Batak Mythology

I am always delighted to see starlit skies. Indonesians are blessed because our country is positioned in such a way we can enjoy a clear night sky. Every night we can enjoy the complexity of the cosmos’s ecosystem and the brilliant array of the starry equatorial sky. I often sit on the roof and submit to the ocean of crystal, fire and diamonds. It all seems to shimmer and peace fills my soul.

Considering rigid genesis theory is followed by numerous modern scholars, there is nothing wrong with believing we indeed belong to the deep night sky. Our beginning is clear — we fell from the stars. Life and this planet resulted from 10-20 billion years of the stars heating up or the unstable fusion in the turbulence of supernovae.

In my opinion, that is why we feel so close and attached to starry skies; our ancient heritage has been interwoven with the substance of the cosmos since her youth, when light had not yet shown itself.

Raising our heads to the sky, we human beings, since primordial times, have had a sense of family. I call this the discovery of our universal ecclesiastical astronomical origins, which allows us to recognize the relationship between mankind and the upper cosmos.

It is interesting to hear what John McKim Malville, an astronomist, says in his book, Man in Nature. He accurately states we come from below as well as above, from the earth as well as the stars. Malville examines many cultures across the earth and says they were built and sustained by astronomical mythology.

Among the world’s diverse cultures with different mythologies, many tell the story of a diver who appears as animals sent from the sky flying down into primeval earth. Their missions are varied. In many myths, the role of this divine animal is indeed interesting and fascinating.

Kanaga Saba, in his fine essay entitled Kosmologi Masyarakat Batak (The Cosmology of Batak Ethnic), transports us into the setting of North Sumatra to Batak culture, where local cosmogonies intertwine sky and earth.

Batak cosmology recognizes the entity of the deity, the local concept of spirit, the belief in ghosts (hantu), evil (iblis) and ancestors’ spirits (nenek moyang).

The belief is polytheistic where Mulajadi Na Bolon is the supreme deity. This deity is anthropomorphic and dwells in the most blissful state. In the holy presence of Mulajadi Na Bolon stand three lesser deities constituting a trinity or debata na tolu. They are Batara Guru, Soripata and Mangalabulan.

Batara Guru stands as the primary deity. He is responsible for the formation of the universe and is the patron for teaching art and culture; Batak people hold him most dearest. Mangalabulan describes the descent into the dark world and the return to light. His right hand bestows good deeds and virtue.

From his left hand, he commits crimes and wrongdoings.

Mangalabulan is the reverence of the local bandit. In some ways, Soripata resembles Vishnu in Hindu belief. He maintains the universe and represents the eternal principle of preservation.

In Batak mythology, the swallow is an idyllic bird that serves as a messenger between the sky and earth. In a Batak myth, the bird is told by Mulajadi Na Balon to deliver lodong, a bamboo-made water sack containing seeds, to Boru Deak-Parujar, daughter of the deity who dwells on earth. On arrival, the bird asks Boru Deak to weave ulos ragidup, a beautiful Batak ceremonial textile. After she does so, the bird asks her to open the sack. Boru Deak follows all the instructions. When she opens the lodong, a fine-looking man is there. As an unmarried woman, she feels fortunate.

The man is Tuan Mulana. It is loud and clear that Mulajadi Na Bolon wants Boru Deak to accept Tuan Mulana as her consort. If she accepts the marriage, Boru Deak will become mortal, a fact Mulajadi thinks she is unaware of. In fact, the maiden is well aware she will become a mortal creature just like her husband.

But the maiden Boru Deak is prepared to relinquish her noble blood. Because of this woman’s great love, the couple were married and created a new people, today known as the Batak people. It explains why the Batak are celebrated for their strength of character.

This myth is the embryo of creation. The Batak cosmos is identified by creative forces that shape space and generate the population as it is now. The Batak myth provides material evidence of how the universe has an ordered and harmonious system relating to humans and upper heavens.

The Batak myth teaches us everything will be settled and ordered after chaos. The sky sends down its delegation in complete and beautiful shapes of birds to generate human beings living on earth. In this land, the cycle of life and death come to pass under the young and dying and the birth of innumerable stars.

It is hard to examine such discourse without quoting Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher of the late 6th century BC, with his thoughts on unity in experience. Heraclitus said, “The upward path and the downward path is one and the same.”

As a Muslim, I find one surah in the Koran particularly fascinating in terms of science. It has a universal ecclesiastical astronomical flavor; it is surah Al Buruj, which means “mansion of stars and constellations”.

The surah describes the locations and movements of stars in space. When you look at the stars shining brightly, remember, “the upward path and the downward path is one and the same”.

The writer (Abrar Haris) is a member of staff at the Foreign Affairs Cooperation Bureau in the Coordinating Ministry for People’s Welfare and is an avid reader of culture and Nusantara Mythology.