Semar, the Incarnation of Shang Hyang Bhatara Ismaya
Semar is the incarnation of Shang Hyang Bhatara Ismaya, who previously lived in the realm of Sunyaruri. He descended to the world and manifested within Janggan Semarasunta, a servant of Sapta Arga, due to the union between Bhatara Ismaya and Janggan Semarasunta. He became popularly known as Semar, the embodiment of the Divine. The emergence of the figure of Semar is interpreted as the presence of the Creator in real life, in a disguised and mysterious manner.
Just by his appearance, this character is difficult to predict or not easily discerned. His face is masculine, but his body is round and he has full breasts like a woman. His white hair and wrinkled face indicate old age, but his hair is cut short like that of a child. His lips carry a smile, but his eyes always shed tears. He wears a sarong with kawung motifs and a slap belt, similar to the attire worn by many servants. However, isn’t he the incarnation of Bhatara Ismaya, a deity and child of Shang Hyang Wasisa, the Creator of the Universe, as we have seen in the chronology of human origins starting from Shang Hyang Tunggal?
With such a form and description, Semar is intended not only as a mysterious figure but also as a symbol of the perfection of life. Within Semar, there are the characteristics of a woman, a man, a child, and an adult or elderly person. Joyful and sad expressions are intertwined in one. The perfection of the character of Semar is completed with the Mustika Manik Astagina amulet, bestowed by Shang Hyang Wasisa or Shang Hyang Tunggal, which is kept in his hair. The amulet has eight powers: protection from hunger, drowsiness, love, sadness, fatigue, heat, and cold. The eight virtues of the Mustika Manik Astagina amulet are meant to depict that, even though Semar lives within the natural world, he transcends it. He is a symbol of the mystery of life and of life itself.
If we understand that life is a gift from Shang Maha Hidup (the Great Living Being), then Semar is the gift from Shang Maha Hidup that exists in real life. The characters who follow Semar are a realistic representation that the figure always preserves, loves, and sustains life itself, which originates from the Great Living Being. If life is nurtured, cherished, and loved, it will flourish and merge with the Source of Life, becoming one with the Divine.
In the effort of uniting kawulo (servants) and Gusti (the Divine), Semar and his role become crucial. Through the symbolism and meaning embodied in the character of Semar, individuals are able to develop their lives to reach perfection and unite with God or Shang Hyang Tunggal.
Besides being a symbol of a life process that ultimately leads one’s life back to unity with the Source of Life, Semar signifies a divine grace (Wahyu) to fulfill His command. This is symbolized by the elongation of Semar’s name, which is Badranaya. Badra means “moon” or good fortune, while Naya means “behavior of wisdom.” Badranaya means: in good behavior of wisdom, a good fortune is stored. Like someone who finds the moon or receives a divine revelation.
However, there are also interpretations of Badra as Bebadra, which means building a means from the foundation, and Naya from Nayaka, which means messenger in terms of moral conduct. When combined, it means “embracing the qualities of building and carrying out God’s command for the welfare of humanity.”
In wayang (shadow puppet) performances that tell the story of Wahyu, the character of Semar Badranaya becomes the target of desire for kings and knights. It can be guaranteed that by possessing Semar Badranaya, Wahyu will be on their side.
In this regard, it is quite interesting because there are two different perspectives. When the kings, knights, and priests compete for Semar Badranaya in their efforts to obtain Wahyu, the first perspective considers Semar Badranaya as a physical means to achieve a target. They believe that by bringing Semar Badranaya with them, Wahyu will follow, and thus they will obtain the Divine Revelation. This perspective is mostly adopted by the Kurawa group or individuals from the other side, or other characters who seek shortcuts and prioritize their own interests. The important thing is to obtain Wahyu without having to undergo complex and burdensome spiritual practices.
The second perspective is those who consider Semar Badranaya as an inner tool for a spiritual process. Consequently, they are willing to open their hearts for Semar Badranaya to enter and accompany them in their lives, so that they can undergo the process together to attain Wahyu. This perspective belongs to the descendants of Sapta Arga. It is from these two perspectives that conflicts arise in their efforts to obtain Wahyu. And, of course, it ends with the victory of the Sapta Arga group. However, those of us who are followers of the Sapta Arga lineage often feel uncertain and doubtful. Even if we truly believe in it, why are our principles and actions far from those of the Sapta Arga group? We still constantly seek personal pleasure and gratification. No matter how much we pursue it, we will never find it because it is temporary satisfaction. And the feeling of satisfaction will never cease as long as we understand everything that is still in a physical form.
Why does Wahyu always fall upon the descendants of Sapta Arga? It is because the descendants of Sapta Arga always uphold wise behavior. Among the descendants of Sapta Arga, there is a strong and consistent spiritual tradition in their lives. Some of these traditions include humility, willingness to help others, non-greediness, practicing asceticism, reducing food and sleep, and other inner practices. It is through these traditions that the descendants of Sapta Arga become strong and are nurtured by Semar Badranaya. The question I have now is: Is it possible for us to inherit these traditions amidst a pragmatic life?
