No. 29/VI
March 21 - 27, 2006


The Return of Mahesa Jenar

"…Mahesa Jenar's blow with his supernatural Sasra Birawa power felt 
like a thousand mountains collapsing simultaneously."

THE legend of Mahesa Jenar depicted in the Nagasasra and Sabuk Inten 
by S.H. Mintardja was first published daily in Yogya's Kedaulatan 
Rakyat in 1966. Now,the serial has been republished in a three-volume 
luxury edition. Mahesa Jenar, the fictional character who roamed and 
fought against the black circle over a pair of Nagasasra and Sabuk 
Inten kris, was once considered to have existed.

Javanese martial art stories, like any Chinese martial arts stories, 
are a genre often forgotten by literature reviewers, but remain in 
the hearts of their readers. Tempo takes a special look at the story.

"Ki Sanak, what is your name?
Where do you come from?
Because from our observations,
you are not someone from our territory…"

HE is wearing a blangkon ikat lembaran, a Javanese-style headgear sewn
permanently into shape. His body is muscular, tall and broad. His 
clothing is distinguished: a dark green lurik, a striped hand-woven 
cotton garment. A white jasmine is tucked behind his left ear. He 
wanders from village to village, one district to another.

A disciple of Syeh Siti Jenar, he is anxious because his leader was 
executed by his fellow wali (the first preachers of Islam in Java, 
former governors in command of areas which converted to Islam who 
used the sunan title and were venerated as saints). In the beginning, 
the man was a distinguished Demak admiral by the name of Rangga 
Tohjaya. He left Demak, changed his name to Mahesa Jenar, and walked 
through the forests and mountains of Central Java searching for
a set of kris, the Nagasasra and Sabuk Inten, which were believed to 
be able to preserve Demak's authority.

If there was ever a fictional character with a name so well-known 
throughout households in Central Java, it is most probably Mahesa 
Jenar. Mahesa-created by the late S.H. (Singgih Soehadi) Mintardja-is 
a warrior in the story of Nagasasra Sabuk Inten. Perhaps critics may 
consider his work as "shoddy literature", but his achievements may 
well be incomparable to any of our 'serious' novels.

Nagasasra was read by everyone from becak drivers to office workers. 
It touched the imaginations of the poor to a point where many people 
named their children after the warriors in this story.

Mahesa's style of clothing was once a trend with Yogya artists, and 
even a soccer club like PSIS Semarang still call themselves 
the "Mahesa Jenar Team".

S.H. Mintardja's creation was first published daily in the Kedaulatan 
Rakyat in 1966. It was then made into a book of 64 volumes of 80 
pages each. The second copy was compressed into 32 volumes of 160 
pages. In those times, it was very easy to find the Nagasasra series 
at newspaper stands, cigarette stalls or book kiosks in Yogya.

Now, Kedaulatan Rakyat has published a luxury edition of Nagasasra 
Sabuk Inten. Presented in hard cover, it consists of three volumes 
each around 800 pages thick. Each volume costs Rp100,000. "It is a 
collector's edition," said Joko Budiarto, editor of Kedaulatan Rakyat 
daily in charge of this luxury edition. The rebirth of this martial 
art folktale is interesting to observe.

S.H. Mintardja is the pioneer of Indonesian martial art stories. 
Before that, Chinese martial arts tales were already popular amongst 
the people, both translated versions of O.K.T (Oey Kim Tiang) and Gan 
Kok Liang a.k.a. Gan K.L. and original works such as those of 
Asmaraman Sukowati Kho Ping Hoo.

But because of S.H. Mintardja's Nagasasra, Kho Ping Hoo also tried to 
write Javanese martial art stories. He created Badai Laut Selatan 
(Southern Sea Storm), Kuda Putih dari Mataram (White Horse from 
Mataram), and others. Then emerged the Javanese martial art 
storywriter generation, starting from Herman Pratikto who wrote Bende 
Mataram (The Gong of Mataram) to Arswendo Atmowiloto who
created Senopati Pamungkas.

The late S.H. Mintardja-often referred to as Pak Singgih-used to work 
as a government employee at the art division of the Yogyakarta 
Province Education and Culture Department. A neat and modest young 
man, he enrolled in an art course, and after finishing high school, 
together with Kirdjomulyo, Nasjah Jamin Widjaja, and Sumitro he 
established the Fantasia magazine and the movie magazine, Intermezzo. 
He later became an actor in the Ratma drama group, led by

Many believe that the story of Mahesa Jenar searching for the 
Nagasasra Sabuk Inten kris is a metaphor for Mintardja's expulsion as 
a member of the PNI (Indonesian National Party) during the New Order 
era. Director of Ketoprak (Javanese traditional dance drama) Bondan 
Nusantara is amongst those adherents to this belief. Mintardja 
considered the New Order to be arrogant, on one occasion
telling Bondan that he responded to the ongoing political situation 
at the time. "Mahesa Jenar is the symbol of a warrior discarded by 
the country but who remained unconditionally devoted. This is Pak 
Singgih's nationalism," said Bondan.

