Semar and Punokawan : Deep Philosophy in Javanese Wayang Characters

Maya is a dark light to subtle anything, the existence is non existence. The non existence actually exists. Maya or Ismaya is a dark light, or Semar means camouflaged. In Wayang story Semar is the son of Sang Hyang Wisesa, we was blessed with mustika manik astagina which has 5 virtue: Never feel hungry, never feel sleepy, never fall in love, never feel sad, never feel tired, never be sick, never feel heat, never feel cold. Those 8 virtues are tied to his hair on his crest. Semar or Ismaya was awarded with various title such as Batara Semar, Batara Ismaya, Batara Iswara, Batara Samara, Sanghyang Jagad Wungku, Sanghyang Jatiwasesa, Sanghyang Suryakanta. He is ordered to reign realm of Sunyaruri, or empty realm, and he was not allowed to reign the world.
In Sunyaruri realm, Batara Semar was arranged marriage with Dewi Sanggani, daughter of Sang Hyang Hening. They have 10 children : Batara Wungkuam or Sanghyang Bonkokan, Batara Siwah, Batara Wrahaspati, Batara Yamadipati, Batara Surya, Batara Candra, Batara Kwera, Batara Tamburu, Batara Kamajaya and Dewi Sarmanasiti. His first son, Batara Wungkuam or Sanghyang Bongkokan has a son who is a midget and has black skin, named as Semarasantha and he is ordered to go down to the earth and stay in Pujangkara. Semarasanta was obliged to serve Resi Kanumanasa in Saptaarga hermitage.


Semarasanta comes to Saptaarga hermitage when he is chased by 2 tigers, and he run to Saptaarga and is helped by Resi Kanumanasa. The two tigers are purified and become beautiful goddess, named as Dewi Kanestren and Dewi Retnawati become the wife of Kanumanasa. From that moment on, Semarasanta serves Saptaarga and is known as Janggan Semarsanta.

As the guardian, Janggan Semarasanta is very loyal to his master. He always suggests to live humble, pray, sleep less and meditate to reach glory. As there are abundant advises and suggestions from him, only ascetics or Resi, Priest or Ksatria or knights who have spirit, low profile, and good behavior who are persistent under Janggan Semarasanta guard. Janggan Semarasanta is just like hidden gift. Whoever follow him, their life will be succeed and live in happiness. In wayang story, there are 7 persons who are very persistent under his surveillance, Resi Manumanasa and his 6 descendants, Sakri, Sekutrem, Palarasa, Abiyasa, Pandudewanata and Arjuna.

If he is angry with gods, he will be possesed by his grandfather Batara Semar. Physically, Semarasanta is an ugly human, dark, but beyond that he has a god character as Batara Semar or Batara Ismaya.

As Batara Semar is not allowed to reigned the world realm directly, he used Janggan Semarasanta body, and eventually Semarasanta is rarely used and he is known as Semar. As written above, Semar or Ismaya is described as something subtle or camouflage. Though Semarasanta is the one visible, actually he is not existent. The one exist is Batara Semar, only he is in the body of a midget, Semarasanta. He is Samarasanta but whatever he does is not the deed of Semarasanta. Therefore Semar is a subtle figure.

Semar is a mystery, the secret of The Creator. That secret is hidden from selfish, greedy and arrogant people and open to patient, sincere and good people. And people who are blessed with The Secret or Semar   will reach happiness and true glory.

Semar & Revelation

As mentioned before Batara Semar or Batara Ismaya, who lives in Sunyaruri often goes down to the world and become incarnate in Janggan Semarasanta, the guardian of Saptaarga. Batara Ismaya and Janggan Semarasanta unite as Semar, and Semar character is translated as the present of divine in real world in a camouflaged.

Phisically this character is unpredictable. His face is a man. But his body is very curvy, big breasts as female. He has white hair and wrinkle in on his face shows that he was mature, but his hair is cut like crest just like a child. His has smiley lips but his eyes are always watery. He wears kawung motive sarong, just like what servant or guardian wears. But isn’t he Batara Ismaya or Batara Semar, a god, a son of Sang Hyang Wisesa?


In detail of his appearance, Semar is mysterious figure, and symbol of a perfect life.  Semar has the character of a woman, of a man, of child, mature, happiness expression, sorrow expression in a mixture. Semar character perfectness is completed with an amulet , Mustika Manik Astagina, given by Sang Hyang Wasesa that is kept in his crest. The amulet has 8 virtues as mentioned earlier, to show that though he looks like human but he is more than just human. He is the symbol of life mystery and also the life itself.

