Magical and mythical beings in the story of Indraputra

by Erin Kite

The focus of this study is to rediscover the nature and essence of the magical and the mythical beings that are represented in the story of Indraputra (also spelt Inderaputera). Indraputra is the story of the life and adventures of a Malaysian Prince who it is foretold will be greatly blessed in his life, and will rule the greatest kingdom in Melaka. The main body of the story concerns the time after Indraputra’s boyhood, that is after he has been taken from his family by a golden peacock, and during his quest to find the ascetic Berma Sakti, who has the magical knowledge to cure King Syahsyian’s inability to produce an heir. During this quest he encounters the magical beings, which are discussed below.

Indraputra first encounters the two mambang princes when he comes across the Bahrul Asyik Sea where a the daughter of the King Bungur Syah, resides in a palace on an island in that sea, Biram Dewa.1 The Mambang princes are fighting one another for the hand of this princess. It has been predicted by astrologers that the man called Indraputra can solve this problem, this being necessary because the king has already died and his last wishes about the hand of his daughter are uncertain2.

Mambang Winstedt3 tells us means ‘the hoverers’ which would correlate with the modern Malay usage of the term as a synonym for hantu  or ghost.4 He also explains that mambang are yellow spirits of the sunset which also explains the reason why in Indonesian mambang kuning  or mambang sore is used to describe an ominous red sunset. Wilkinson5 also says that mambang are popularly identified with the tints of the sunset, and that they are indeed spirits and minor divinities of the Indonesian Pantheon. When mambang are described in traditional literature along with other spirits like the jinn, the peri and the dewa, they are all often translated to be different kinds of fairies (fairies of all sorts), however to do so is to equate them to spirits belonging to English literature that really do not have much resemblance to creatures associated with the colours of the sunset. It is also said that some mambang, like the mambang kuning  and the mambang hijau  are maleficent, again explaining why in Indonesian a red sunset is ‘ominous’, and the two mambang above are thought to be the cause of jaundice, a disease of the liver. Wilkinson also says that the name mambang is also given to the four great spirits of the sea. This also contributes to the understanding of the association of the mambang with ominous events, as traditionally in the Indonesian region, the sea and its spirits were feared as the realm of the dead.

Indraputra encounters different kinds of jinn throughout his journeys, all of them falling into two categories, Islamic, and therefore ‘good’ jinn, and the infidel jinn, who obviously are not Islamic. An example of the infidel jinn are the Father and son combination that at different times were both adversaries of Indraputra,6 that is, Tamar Boga and Tamar Jalis. Indraputra also fought Dewa Lela Mengerna, son of the King of the Jinns, who was the fiance of Kemala Ratnasari,7 and eventually married a jinn princess, of an Islamic jinn king, Jumjum Ratnadewi.8

Most sources are fairly brief in defining jinn  (also spelt jin) either describing them as genie,9 spirit10, or evil spirit11. However Wilkinson goes into some depth about the Jinn. He makes the point already mentioned above that in the Arabic tradition, (the word jinn  not having Malay origins) that the Prophet Muhammad of Islam went to preach to the jinn and those who accepted Islam were the ‘good’ jinn, that is jinn Islam, and those who refused to listen were the ‘evil’ jinn called jinn kafir. However it is said that Islam takes an inconsistent approach to jinn considering them all evil, being associated with the ‘smokeless fires of Hell’ and the offspring of Satan, that is Iblis, and his consort Marijah. Some writers try to put a more positive slant on the origins of Jinn by saying they are the offspring of Jan, a creature distinct from Satan, although sometimes associated with him, who was created by a flashing tongue of flame.

