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Mahesa Jenar

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
Kirdjomulyo.

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
repentance.

"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
story.

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
ngrogoh
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
the
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
as
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
plays.

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."

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