(an Indonesian tale)
Once upon a time the goddess Sunan Ambu had a son who loved to play tricks. When the gods sent rain to Earth, he hopped upon the raindrops and traveled there to tickle sleeping children. When the winds blew, he flew to Earth and whistled through the trees. The gods did not punish him. “He’s only a child,” they said. But when he sneaked into the goddess Luna’s forbidden chambers, they knew they must punish him.
They decreed that he must live on Earth. He would be known as Lutung Kesarung, Stray Monkey, and his face would be fierce and ugly. He would remain this way until a daughter of Earth fell in love with him. So Stray Monkey wandered from one jungle to another, living among the monkeys, forever searching for love.
In this kingdom the Rajah Indrajaya made war on everyone, fighting upon the back of a mighty elephant. Anyone who looked at the Elephant of War turned to stone, and so the rajah’s kingdom grew vast. One day he fell in love with a beautiful princess and married her. On their wedding day they floated down the river on a lotus blossom, and butterflies danced above them. The rajah lifted his bride up and cried to the people who had gathered, “Here is the maiden you will worship!” Then to the gods he cried, “And you shall protect the most beautiful woman on Earth!”
As he said this, an exquisite bird swooped out of the sky and landed before the rajah. “The gods have heard you,” the bird said, “but they want you to know the most beautiful woman on Earth is your bride’s sister, Princess Purbasari.”
The rajah at once sent his servants to bring him this princess.
“She sleeps in a nest with parrots,” the bird said, “and she desires to see no man’s face.” But the rajah insisted, so his servants went to her father, who feared the rajah’s fury.
To appease the rajah, he sent bird catchers to the nest to get his daughter, but the parrots carried her too far away. He then sent hunters after the parrots, but as they fought with the birds, one bird grazed its wing and fell to Earth. The princess hurried to save it. As she fell to the ground, the hunters trapped her and delivered her to the rajah.
The rajah commanded his servants to build her a nest where she could live in peace. There she lived, longing for the parrots and palm trees of her youth.
The rajah spoke of nothing but Princess Purbasari: “Her neck is as delicate as a flower stem, her mouth an orchid’s petal. Her eyes are as mysterious as the sea.”
The queen grew more jealous of Purbasari.
One day while her husband was hunting, the queen called Purbasari to her chambers. “Dear sister, my husband has ordered you to go to the Forest of Monkeys and build a dam. If you are not finished by dark, he will kill you.”
Purbasari hurried to the river and carried boulders to the river all day long. When the sun began to set and the water still flowed, she cried with exhaustion, “I shall die!”
But a voice behind her said, “Please, tell me your troubles.” When she turned and saw a hideous monkey standing there, she gasped.
But the monkey’s voice was kind, so she told him her tale. He called all the monkeys, who came from everywhere, and they set to work building a dam. Before dark the river stopped flowing.
Now the monkey said to the princess, “If you see anything in me you might love, please marry me.”
The princess saw such kindness in his eyes, her heart swelled. “I will marry you,” she said.
He instantly turned into Lutung Kesarung, the handsome god he was, and told her his tale. “I shall ask the gods to take us to their kingdom,” he said. “Go tell your sister you have finished and meet me here at dawn.”
Alas, at the palace, the rajah was furious: “You and the demons have dammed my river and my kingdom will flood!” he yelled. “You must die,” he told the princess, and so he sent his servants to bury her in the Forest of Monkeys.
When Lutung could not find his bride, he called upon the monkeys: “Your eyes are keen, your smell is sharp. You hear the secrets of the world. Please find the princess.”
The monkeys heard her calling from under the dirt and began to dig until they found her body. Lutung washed her with dew. Butterflies fanned her with their wings. Spiders wove compresses to cool her. Parrots wrapped her in their wings. Bees spread honey upon her lips. Together they restored her to life.
“We are not safe,” she said to Lutung, but he told her that the gods had declared the two of them could not enter the kingdom until their life on Earth had ended.
And so the princess and Lutung lived with the monkeys. Then one day a traveler told the rajah of a beautiful woman who lived among the monkeys.
The rajah and his warriors went out into the forest to find her. All through that rainy season, the rajah and Lutung fought each other. When the volcanoes exploded and spewed their lava, a holy man appeared. He placed a branch between the fighters.
“The gods have decreed your fight is over,” he said. “From this day on, Rajah Indrajaya, your kingdom is on the right bank. Lutung Kesarung, son of gods, the left bank is yours. Anyone who crosses from one to the other will be cursed.”
For the rest of their lives, Lutung and Princess Purbasari lived with the kingdom of monkeys, and when at last their hair turned silver and their limbs grew weak with age, their life on Earth ended. And so they went to live among the gods.