In the Malay tradition, jinn are supernatural beings not necessarily evil, and classified with other petty divinities or fairies in literature (that is with peri, dewa, mambang). They are also believed to be made by God ‘in the semblance of shadows’ and inhabit forests, open plains, caves, and even holes in the ground which are filthy and dirty. Jinn are also believed to be hard to see, being only visible ‘vaguely as in a dream’. If this is the case then Indraputra must have possessed extraordinary powers to be able to interact with the jinn. Traditionally the word jinn was also used as a euphemism or polite term for ‘hantu’, an evil spirit or ghost. This is humorously illustrated by Wilkinson with the two sentences describing the medical knowledge the British brought to Malaysia. That is ‘Ingerris ini betul jinn’  could meant ‘these English are real genii’, the implication being they are miracle workers. However if you considered jinn as a euphemism for hantu in this sentence the sentence could read ‘Inggeris ini betul hantu’, meaning ‘these English are imps of Satan’.

During his journeys Indraputra encounters the kingdom of Samantabranta where the King of the indra, Raja Tulela Syah, lives, after being summoned by that king to help him kill the raksasa (giant), Gur Akas who is terrorising the kingdom12. Indraputra eventually marries Raja Tulela Syah’s indra daughter, Mengindra Seri Bulan, as the King is very impressed with Indraputra’s grandeur13.

According to Wilkinson and Winstedt, indra (or indera) is either one of two things. That is the Hindu divinity Indra, ‘Betara Indera’  the Great God Indera who is equated to Oberon, the fairy king of ‘Western’ literature, or they are deities of keinderaan or Mahameru, the heaven of Indra. This is to be distinguished from the heaven of Siva, keyangan, the home of the gods, whereas Indra’s heaven is again equated to a ‘fairy land’ which also correlates with the general translation of the magical beings of Indraputra as ‘fairies’.  The deity indra was also believed to be incarnate in many Hindu, Malay and Indonesian rulers, which explains the traditional usage of the word indra to indicate Royalty. For example ‘Mahkota indera’ means Royal crown, or Crown of sovereignty. Another example is permaisuri indera, who was the Queen paramount or the King’s principal wife.

The raksasa, or giants, of the story of Indraputra are always at some point adversaries of the prince, however Dewi Lakpurba, a fairy who is the guardian of the Samundra sea, and who eventually adopts Indraputra as a grandson and therefore is an ally, first appears and fights Indraputra as a raksasa14. The Raksasa are different from most of the other magical or mythical beings of this story in that they are not actually spirits, in fact Wilkinson makes the point to emphasise that raksasa are not evil spirits, but more like half gorilla, half man cannibalistic giants, who are often tusked, have hideous appearances and repulsive habits.  As usual Winstedt succinctly equates the raksasa to the ogres and goblins of Western fairystories.

The Bidadari are nymphs who attend the princess Kemala Ratnasari when she flies down from her palace to bathe in the Samundra sea. Indraputra encounters her there, as instructed by Dewa Lakpurba, in order to ask her for the magic stone, the kemala hikmat,  set in her palace, which has the ability to create a complete city when Indraputra focuses his thoughts on the fairy15. In order to make the request, Indraputra has to steal Kemala Ratnasari’s coat, which gives her the ability to fly, in order to bribe her for the stone. However Indraputra does this with so much charm that they adopt each other as brother and sister.

The Bidadari are defined by Wilkinson and Winstedt as beautiful nymphs of Indra’s heaven. However the interesting addition that Winstedt makes to this definition is that they are ‘houri of Muslim Paradise’. No doubt this dual meaning reflects the anxiousness of the Malay storytellers to relate Indraputra to Islam as there was criticism made of the story by contemporary religious teachers. Such an example is Syaikh Nuruddin ar-Raniri in 163416, that all copies that did not mention the name of Allah should be used as toilet paper. In any case the Qu’ran only mentions two kinds of companions that exist in Paradise, that the ‘houri’ could possibly be. The most likely reference appears in Surah 78:33, which describes ‘Maidens of Equal Age’. These maidens probably have the closest resemblance to the nymphs of Indra’s heaven, but the other Qu’ranic reference in Surah 56:17 - 22 discuss ‘Youths of perpetual freshness’ who will act as servants, and ‘Companions with beautiful, big and lustrous eyes...’ which could also be the houri Winstedt describes.

