11. The Sutasoma Story (from Chapter 4)



The Stasoma was one of the two poems written by Mpu Tantular in the form of Kakawin during the reign of Hayam Wuruk in the Majapahit period basing on a Buddhist tale, “Maha-Sutasoma”, in the Jataka Sutra, and was unique in the Hindu-predominant East Java. Below is the abstruct of the story from the book of Dr. Zoetmulder[1].


“King Mahaketu of Hastina was disturbed by the ransacking demons, when he was told by the chief brahmin that only a son of the king would be able to destroy them. As the king practised yoga in front of a Jina (Buddha) statue, a Bodhisattwa entered the womb of his queen to be born as a son. When he grew up, the prince, named Sutasoma, thought the enhancement of his own mental culture should be the matter of priority and stole away from the palace for ascetic practices, to the disappointment of the family. In a village, Goddess Bhairawi appeared to teach him a mantra by which every kind of evil and all hostile powers could be destroyed and mankind would obtain freedom from illness and misfortune. The goddess also directed him to a hermitage on Mt. Semeru and vanished. Sutasoma met a reverend Kesewa, whom he asked to accompany him to the top of the mountain. On their way, they found a hermitage and met a hermit, Sumitra by name, who was a maternal uncle of Sutasoma. The uncle told of the past of the evil king Suciloma. According to him, although his homicide had once been stopped by Jina who came to earth, he was given an unbeatable power by Siva and got the name Jayantaka. One day, he was served a piece of flesh from a human corpse, instead of the dish which had been eaten by dogs. After that, he was fond of human flesh and was called Porusada (man-eater).

    “On his way to the mountain, Sutasoma was attacked by Gajamukha (an ogre with an elephant head), a monster serpent, and a hungry tigress who was about to devour her cubs, but with the help of gods, he could dissuade them and made them his disciples. When he went on alone towards the summit of Mt. Semeru, the gods tried to pull him down and let him confront the evil conduct of Jayanta. Sutasoma was not tempted by nymphs despatched by Indra, and his faith was not wavered either, even when Indra himself transformed himself into a dazzling goddess and approached.

    “Having completed his practice, Sutasoma was then conscious of being a Jina and saw the task before him. He descended from the mountain and met Kesewa again. He came across Dasabahu, the king of Kasi, who was his cousin, and married the latter’s sister, Candrawati. Sutasoma and Candrawati perceived that they were the incarnations of Wairocana and his spouse, Locana. Sutasoma returned to Hastina Kingdom with his wife, and Dasabahu joined them.

    The evil King Porusada was healed from the wound of his leg, which he had suffered earlier in a battle with Dasabahu, by vowing to Kala (God of Death) that he would capture one hundred kings and submit them as victims. When he accomplished his pledge, however, Kala demanded Sutasoma as a sole victim. He headed for Hastina. In Hastina, despite that Sutasoma was willing to sacrifice himself to relieve the captured kings, the ministers prepared for war. In the war, Porusada lost his two allied kings, killed by Dasabahu, in the initial stage but turned the table to chase the Hastina, destroying villages and sanctuaries. At last, Sutasoma went to the battlefield and confronted the enemy.

    “Siwa (who entered Porusada) emitted flame, but it turned into amrta (water of life) and revived the fallen kings of the Hastina camp. He shot his arrows, but they changed into flowers. Sutasoma was not harmed, because he was an incarnation of Buddha and ‘Buddha and Siwa are one in their deepest essence’. When he concentrated his mind in the bodhyagri position, a diamond weapon was produced to instantly change Siwa’s anger into complete serenity. Having realised Sutasoma was a Buddha, Siva left the body of Porusada. Porusada was awed by Sutasoma’s willingness to offer himself to spare the lives of other kings, and he was filled with compassion and love.

    “Kala was delighted with the appearance of Sutasoma and released the captive kings. He tried to stab Sutasoma, but his sword failed to penetrate his body. Kala then changed himself into a naga (dragon) and started to devour him, when he was suddenly overcome with feelings of benevolence and compassion. He desisted and begged Sutasoma to admit him as his disciple. In Hastina, the dead were revived by Indra and festivities were held. The world enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity. After some time Sutasoma and his consort left the earth and returned to the Jina’s heaven, where Porusada was received as a Jina devotee. Kala attained the status of Pasupati (the lord of the animals). Sutasoma’s son Ardhana succeeded his father as king of Hastina.”


    The mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism (viz. Sivaism) found in many verses in this kakawin manifests the relationship between the two religions, which associated with each other in the Majapahit period. It should be noted that the verse, “Buddha and Siwa are one in their deepest essence”[2], is said to be the source of Indonesia’s national ideology, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” (Unity in Diversity).



A scene of Kala biting into Sutasoma in the form of a dragon.

A part of the ceiling paintings in Kerta Gosa Palace, Klungkung, Bali.

Reproduced from: http://balitourismculture.blogspot.jp/2009/08/kerta-gosa.html




[1] P. J. Zoetmulder, Kalangwan, A Survey of Old Javanese Literature, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague 1974.

[2] “Said Buddha and Siva are different in essence, they are indeed different but how one can recognise, the truths of Buddha and Siva (Hindu) are one. They may be divided, but they are one. No conflict lies in truth.” Trial translation by the present writer from the Indonesian text in: Abd. Moqsith Ghazali, Djohan Effendi, Merayakan kebebasan beragama: bunga rampai menyambut 70 tahun Djohan Effendi, Penerbit Buku Kompas, 2009.