The Nagasasra Sabuk Inten story does tell of power with a background 
of the Demak Bintoro conflict. The wali's trial at the Demak Court 
upheld Siti Jenar's execution followed by those of his disciples: Ki 
Kebo Kenanga or Ki Ageng Pengging. Mahesa Jenar was Ki Ageng 
Pengging's disciple.

Ki Kebo Kenanga left a son named Mas Karebet who was raised by Nyi 
Ageng Tingkir. Mahesa Jenar was looking for Mas Karebet. Because ever 
since childhood, Sunan Kalijaga foresaw signs of Mas Karebet becoming 
the reigning power. Jenar was also in search of the Nagasasra and 
Sabuk Inten, a pair of lost Majapahit family heirlooms. As it turned 
out, both the kris were also being fought over by the black circle. 
They also believed, that if they possessed the pair of
kris, they would be legally capable of establishing an opposing 
government to compete against the Demak Empire.

The wali's conflict with Syeh Siti Jenar a.k.a. Syeh Lemah Abang 
would have been interesting had it been explored further. But in 
Nagasasra, S.H. Mintardja did not mention much about the conflicts 
between the wali, perhaps because Mintardja was a Catholic. "He once 
said that because he did not follow Islam, he did not dare write 
further on the wali," said Bondan Nusantara. As a Javanese
Catholic, S.H. Mintardja focused more on his Javanese values.

It is apparent that S.H. Mintardja disliked violence. During battles, 
Mahesa Jenar rarely killed except under life-threatening 
circumstances. As evil as the villains were, they were never 
slaughtered. The 'bad circle' characters that remained evil all their 
lives, were depicted on their deathbeds, dying with remorse. One of 
those was Sima Rodra, a villain from Tidar Mountain, or Lowo
Ijo, the reigning villain of the Mentaok forest; both of them 
scoundrels throughout the serial, but who died with sincere 

"S.H. Mintardja read many legends and numerous documents," said Gajah 
Mada University historian, Prof Joko Suryo. According to him, many 
names in the Nagasasra such as Ki Ageng Pengging, Kebo Kanigara, Joko 
Tingkir are real historical figures.

Various locations used in the Nagasasra setting were factual 
locations such as the Merbabu slopes, Rawa Pening, the Slamet 
Mountain, the Tidar Mountain, and Nusakambangan. S.H. Mintardja was 
known by his relatives to always study the locations himself with a 
map before writing a story. When studying the location between Merapi 
and Merbabu, he walked the distance from Selo, a village at
Merapi's slopes.

As for the Nagasasra and Sabuk Inten kris, Javanese kris enthusiasts 
also consider the two to be powerful. "The Nagasasra and Sabuk Inten 
kris really exist," said Sugeng Wiyono, a kris expert from Yogya. The 
Nagasasra kris is purpleish in color, he said, and was created during 
the Majapahit Empire by Mpu Supa Madrengki. The kris had 13 curves, 
symbolizing the soul's awakening. The Sabuk Inten kris was crafted by 
Mpu Domas, also from the Majapahit Empire, had 11 curves and was 
cream in color. This kris symbolized compassion.

Currently these kris are kept in the Solo Royal Palace and in 1974, 
according to the Kris Encyclopedia by Bambang Harsrinuksmo, were 
given new sheaths of aromatic sandalwood. Many replicas of these kris 
were circulating until recently, said Sugeng, and are owned by 
individual collectors or high-ranking officials. On sale the replicas 
can fetch between Rp200,000 and Rp4 billion. These two kris became 
even more popular when S.H. Mintardja created the Nagasasra

Some of the wide variety of supernatural powers possessed by the 
warriors in the Nagasasra were also sourced from popular Javanese 
theosophical science, including the Sastra Birawa possessed by Mahesa 
Jenar, the Lebur Seketi possessed by Gajah Sora, Ki Ageng Sora 
Dipayana's son, and the Lembu Sekilan mastered by Joko Tingkir. 
Sastra Birawa and Lebur Seketi were quite equally matched.
When Jenar blasted his Sasra Birawa powers at Gajah Sora, his hands 
seemed to be held back by a thick layer of steel, capable of striking 
back. The Lembu Sekilan power, possessed by Jaka Tingkir, has a 
highly unusual ability that prevents attacks from hitting Joko 
Tingkir's body.

