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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Puteri Gunung Ledang: The fairy princess and the spiritual healer

Puteri Gunung Ledang: The fairy princess and the spiritual healer
by C S Wan

As I flipped through the morning papers a picture caught my eyes. It was a picture   of a young beauty bedecked with jewellery and clad in regal splendour.
Puteri Gunung Ledang: The Movie
 The caption below the picture read  Puteri Gunung Ledang: The Movie. According to the movie version , Putteri Gunung Ledang or Gusti Putri was a Javanese Hindu princess, a mortal, who hailed from the kingdom of Majapahit.  However, I remember reading a story which depicted  her as a legendary fairy princess who resides on the mist-shrouded peak of  Gunung Ledang. What I remember most about the story is the tale of a Malaccan Sultan who  upon learning about the beauty of the fairy princess had  despatched his most gallant warrior, Hang Tuah,  to ask for her hand in marriage. The princess, however, set seven ridiculous and unattainable conditions before she would consent to the Sultan’s marriage proposal. 
A long time ago, as a teenager, I knew of another ‘Puteri Gunung Ledang'. She was neither young nor garbed in  resplendent attire.  She was a simple  elderly lady dressed in a  sarong and a baju panjang( a long tunic that reached to the ankles). She was my grand aunt who lived in Bukit Rambai, Melaka. My grand aunt or chimpoh as she was known to us was a spiritual healer who had the ability to invoke the spirit of Puteri Gunung Ledang to assist her with her healing and was fondly addressed as ‘Datuk Puteri Gunung Ledang’. She was not only renown for her spiritual healing  but much sought by the women folks for her advice on marriage and domestic problems. 
Our kampung house
I still remember that day, many years ago, when our grand aunt, accompanied by her granddaughter, arrived at our kampung   house in Batu Berendam, Melaka. Mother wanted to consult her about  father’s poor health and others wanted her advice on their personal problems.
The evening sun had just dipped behind the clump of rubber trees in front of our house when she arrived at our doorsteps. Following prior instructions from grand aunt, the moment she stepped into the house  mother hurriedly latched the door behind them. Mother was about to close one of the front windows when a murky shape in the shadowed woods caught her attention. Was the  shifting shadows of the setting sun playing  tricks with her eyes? She paused to watch and finally convinced with what she had seen she  quickly closed the window.     
A lighted candle
Once the door was shut  grand aunt began to sing a syair or poetry in her soft and melodious voice. Once  in a trance, possessed by the spirit of Puteri Gunung Ledang, she seated herself on a mat while we sat round her. We followed her every move, intrigue by the small drama that was slowly unfolding before our eyes. A large bowl filled with  water was placed in front of her.  Holding a lighted candle, she carefully tilted the candle to let a few  hot, melted wax drip and fall into the cool water.
 The petal-shaped wax began to swirl slowly round the bowl and finally settled to form some kind of patterns. Lips quivering in prayer, she paused to study the wax formation and in a soft and calm voice began to interpret what she had seen. I remember that night she told mother the exact number of people working in  father’s office, and pointed out the seating arrangement in the office and the exact location of father‘s table.
We were all clearly intrigue, as she had never been to father’s working place. 
Finally, after all her clients had consulted her and satisfied that there were no further questions she prepared to take her leave. She lowered herself onto the mat and soon drifted into a deep sleep.
A dish of water and a hard-boiled egg meanwhile were placed at the entrance of the front door. Grand aunt first ate the egg and then going  down on her hands and knees, and  raising one of her hand she began to wipe her face in imitation of a cat grooming itself. Then using only the tip of her tongue she began to lap the water in the dish.
The water, we were told, was for Puteri Gunung Ledang’s pet cat which accompanied her wherever she went while the egg was for her rimau kramat (spirit tiger) which ferried her from her abode on top of Gunung Ledang to her desired  destination. 
 We were not sure if she rode her spirit tiger to our house that evening, but mother was certain  a tiger accompanied her.
“You remember that evening when I was about to close the window,” she told us the next day.
Rimau Kramat( spirit tiger)
“I noticed a movement among the rubber trees, At first I thought it was a dog. But the animal was too large for a dog. So, I paused to watch and  I saw a big tiger prowling among the woods.”
Mother realised why grand aunt had advised her to close the door immediately after she had stepped into the house.  Pandemonium would have broken loose if the tiger had strayed into the house and settled next to us. That night after ensuring that  no tiger was lurking in the vicinity, mother slowly opened the door. She watched as the neighbours  dispersed contentedly into the darkness, oblivious of what she had seen that night. While the spirit tiger transported the Princess swiftly back to Gunung Ledang, grand aunt and her granddaughter had to make the long and slow journey back home aboard a rickety bus.
Last Chinese New Year, my niece made arrangement to meet up with my cousin as I wanted to seek certain clarifications about her grandma who had since passed away.
“ Can you still remember the verses of the syair?” I asked her.
“I can only remember some of the verses,” she replied, “and even if I know the whole syair, I don’t want to recite it,” she continued.
“You know I’m a Christian now and I don’t want to go into a trance,” she said with a faint chuckle.
I then asked her why she always accompanied her grandma on her visits.
“Well, once my grandma went to visit her client, unaccompanied.”
“We waited for her the whole night, but she did not return.”
“The next day we went to her client’s house and we found her sleeping soundly. The family did not know that someone had to wake her up. Since that incident I had to accompany her on her visits.”
“Did anyone learn the arts from her?” I inquired.
“Someone was keen to learn from her, but was unsuccessful and was subsequently informed that only a person who was descended from the same lineage could inherit her spiritual power.”
That afternoon as my cousin and her family bade us farewell, she left us with some unanswered questions.
‘Who was grand aunt ancestral lineage?’
‘Where did they come from?’

We knew both our grandfathers came from Yongchun, China and had married the local women or nyonyas, but somehow not much is known about their wives ancestral lineage. I once asked mother about my own grandma’s root and she said grandma told her she only know her ancestors had lived in Melaka for a very long time. Perhaps, like Puteri Gunung Ledang whose origin is shrouded in mystery,  the origin of the nyonyas too will remain a mystery and a subject of conjecture.

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