Life is a bless from The Creator, The Supreme Life, then Semar is bless from The Supreme Life to the real life. Character followed by Semar is a real description that the character always guarding, loving, living life itself, life given byThe Supreme Life. If life is taken care of, maintained and loved then the life will evolve to its climax and unite to The Source of Life, manunggaling kawula gusti. In the effort to reach manunggaling kawula gusti, Semar becomes very important. As per meaning symbolized and contained in Semar character, that only through Semar, together with Semar and inside Semar, human can develop their life into perfection and unite with their God.

Beside as symbol of a life process that can bring back someone’s life and unite with The Source of Life, Semar becomes a sign of God bless. This is symbolized by the complete name of Semar, Badranaya. Badra means moon or a splendid luck. Naya means wise behavior. Semar Badranaya means in a wise behavior, there is a splendid luck as someone who is blessed with a moon (receives a revelation).

In Wayang story which tells about Wahyu, Semar Badranaya was contested by kings as it is positive whoever has Semar Badranaya then revelation will be on his side.

There are two point of views, when knights, kings or priests contested Semar Badranaya to receive wahyu or revelation. The first point of view is that putting Semar Badranaya as physical mean to reach a target. They believe that bringing Semar, a revelation will follow them that revelation will be received. This point of view is adhered by Kurawa group, group who like shortcuts. Their goal is just revelation without doing complicated and hard conditions. The second point of view put Semar Badranaya as spiritual mean for a process. The consequence is that they should first open Semar Badranaya’s heart to get him in, to stay and being with them that a process to get revelation id achieved. This view is adhered by the descendant of Saptaarga. From both views there is a conflict in achieving revelation. And this ends with the Saptaarga victory.

Why revelation always received by Saptaarga? Because Saptaarga descendant always teach wisdom, since Rsi Manumasa to Arjuna. In Saptaarga family, there is a strong and consistent heritage tradition in life. The tradition is about being low profile, helpful, not being greedy, meditate, eat less, sleep less and the like. As for those traditions, Saptaarga descendants are persistent to be guarded by Semar Badranaya.

The appearance of Semar Badranaya in every life delineates the present of The Creator in daily life. And the nature of divine appear in the form of revelation, vision. Deservedly, divine grace of vision is living inside. For whatever is hidden in the character of Semar is revelation. Revelation hidden for greedy people and open to whoever wise people such as Saptaarga family.

Bocah Bajang and Semar

Bocah Bajang nggiring angin anawu banyu segara ngon-ingone kebo dhungkul sa sisih sapi gumarang. The text describes that Bocah Bajang is child that can never grow bigger and older. This lyric is sung in wayang show when Semar present in goro-goro (comedy) scene. This is not a coincidence but a creative expression to convey an important meaning, through song of Bocah Bajang and Semar character.


Semar and Dewa Ruci, are picture of perfection living in weak and imperfect human. Semar has double personalities. He is a god, Batara Ismaya who become incarnate in a midget person, Ki Semarasanta. The wayang or puppet shape is made in double character: his head is like male, his breasts are liek female and also his butt. His hair is as child’s but his hair is white. His lips are smiling shows happiness but his eyes are always wet as he is sad. Therefore Semar is considered as god and as human concomitantly. He is a man, a woman, an old mature person, a child, a sad and a happy person. Therefore this character is names as Semar derives from samar (subtle), unclear.

As a prediction, Semar character in wayang story is the manifestation of human longing in their journey to reach into divine God. Because of The Perfect God is invisible, untouchable, unlimited, that it He is hard to describe. For the shortage, weakness, human is inable to describe God. Then emerging Semar character, as a non perfect character, as a concept of modesty, self-realization, and personal openness for his weakness, shortage. As with those manner could make The Perfect God presents. Other characters to present perfection are Sang Hyang Pada Wenang and Dewa Ruci.

To affirm the present of Semar or Ki Semarasanta, midget with double personalities, song of Bocah Bajang carrying his double character pets. He pet is a stupid bull, delineates human weakness and a cow, Sapi Gumarang which is smart, and has sharp horn delineates human sharpness to divine mystery.

From the description above, Semar character is expressed in a form of wayang or puppet and bocah bajang character expressed in a song or jineman with same meaning. Both describe that inside human who has weakness and shortage and stigma, present The All-Perfect.

In the effort to harmonize the nature of shortage, weakness and stigma and other perfect nature of human, someone would need a long struggle, along human life. Just as Bocah Bajang nggiring angin (herd the wind) and nawu segara (dry the ocean).