According to his wife, Suhartini, Mintardja himself once learned 
Javanese martial art lessons such as Perisai Sakti, but did not delve 
deeply into it. "Bapak just learned for the sole purpose of 
exercise," she said. But apparently S.H. Mintardja knew Javanese 
theosophical science well. "I think Pak Singgih's Javanese 
theosophical and intellectual capacity was quite high," said Prof 
Djoko Prayitno, head and Javanese martial art fighter of the 
Persatuan Hati club. According to Prof Djoko Prayitno, this Javanese 
martial art includes fundamental gestures more similar to dancing 
than brute force. Javanese martial art consists of the wiraga (body 
cultivation), wirama (rhythm of life cultivation) and wirasa (sense 
cultivation) philosophy.

What S.H. Mintardja offered in the Nagasasra contained many of these
philosophies. One example is when Mahesa Jenar was taught in the 
Karang Tumaritis cave
by Ki Kebo Kanigara to perfect his skill, the Sasra Birawa. "The 
sukma (soul reaching) technique experienced by Mahesa Jenar at that 
time, is
normally practiced in Javanese theosophical processions," said Prof 
Joko Prayitno.

But because the aim was more in cultivating the senses, he saw that 
martial art techniques performed by S.H. Mintardja's warriors lacked 
much in
details compared to the Chinese martial arts stories as translated by 
OKT or Gan
K.L. "When S.H. Mintardja described a fight, for example when a 
warrior performed
a certain kick, the kick techniques or methods used in steering clear 
from an
attack were not explained in details. He would just describe the body 
sliding, moving back a step, body lowered…"

It must be admitted that the ability and sensitivity of S.H. 
Mintardja in blending his fictional characters with history, accurate 
locations and existing myths in the society, is what made his work 
capable of being thrust deeply in the minds of the people in villages 
of Central Java. This is especially true of the 1980s, when radio 
plays were filled with ketoprak depicting Mahesa Jenar's 
character. "When Pasingsingan emerged, it felt eerie," said Nyoman 
Agung, a reporter and fan of the Nagasasra, recalling his childhood 
memories of listening to the radio plays. Pasingsingan is one of the 
members of the mysterious black circle who possessed several white-
circle supernatural powers. He always wore a coat and a mask.

Almost all of the leading ketoprak groups in Yogya in the past, such 
as Dahono Mataram, Suryo Mataram and Wargo Mulyo, performed the 
Mahesa Jenar play. "I remember it well, at that time it was not only 
the ketoprak groups from Yogya, but also groups from Central and East 
Java that performed the Mahesa Jenar play," said Bondan Nusantara. 
Every Thursday night, for example, Siswo Budoyo from Tulungagung 
performed the play, while Ketoprak Darmo Mudo from Semarang performed 
it every Wednesday night. According to Bondan, ketoprak theaters 
traveled from one city to another, from one subdistrict to another. 
Plays performed included Dedah Prambanan (Uncovering Prambanan), 
Nyabrang Alas Tambak Boyo (Crossing the Crocodile Farm Forest), and 
Saresehan Rawa Pening (Rawa Pening Symposium). Each was taken from 
the Mahesa Jenar episodes, but divided up.

According to Andang Suprihadi Purwanto, S.H. Mintardja's eldest son, 
when his father was still alive many parents-to-be came to see 
Singgih and asked his permission to name their child after a 
character from the stories. Some people also asked permission to name 
their martial art club Pandan Alas, after Ki Ageng Pandan Alas, the 
singing elderly warrior from the Nagasasra.

Hasmi, the creator of the Gundala Putra Petir (Gundala Son of 
Lightning) character, admits that his inspiration for Gundala came 
from reading Nagasasra. In Nagasasra, S.H. Mintardja writes about Ki 
Ageng Selo and the gundala serpent. According to the Javanese legend, 
Ki Ageng Selo was capable of capturing lightning. Ki Ageng was Mahesa 
Jenar's friend. Lightning, in the story, was god's weapon in the form 
of a gundala serpent. Batara Wisnu owned a gundala seta serpent and 
Batara Kala owned a gundala wereng serpent capable of making 
fireworks in the air.

Interestingly, after reading Nagasasra many people started searching 
for tombs of the characters in the story. Andang Suprihadi Purwanto 
told of one day when a stranger visited his home. This person 
informed S.H. Mintardja that apparently Mahesa Jenar and Pasingsingan 
Sepuh's tombs really exist; Mahesa's in Demak and Pasingsingan 
Sepuh's near the Telomoyo Mountain. S.H. Mintardja simply smiled and 
told his guest that it was impossible since Mahesa Jenar is mere 
fiction, his own creation.

