SEMAR and OTHER PONOKAWANS

In Wayang, the ksatria of Pandawa, especially Arjuna was always accompanied by their loyal servants clown, by the name of Ponokawan. Semar and his sons Gareng, Petruk and Bagong are the servants of kings and ksatrias with good behavior fighting for the truth. Togog and Bilung, on the contrary are serving bad rulers and knights.

Although they are only servants with ugly faces and disproportional bodies, but they are very wise and good advisers.

Semar, a very fat man with big belly and enormous buttock has an uncontrollable disposition for farting.
Petruk, a tall man with a very long nose.
Gareng, with his misshapen arms and cross-eyes.
Bagong, With a squat body and has very big eyes.
They are joking most of the time and ridicule each other but they reflect wisdom and truth. Ponokawan (pono means clear vision, clever and Kawan means companion, who are clever with clear vision, can give a wise advice.


Semar or Sang Hyang Ismoyo is the elder brother of the supreme god - Guru. He is assigned to live in the earth to escort ksatrias. Figures of Semar and Ponokawan are purely Javanese Wayang. The words of Semar are from sengsem (to lure) and Marsudi (to search, to do) meaning one is lured to search or do good things.

The Ponokawan always refer to the ksatrias as 'Ndara Den Bagus' (ndara from bendara means master, den abbreviation of Raden, a male court title, bagus means good and handsome), meaning "Master, do a good things".

The other names of Semar are :

  1. Badranaya : Badra means dark cloud; Naya means face. As a clever man, one has to have a bright face (happy, do not appear with dark face).
  2. Bojagati : boja (food) symbolizing knowledge, gati (real, true) meaning a true and correct knowledge. So, it is meant a wise man always teaches a true and correct lesson.
The four ponokawan symbolizing also the four good lessons from :

  1. Guru (teacher) and knowledge
  2. Examples of good leaders on other people
  3. Own experiences
  4. Divine inspirations
They live in the village of Karang Kabolotan, Bolot means human body's dirt, someone who is looking only for material wealth in his life should end in trouble.

In the whole night wayang kulit (leather puppet) performance, the Ponokawan appears in the midnight episode called Goro goro and after that episode actively take part in helping the ksatrias.

Their appearance in and after midnight has a meaning that the middle age people between the age brackets of 30 years to 60 years have to do honest deeds, throwing away the bad ones.

White tufted hair (Kuncung Putih)
Kuncung : tufted of hair above forehead
Putih : white
Semar with kuncung putih indicates that he is a wise man, a perfect meditator.

White face of Semar
Symbolizing a teacher with a kind and honest face, his pupils shall follow all his instruction gladly. On the contrary, a teacher with a black face, the pupils shall abide the instruction because they are afraid of him.

One tooth of Semar
A teacher should speak only of the truth.

Black body of Semar
Means "Don't do anything wrong to achieve your goals".

Enormous buttock of Semar
Someone with enormous buttock can sit comfortably, this would like to say that a ksatria accompanied by Semar should achieve all his wishes.

Kampuh polong Batik
The dress he wears is batik with patterns kampuh polong with four colors, meaning there are four kind of lusts.
Red : amarah - anger, like the character of Rahwana.
Yellow : supiyah - greedy like Sarpakenaka, Rahwana's sister.
Black : aluamah - desire of eating and sleeping like Kumbakarna.
White : mutmainah - doesn't have any desire, like holiness, in wayang is Wibisana.

A man at least, must be able to harmonize these four desires for positive things. It is very difficult for a living human being to defeat these desires totally.

Some well-known figures in wayang kulit wearing kampuh polong are Anoman, Bima, Antareja and Setyaki.

In the wayang stories and also in life, there is no one hate Semar, symbolizing an ordinary poor man with divine knowledge and behavior. The Ponokawan, although they are only humble servants, but sometimes they become decision makers and have a leadimg role, such as in the performance of :

Petruk dadi Ratu (Ratu - King)
Petruk becomes a king.

(Suryo S. Negoro)

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