The Legend of Sangkuriang: The Story behind Tangkuban Perahu


Bandung is a very interesting city to visit. It’s a heaven for food aficionados, the weather is nice, and it has many exciting places to go. One of the most favorite tourist destinations in Bandung is Mount Tangkuban Perahu.

The view of Mount Tangkuban Perahu

Tangkuban Perahu is a volcano 30 km north of the city of Bandung. Tourist can hike or ride to the edge of the crater to view the hot water springs and boiling mud up close, buy eggs cooked on the hot surface, stroll the forest on its slopes, or simply enjoy the mesmerizing panoramic view.

This volcano has a significant role in the development of the surrounding Parahyangan (the Land of God) Highlands. Its eruption contributed to the hills north of Bandung through lava flowing into the valleys and hardening into rock, thus forming big cliffs over which waterfalls leap.

When seen from Bandung, Mount Tangkuban Perahu has a distinctive, upside-down boat shape. In fact, “Tangkuban Perahu” is a Sundanese that means “up-turned boat”. This peculiar shape has stimulated the fantasy of the Sundanese people from a long time ago, as expressed in the Legend of Sangkuriang.

Tangkuban Perahu from afar. It looks like an upside-down boat.

The Legend of Sangkuriang tale tells a story of the young Sangkuriang’s effort to win the heart of Dayang Sumbi, a charming woman who, surprisingly, is his own mother. Here is the story.

Dayang Sumbi was a daughter of King Prabu Sungging Perbangkara. She was a beautiful girl who was also adept in weaving and cooking. Many noblemen came to propose her, yet the princess chose to turn away from all of them. She was afraid that if she accepted one of the proposals, it would cause wars among the men. Finally, with the king’s permission, Dayang Sumbi secluded herself in a hut on the fringe of a jungle, carrying her weaving tools. She spent her time weaving clothes.

One night, Dayang Sumbi was weaving on the porch when one of her thread rolls accidentally slipped out of her hut to the dark. She uttered a vow: “whoever takes back my thread, if it is a woman I will take her as sister, if it is a man I will marry him.”

Suddenly, a black male dog showed up with the thread. Dayang Sumbi kept her promise to marry a male who found the thread. “Well, dog. Although you’re an animal, I’m willing to be your wife,” said Dayang Sumbi.
Miraculously, the dog turned into a handsome young man. Dayang Sumbi was speechless to see that. “Who are you?” she asked.

“I am an incarnation of god,” said the young man.

The two of them soon fell in love with each other and were since then involved in a romantic relationship. Dayang Sumbi called the young man Si Tumang, which most of time he would be in his dog form.

A year later, they had a son which they named Sangkuriang. The little boy grew up smart and tireless. Every day, he would go to the woods to hunt deer and catch fishes in the river accompanied by Si Tumang. Sangkuriang didn’t know that the dog was actually his father.

One day, Sangkuriang went hunting and wanted to give his mother a deer’s heart. However, until the night fell, he didn’t see any deer. With a disappointed heart, he walked home with Si Tumang. But then a deer ran past him. Quickly, he commanded Si Tumang to run after it, but the dog stayed put.

He was frustrated that the dog wouldn’t run after the deer. Filled with anger, Sangkuriang lost grip of the arrow. It quickly rushed toward the dog and killed it. Sangkuriang then took its heart for his mother.

In the hut, Dayang Sumbi cooked the heart and ate it. When she was enjoying the heart, she realized that Si Tumang wasn’t with Sangkuriang. Sangkuriang then admitted that he killed the dog, and that she was eating its heart.

Dayang Sumbi was so angry and hit Sangkuriang’s head with her spoon. Sangkuriang was wounded and bleeding. Sobbing in pain, Sangkuriang was so sad that his mother hit him. He did not feel guilty for what he did. Dayang Sumbi didn’t share the same thoughts, yet she also couldn’t reveal to Sangkuriang that Si Tumang was actually his father.

Sangkuriang decided to leave his house to stroll to any place his feet might take him. After he left, Dayang Sumbi regretted what she did to Sangkuriang and prayed to God for the return of her son some time. God heard her, and Dayang Sumbi was bestowed with an eternal beauty, so his son would still recognize her when they met later.

Meanwhile, in the jungle, Sangkuriang staggered along while holding his wounded head. He fainted, falling to the ground. When he woke up, there was an old man sitting beside him. It was Ki Ageng, a hermit who found Sangkuriang unconscious in the woods and took him to his cave. He treated Sangkuriang’s wound and kept him safe in the cave.

Sangkuriang could not remember anything of his past. He even forgot his name. Ki Ageng then named him Jaka. Ki Ageng raised the young man and passed on some of his powers and knowledge to him.

When Jaka grew older, he decided to find out his past. With Ki Ageng’s permission, he went off. Several days later, he found a hut on the fringe of a jungle. He stopped at the hut and asked for water. The owner of the hut was a very beautiful woman, which was actually Dayang Sumbi. Jaka was astounded to see her, and apparently she too found Jaka attractive. She brought the guest a drink and had a chat with him. They soon fell in love with each other. Jaka did not know that the woman was actually his mother, and Dayang Sumbi also didn’t realize that Jaka was Sangkuriang, her son.

The next morning, when about to go hunting, Jaka asked Dayang Sumbi to tie his headband. It was when Dayang Sumbi saw the scar on his head. Taken aback, Dayang Sumbi asked Jaka how he got the scar. However, Jaka couldn’t remember that. He just told her that a hermit found him unconscious and wounded in the jungle. It made Dayang Sumbi sure that her lover was his own son.

Dayang Sumbi grew anxious as she knew that she could not marry her own son. She tried to convince him that he was his son and thus break their relationship. Sangkuriang could not accept that. Seeing his son’s insistence, Dayang Sumbi was scared. She thought of every possible way to distant herself from him.

An idea finally came across her mind. She asked Sangkuriang to make her a lake and a boat. Driven with love, Sangkuriang agreed to grant her wish. Dayang Sumbi demanded Sangkuriang to finish the task before dawn the next day.

Sangkuriang used all his powers and called unseen spirits to help him with the task. They began to dig the ground and pile big stones to dam up Citarum River. In the middle of the night, Dayang Sumbi silently peeped at Sangkuriang’s work, only to be surprised by how fast they were doing it.

Dayang Sumbi could no longer stay calm. She rushed to the village and woke the people up. She asked help from the villagers to get a wide and long red cloth and spread out on the east where Sangkuriang was working. The red cloth made it look like it was morning already. People also took out their roosters and let them crow.

The spirits helping Sangkuriang thought the sun was rising already. They hurried to vanish to avoid getting burnt, leaving the work undone. However, Sangkuriang, a smart man, knew that it was actually not morning yet. He knew that it was all Dayang Sumbi’s ideas.

He was infuriated. Using his power, he ruined the dam he made. In a very short time, water overflowed the place. He then kicked the boat away. It was flung up high, and fell upside down. Over the time, it turned into a mountain, and people since then called the mountain Tangkuban Perahu.