Indraputra during his quest journeys through the land of the dewas, the most notable being the land of Rainun ruled by Raja Gohar Hinis, whose daughter, Tulela Maduratna, Indraputra eventually marries17. The dewa are defined as Hindu demi-gods and fairies by both Wilkinson and Winstedt. The word Dewa was also used in titles for those of the Kshatriya or warrior class, or was used as an honourific in the names of Royalty.

There is less said about the candras, or ‘candera’ in Indraputra compared with the other creatures mentioned already. It is said that Indraputra, as one of his innate supernatural powers, can understand the language of the candra. There seems to be no doubt that the candra are some kind of magical being associated with the moon, Winstedt calling them ‘moon fairies’ and Wilkinson describing them as ‘lunar divinities’. Today in modern Indonesian, ‘candra’ is still literally translated as the moon. The word ‘candra’ has also been used as an adjective in conjunction with ‘muda’ meaning ‘young and divinely fair’. Again, along with indras, dewas, and so forth they as a combined force represent fairies generally, however it is the law of the candras, that is ‘adat candra’ which is the law in force in the Malay fairyland.

As we have seen above, the story of Indraputra has a multitude of various characters and creatures which all contribute to the colour and variety of the story. These magical and mythical beings also reflect the geographical reality of Malacca as an important trading location between India and China, as many non-Malay characters like the jinn, the dewa, the candra and the indra, have been incorporated into the story. Also the true nature of these magical beings is often quite different to the fairies they are so commonly translated to be. However in practicality it is understandable that they have been interpreted this way especially considering the intended audience, which for Wilkinson and Winstedt is an English speaking, ‘Westernised’ person, who better understands the role of these characters in the light of their own cultural background and fairy stories.


Echols, J & Shadily, H (eds). Kamus Indonesia Inggeris; An Indonesian - English Dictionary. Penerbit PT Gramedia, Jakarta. 1997.

Mulyadi, S.W.R (ed). Hikayat Indrapurtra, A Malay Romance. Foris Publications, Holland. 1983.

Pelanduk Comprehensive Malay Dictionary. Pelanduk Publications, Malaysia. 2000.

Wilkinson, R.J. A Malay - English Dictionary. Macmillan and Co Ltd, London. 1959.

Winstedt, R.O. An Unabridged Malay - English Dictionary. Kelly & Walsh Ltd, Singapore. 1955.

1   Mulyadi, S.W.R (ed).Hikayat Indraputra, A Malay Romance. Foris Publications, Holland. 1983. p.222.

2   Mulyadi, Indraputra, p.222.

3   Winstedt, R.O. An Unabridged Malay - English Dictionary. Kelly & Walsh Ltd, Singapore. 1955.

4   Pelanduk Comprehensive Malay Dictionary. Pelanduk Publications, Malaysia. 2000.

5   Wilkinson, R.J. A Malay - English Dictionary. Macmillan and Co Ltd, London. 1959.

6   Mulyadi, Indraputra, p.289.

7   Mulyadi, Indraputra, p.283.

8   Mulyadi, Indraputra, p.285.

9   Wilkinson, Dictionary; Echols, J & Shadily, H (eds). Kamus Indonesia Inggeris; An Indonesian - English Dictionary. Penerbit PT Gramedia Pustaka Utama, Jakarta. 1997.

10   Pelanduk Comprehensive Malay Dictionary.

11   As above, n 9.

12   Mulyadi, Indraputra, p.239.

13   Mulyadi, Indraputra, p.239.

14   Mulyadi, Indraputra, p.32.

15   Mulyadi, Indraputra, p.213.

16   Mulyadi, Indraputra, p.38.

17   Mulyadi, Indraputra, p.229.