moves so must its shadow. Bima thus surrendered to his fate, reentered the world and fulfilled his destiny, his inner and outer aspects in harmony with the divine and he accepting of his fate.

Therefore, for all intents and purposes, this interpretation sheds light on the basis of Javanese culture that underlies the way to obtaining true wisdom and insight. In other words those who aim for spiritual transformation must go past the illusion of outer world experience, risk all and enter the deepest reality of the inner self to find the water of life, or the divine in themselves, in order to give true insight and meaning to their own mundane existence. Truth and reality are thus not to be found in the world of illusion, as the Dewaruci story demonstrates, because for the Javanist, ultimate truth and reality are to be found in one’s inner self. The Dewaruci is a part of Bima, symbolizing that he is ‘of divine nature’ holding the truth of the meaning of life in his own innermost being. The question is then how does this story relate to Javanese everyday life or cultural praxis?

As Everyday Cultural Praxis

What Praxis means here is social action, it is the process of living-out active relationships within society that are based on the theory that truth and reality are inseparable from a given society’s actual conduct in everyday life. A society’s history helps to determine its truths and realities and praxis is the going beyond of those conceptual realities, it is the acting out of that truth or ideal in mundane life and society, rather than just holding to the theoretical speculation that truth exists only in the abstract and must remain there. Cultural praxis then is the internalization and then embodiment of these abstract truths that are then manifested in a society even if only unintentionally.

For the Javanist, the Dewaruci story is abstract truth that is first embodied and then manifested in Javanese culture, as Magnis-Suseno explains:
As the shell of a walnut contains the kernel, so the Dewaruci story contains the essence of all Javanese mystical wisdom. It is the insight that man has to push through, to the spring-water of life, if he wants to become perfect and thereby attain the deepest reality of his own life.
So for the ascetic Javanese mystic, the development of control over the true inner self and acceptance of the experiential outer self are spiritual praxis directed towards life without duality and is for them the ultimate truth of life. Like Bima, the mystic seeks to unite their feelings because it permits great self-control, it gives the adherent the ability to adjust to and accept the illusions of the outer world without bother while fulfilling the inner quest for union with God.

For the layperson however, who must persist in their mundane existence to survive, the object of the mystical union with God may seem less expedient. Nevertheless, for them the Dewaruci story remains as a guide to obtaining harmony and structure in their lives and for those reasons the duality of the inner and outer aspects of everyday life are governed in other ways, mainly through cultural influences.
For example, the Dewaruci story’s significance is expressed via Javanese etiquette and social expectation, and the coarse emotions are its focal point. As already mentioned above; luamah, hunger and the craving for food; sufiah, love, avarice and desire; amarah, anger and perseverance; and, mutmainah, purity of mind. These coarse and pure emotions require control before gaining empowerment.

Bima, it seems, was empowered by breaking through worldly illusions and obtaining union with the worlds every action, which brought him harmony with the outside world and the insight for controlling his emotions. For the Javanese layperson on the other hand, whether the individual is aware of it or not, at some level, harmony is personified through the pressure of etiquette and social interaction which seeks to subdue its peoples coarser emotions.

These coarse emotions then, when expressed openly, are considered deplorable, and as such, are all outer aspects of life that must be mastered in order to develop the right relationships within society, for if these disorienting emotions are too strong to control they may lead to disharmony, disappointment, depression and disease. The Javanist adherent therefore seeks to avoid any sudden shock and the subsequent emotional confrontation that follows, by subduing these feelings so they may calmly focus on the true insight that is believed to lie within.

As the Dewaruci story illustrates, in seeking to move past crude outward focused individual feelings for material growth, the adherent must concentrate on their true inner feelings hidden beneath. The layperson on the other hand, must learn to adjust to these idealized social expectations of harmony and to regulate the coarser aspects of their being through socialization, self-control, acceptance of traditional values and true feeling.

For the Javanist feelings, or rasa, have three deep philosophical meanings. Firstly, corporeal feeling, as in the five senses, touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell. Secondly, emotional feeling, as in love, hates, passions, happiness and sadness. Thirdly, meaning, as in intuition, instinct and ways of knowing (gnosis) based on experiential interactionism and cultivation of all the senses.

These feelings are what the Javanist seeks to control in order to fulfill harmony in their inner lives; it is the path of Bima, for to obtain control of and understand the feelings of the self, and therefore others, is to become strong and refined. For the Javanist, feeling is the ‘whole body, and the organs within it, it is not just the mind that “knows”’, feeling and meaning is the objective truth which informs the actor of the rules for interacting within their world and to hurt another’s feelings is to be considered a grave offence. To cultivate harmony in this world is to accept one’s place in it, to master one’s feelings, to feel empathy with others, to interact towards others with respect through the engagement of those refined feelings, to possess etiquette and preserve inner balance.

Etiquette as praxis thus becomes the outward formalization of social interaction that is based on true feeling that in turn assists the maintenance of outer social order and the sustaining harmony in people’s lives. It is these conventions which avoid shame and embarrassment in the world and inform Javanese social existence by means of muting true inner feelings, for directness is self-serving coarseness, as it does not allow people to get a ‘feeling’ for their corresponding individual’s often taciturn motives and may cause sudden disturbance in their world.

Conflict avoidance is the key to Javanese social harmony, it is regulated by its collective norms and expectations that suppress unpredictable inner attitudes from surfacing in the individual, and hence, it ensures society’s welfare. These social conventions compel proper etiquette in Javanese society and are manifestly sustained based on mutual respect framed within social hierarchy.

Therefore, mutual respect framed in hierarchical order rests on the tenet that everyone knows their place and acts in accordance with the rules of etiquette; like for instance, behaving according to one’s rank in society and mastering indirection, dissimulation, and self-control. Knowing one’s position in society assists in the respectful interaction between the hierarchical ranks and avoids offence that may lead to ‘unexpected aggression’. Indirection allows players interacting through conversation time to ‘get a feel’ of what the other really means and avoids ill-mannered bluntness. Dissimulation (‘proper lying … white lies’) is hiding one’s true purpose or true feelings in respect to others in order to maintain orderly outward appearances. Lastly, self-control is how a person carries themselves, their self-possession, countenance, speech, and manners, which are all ultimately indicative of a persons standing in the hierarchy.

Mangnis-Suseno explains the importance of hierarchy in Javanese life as:
He who is aware of his right place in society and the world will possess the right inner attitude and, correspondingly, will perform the right actions. He, who is driven by passions and egotistic motives and who neglects the duties of his rank, paying no attention to rukun or authority, gives evidence that he has not yet situated his place in the whole. He lacks correct understanding.

Therefore, ideally, these hierarchical principles of respect are not one-sided relationships weighted to advantage the higher ranks, they are rukun principles mutually orientated to benefit all in society. Each level of society paying deference to the other in the tradition of reciprocal and social obligation, whether they be high ranking or of low standing. Each level of society paying respect to the other, regardless of their status, in order to maintain personal and social harmony by avoiding shame and humiliation in the course of their inter–individual relationships. Moreover, each level of society minding their obligations to the other, even to where it affects the subjective affairs within Javanese bureaucracy.

Taken from David Andrew Evans, The Dewaruci in Javanist Spiritual and Cultural Praxis and its Subjective Force on Javanese Naval Bureaucracy (Tesis)

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