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Our Global Neighbours: Journey of Prince Mursada

By: Dr Stan Florek, Category: Science, Date: 12 Feb 2015

Story embedded in Javanese tradition.

Journey of Prince Mursada: E95465

Journey of Prince Mursada: E95465
Photographer: reproduction © Australian Museum

Our Global Neighbours is a blog series containing stories from and about cultures around the world.

Prince Raden Mursada is a somewhat mysterious character. Rejected by his father, King of Rum, he was adopted by a poor couple. When he was a child he caught a magic fish with golden scales which became his protector.

To cure his step-mother’s illness Prince Mursada embarked on a quest to find a special medicinal elixir. In the course of his quest he engaged in adventures involving beautiful princesses, both human and mystical.

The spiritual journey of Prince Raden Mursada is a metaphor for the adoption of Islam. While the prince is a character in Islamic Javanese literature, he shows some elements of Hindu-Buddhist tradition. The narrative has an association with Wayang story-telling, as well as older iconographic traditions. A giant fish he is riding resembles the auspicious makuras seen at the entrance to the ancient Hindu-Buddhist temples in Java.

A layperson may be forgiven for detecting similarities to Panji’s story of courtly romance, or Garuda’s quest for the elixir of immortality to rescue his mother from bondage in the Hindu epic Mahabharata.

But Prince Mursada’s travel on a giant fish in this painting tells the story of Islam coming to Java. The image depicts his journey to mythical Salaka Island, to find a talisman to sustain the faith of the travellers. Just behind the prince are two devout Muslims, Mashruh and Mashud, wearing skull caps. An Arabic inscription in the upper left-hand corner commends the virtues of Islam.

Explanation:

Wayang is the Javanese word for shadow. In modern Indonesian usage wayang is often associated with the shadow puppet or the whole puppet theatre performance, but it could refer to a form of narrative related to wayang theatre. 

The Australian Museum has two paintings of Prince Mursada’s Journey – both donated by Mr Leo Haks in 2012.