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Symbolism

This story is one of the deepest and most heavily symbolic in the entire repertoire, and intepretations of it are legion and varied. We can only touch briefly here on a very few aspects of its possible meanings. Each stage of the story, and each name in it (that of the forest, the mountain, the ogres) has been picked apart and analyzed by dhalangs, wayang aficionados, and experts in Javanese mysticism. At the core of the story, of course, is the encounter between Bråtåsénå and his miniature double. This encounter symbolizes the unity of the self with the almighty, which, in a Javanese context, is at once a Sufi and a Buddhist idea. In many Javanese theories of selfhood one peels away the outer layers, which relate to the senses, and reach, finally, the inner core, where one finds not an individual ego, but the infinite. The ability to apprehend this inner core—pure intuition, or råså sejati—depends on spiritual training that involves various forms of asceticism and meditation. But Durnå’s and Déwå Ruci’s intervention indicate that one needs the help of a spiritual guide or teacher in order to achieve true enlightenment—it is not enough to meditate on one’s own.

The colors in the first flash of light that came to Sénå when he was inside Déwå Ruci are red, black, yellow, and white, which symbolize the human passions: lust, anger, greed, thirst, and, perhaps the peace that comes with being able to control them (in some interpretations white represents one of the base drives, in some it represents their dominance). This control of the baser emotions is not only one of the main goals of spiritual training, it is also at the heart of child rearing and is often considered to be at the heart of Javaneseness: a child who cannot control his or her behavior is often said to be durung Jåwå, or “not yet Javanese.”

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