Semar, Gareng, Petruk, Bagong

In the next development, Semar presents as the guardian of Saptaarga family was not alone. He is accompanied by his three sons, Gareng, Petruk, Bagong. Semar and his three sons are called as Punakawan. On every story of wayang show there will be a knight of Saptaarga who is followed by Semar, Gareng, Petruk, Bagong. In any story, those four characters are having important role. After receiving various suggestion, advises from Sang Begawan, The Ascetic,  they go down the mountain to apply knowledge they get, and tapa ngrame (helping without no strings attached).

The journey of the knight and his four guardians (servant) enter a forest. This pictures that the knight starts to enter the life that he has never known before, known for its darkness, full of bushes, many wild animals, and evil creatures are on their way, and if they are careless in a second their life is in danger.  But finally the knight, Semar, Petruk, Gareng, Bagong can reach victory by conquering a giant and get out of the forest safely.

After the forest there are still many obstacles. For the service of Semar and his sons, the knight can finish those obstacles, and danger.

Wayang Story in Yogyakarta and Surakarta are known for their Punakawan characters. Puna means understanding, comprehending matters and able to give solution. Kawan or sekawan means four, or also means friends. They are Semar, and his sons Gareng, Petruk and Bagong respectively.

The main call of Punakawan is to accompany and guard and take care of knight character to reach his goal of life. Punakawana and Ksatria have a flexible relationship. Sometimes they are like masters and his servants, serve and to be served. Sometimes they are like king and his people, or gusti and kawula. But sometimes they are like friends when communicating, interacting and discussing matters. They asah (sharpening character and mind), asih (love) and asuh (caring) to each other.

Knight character success depends of Punakawan. If knight is modest and create harmony relationship with Punakawan, and open his heart to listen to characters of punokawan, then he would be succeed. And if the opposite, failure will come. For the dominance role of punakawan there is a big riddle. Who punokawan really are?

Semar and his sons are very important for the victory of a life. Semar is the manifestation of God in real life. To emphasize Semar role, then Semar character is completed with three other characters, his sons. Punokawan is symbol of creativity, sense, initiative and work. Semar has prominent features of the white crest. A white tuft on the head is a symbol of the mind, a clear idea or creativity. Gareng has prominent feature of squint-eyed, typical hand and lame leg. Those three defects symbolize a sense of physical disability.Squint eyes, is a sense of alertness, the hand is a sense of thoroughness and limp leg is a sense of prudence. Petruk is a symbol of the will, desire, intention described by hands. If he moves his hands, they will make a good cooperation, as two people co-op with each other. His one hand is pointing, choosing what he desire and his other hand is holding tight whatever he has chosen. Works can be seen from Bagong character and his hands are all have open-wide fingers, means he always works hard. Cipta (Initiative), Rasa (Sense) and Karya (Works) are one unit and can not be divided, and located in an area called personality or identity of human, symbolized in Ksatria or Knight character. Ideal person is pictured as a person who has cipta, rasa , karsa and karya and each has its own position harmonically, and later move together for a goal. Therefore it is obvious that Ksatria and Punokawan have significant relation. Knight character will succeed in his life and reach ideal goals based on clean open mind (cipta), sincerity (sense) or rasa, desire, strong determination (karsa) and hard work (karya).

Ksatria and his four servants symbolize as ‘ngelmu’ or knowledge sedulur papat lima pancer. Sedulur papat (four brothers)  means punakawan and lima pancer (five, the axis) is the Ksatria, the Knight. Pancer or axis is located in the middle of two older brothers (kakang mbarep , kakang kawah) and two younger brothers (adi ari-ari , adi wuragil). The value of sedulur papat lima pancer was born from a concept of realization of the initial how human was created and the last goal of human life or sangkan paraning dumadi. Human was created since before he/she was born. Before baby is born (baby, in this context means pancer), the first appearance is the mother’s anxiety. This anxiety is called as Kakang mbarep or the first child or the first brother. After baby is born, amniotic fluid secreted. This fluid or banyu kawah (crater water)  is called as Kakang Kawah (brother crater). After the baby is born then followed by ari ari or placenta and blood. Ari-ari and blood is Adi wuragil or youngest brother.

Sedulur papat lima pancer philosophy gives strong stress that human is not born alone in this world. There are four brothers that accompany them. pancer is the real soul (Suksma) and sedulur papat is the real body (Raga) . The union of Suksma and Raga create life.

The relation between pancer and sedulur in life is pictured in a coachman controls a carriage drawn by four horses of red, black, yellow and white. The coachman is the manifestation of freedom to decide to do something. The red horse symbolizes energy, spirit. The black horse symbolizes biological need. The yellow horse symbolizes spiritual need and the white horse symbolizes purity. As coachman, he should control those four horses which have different characters and needs. If coachman can control and co-op with the horses in balance, then carriage will run well until the destination, Sangkan paraning Dumadi.