Semar: The Fallen God and Divine Jester of Indonesian Mythology

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Wayang kulit figure, representing Semar (CC BY-SA 3.0) and Mask of Semar for traditional Javanese theater performance (CC BY-SA 3.0), and sarong from Java, c. 1880.

Semar: The Fallen God and Divine Jester of Indonesian Mythology

Semar is probably one of the oldest characters in Indonesian mythology who was said to not have been derived from Hindu mythology. He was made famous by performances of Wayang (Shadow Puppets) in the islands of Java and Bali as a rather unattractive, short man with breasts, a great sized behind, and uncontrollable urge for farting. However, underneath his peculiar appearance, Semar plays a major part in the Indonesian creation myth as the elder brother of the supreme god Batara Guru (the Hindu god Shiva).

Semar, a wayang (shadow puppet) character from Indonesia.

Semar, a wayang (shadow puppet) character from Indonesia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In traditional Wayang performances, Semar acts the part of a jester and a retainer for the kings. In his depictions in the performances, he does not have the elaborate ornamentation commonly found on the heroic characters, as he represents the man of the people.  Semar is also known as the dhanyang (territorial spirit) of Java and a pamong (leader) of the people. He is often referred to with the honorific Kyai Lurah, which roughly translates as Honored Chief. He is therefore often called Kyai Lurah Semar.

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