The presence of Semar Badranaya in every life signifies the presence of the Organizer (Shang Hyang Maha Gesang) within life itself. Therefore, it is fitting for the gift in the form of Wahyu to reside within it. Because what is hidden behind the figure of Semar is Wahyu, a divine revelation. Wahyu is concealed from the greedy and revealed to those whose hearts are humble and practice wisdom. Just as the descendants of Sapta Arga have done.
In another book, specifically “Javanese Philosophy,” I found a note that reveals Badranaya. Bebadra means “building a means from the foundation,” and Nayoko means “messenger or representative.” It is mentioned that they signify embracing the qualities of building and carrying out God’s command for the well-being of all beings in the universe.
Characteristics of Semar
As for the physical characteristics of Semar, he has a childlike topknot but an aged face. His laughter always ends with a tone of crying. His eyes cry, but his mouth laughs. Semar is always depicted standing but in a crouched position. He never gives commands but always provides consequences for his advice.
In Javanese culture, Semar is the head of the Punakawan, faithfully caring for the Pandawa family. He is a figure who is always sought for advice, and his advice reflects truth, justice, and wisdom. He is known as an extremely humble person, full of mystery, yet revered. Why? It is because he is a caregiver who selflessly helps others. This means that whether it is through physical assistance or simply giving advice, he never seeks rewards for his services. However, if he sees someone in distress, even without being asked, he will offer help and give whatever he has. This is because he is actually a respected deity among all the gods, who descended to the mortal realm to nurture the well-being and peace of the world.
The Punakawan Figures
In the subsequent development, the presence of Semar as the mentor of the Sapta Arga descendants is not alone. He is accompanied by his three sons, namely Gareng, Petruk, and Bagong. These four servants are called Punakawan. It can be observed that in almost every performance of wayang kulit purwa, a warrior descendant of Sapta Arga will appear followed by Semar, Gareng, Petruk, and Bagong. Regardless of the story being performed, these four characters hold important positions. Their story always begins with the hermitage of Sapta Arga or other hermitages. After receiving various knowledge and advice from the Sage, they descend from the mountain to practice the acquired knowledge by practicing topo ngrame (not displaying their abilities, solely used to help others without expecting rewards).
It is narrated that the journey of the warrior and his four servants enters the forest. This portrays the moment when the warrior begins to enter the unfamiliar field of life, dark, filled with thickets, many wild animals, and evil creatures ready to confront him, even posing a threat to his life if he becomes careless. However, in the end, the warrior, Semar, Gareng, Petruk, and Bagong achieve victory by defeating the giants, allowing them to safely leave the forest. Thanks to Semar and his sons, the warrior can overcome all obstacles and successfully fulfill his life’s mission, safely.
Semar and his sons are reflections or manifestations of the divine qualities that are present in human life. To clarify Semar’s role, the other three characters are included. These four characters symbolize the creations, emotions, aspirations, and works of human beings.
Semar has a prominent characteristic of a white kuncung (headdress) on his head, symbolizing a clear mind, clear ideas, or creativity (cipta). Gareng has a prominent characteristic of bulging eyes, representing vigilance (rasa), a bent hand symbolizing meticulousness, and a limping leg symbolizing caution. Petruk symbolizes willpower, desires, or aspirations (karsa), depicted by his two hands. When his front hand moves, it signifies choosing what he desires, while his back hand holds onto what he has chosen. Meanwhile, Bagong symbolizes work (karya) with both of his hands having all five fingers wide open, signifying readiness to work hard. Cipta (creativity), Rasa (emotions), Karsa (aspirations), and Karya (work) are inseparable elements. These aspects of human existence are present within the individual’s personal identity, symbolized by the Satria character.
The ideal human portrayal is that of a complete individual, a perfect human being, where Cipta, Rasa, Karsa, and Karya can harmoniously occupy their respective positions. They work together towards noble aspirations. Thus, Satria and Punakawan have a significant connection. The Satria character will succeed in life and achieve their ideal aspirations if they are guided by a clear mind (cipta), sincere and vigilant heart (rasa), strong determination (karsa), and willingness to work hard (karya).
The symbolism of unity in Semar’s figure represents what is desired by Gusti Kang Murbeng Dumadi/Allah Al Khaliq/Sang Hyang Widhi/The Almighty Creator for all creatures created by Him. By familiarizing ourselves with Semar’s figure, which is easily understood by us living in the archipelago, it is hoped that we can study, understand, internalize, and practice what is implied within it. Why we all exist in this world, what we should do, and where we will go after leaving this world.
Remember, never consider your respective religions as the only true and best ones, as it will blind the heart. Religions exist merely as guides for individual lives. If you impose that others must be the same religion as you or have the same level of understanding as you do, then you have not understood the meaning of God, who is All-Knowing.
Be aware, my fellow countrymen, let us abandon our blindness and selfishness. Only with a pure heart like that of a baby and knowing our true selves, can we truly respect one another. In the end, we can truly have a great nation that becomes a beacon to the world.