Andang, a Javanese mysticism follower, once did search for Kebo 
Kenanga and Kebo Kanigoro's graves. He found them in the Pengging 
territory. The two graves were surrounded by a fort. There was a 
small tomb located outside the fort, with no name. When he inquired 
with the cemetery caretaker, he was informed that it was Endang 
Widuri's tomb, a female warrior in Nagasasra. Arriving home, Andang 
enthusiastically told his father about it. "It's impossible. Widuri 
is fiction, my genuine conception," Singgih told his son.

Nagasasra is not the longest continuing story created by S.H. 
Mintardja. In fact, the longest martial art story ever written by 
S.H. Mintardja was Api di Bukit Menoreh (Fire in the Menoreh Hills). 
This story was first published in Kedaulatan Rakyat in 1968, after 
the publication of Nagasasra had ended. When transferred into book 
form, Api di Bukit Menoreh consisted of 496 volumes. During the 
creation of Api di Bukit Menoreh, he also wrote another story in the
Suluh Marhain daily: Pelangi di Langit Singasari (Rainbow in the 
Singasari Sky). By the time of the author's death, the Api di Bukit 
Menoreh story had not been completed.

The difficult thing to imagine is how S.H. Mintardja retained the 
energy to continuously submit his transcripts sometimes in two 
different newspapers (usually three pages of type-written text for 
each newspaper) every day. According to Joko Budiarto, editor of 
Kedaulatan Rakyat, whenever S.H. Mintardja was incapable of sending a 
transcript, the editorial team would be bombarded with telephone 
inquiries as to why the serial failed to appear.

S.H. Mintardja conceived his work from his humble home in Gedong Kiwo 
MJ/801, near Pojok Beteng Kulon, Yogyakarta. According to his wife, 
Ibu Suhartini, she used to prepare a special room for her husband to 
write on the second floor, but it turned out that Mintardja's 
favorite room was the dining room. "When it was quiet, bapak became 
unproductive. When writing, he had to be in a place where he could 
interact with others," Suhartini remembered.

Another habit of the author's was that each time he finished writing a
transcript, especially a radio play, S.H. Mintardja would ask his 
wife to read the transcript first before submitting it to the 
director. "If it was not approved by mother, father would not submit 
it," said Andang. Ibu Suhartini once worked as an actor for radio 

According to his family, S.H. Mintardja was never in short supply of 
stories. His strong knowledge of history meant he never ran out of 
ideas. Maria Kadarsih, a radio play manager and S.H. Mintardja's 
friend, witnessed how at work S.H. Mintardja would always prepare 
several typewriters at once. "So when he got tired or faced a mental 
block with one of his stories, he would then switch to another 
typewriter and write another story," said Maria Kadarsih. To simplify 
Mintardja's work, a publisher once intended to purchase a computer 
for Mintardja, which at the time was still very expensive, but 
Mintardja turned down the offer because he preferred to hear the 
clicking noise of the typewriter at night.

Towards the end of his life, S.H. Mintardja wrote a number of 
ketoprak plays. One of S.H. Mintardja's works admired by Sultan 
Hamengku Buwono X is a ketoprak transcript titled Sumunaring Suryo 
ing Gagat Raino (The Sun's Ray of Light in the Universe), which was 
performed in November 1996 at the Yogyakarta Palace. The story 
involved the takeover of the Pajang Kingdom by the Mataram Kingdom. 
Like Nagasasra, which ended with Joko Tingkir replacing Sultan 
Trenggana, moving the administrative center from Demak to Pajang, 
this story carried a soft political message on succession. That 
period of time saw the people's demand for Suharto to step down.

S.H. Mintardja died on January 18, 1999 at the age of 66 at the 
Bethesda Hospital due to a heart failure. When he died, his Mendung 
di Atas Cakrawala (Cloud above the Horizon) script was continued to 
be published daily until the 848th episode in the Bernas newspaper in 
Yogya. Mintjarda's death, however, did not mean the end of Mahesa 
Jenar. Last year, at the 2005 Yogya Art Festival supported by 
Yogyakarta's deputy governor, senior and junior ketoprak players from 
14 districts in Yogyakarta joined together in performing a Mahesa 
Jenar play.

The first scene of the colossal ketoprak was initiated by Mahesa 
Jenar's vow:

"Aku ora bali ing Kraton Demak Bintoro kalamun durung bisa nggawa kris
Nagasasra-Sabuk Inten…"

"I will not return to Demak Palace before obtaining the Nagasasra and 
Sabuk Inten kris."

-- Seno Joko Suyono and L.N. Idayanie

"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"
--T.S. Elliot (1888-1965) 
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