I would like to suggest that the Pokok Pauh Janggi can be seen as a single tree that serves similar functions to the various Holy Trees of Islam. Anker Rentse offers an insight into the syncretic assimilation of the local Malay Cosmology with the Islamic one. “Shurga, Heaven, is on the top of Pauh Janggi, and Nuraka, Hell, is down below its roots. A gigantic hole between the roots causes the ocean water to disappear into hell’s big boiling-pot, kawah nufaka, whence the whirl-pool. Underneath the pot burns everlasting fire. A dragon guards the hole, the gate to hell (pintu nuraka) with its body in order to prevent the ocean from running dry.
Image: Eighteenth century Ottoman diagram from the Causus/ The Malay Cosmos diagram is adapted after Md. Salleh Yaspar in Malaysian World View edited by Mohd Taib Osman.
Islamic cosmology is a variation of what is essentially a Ptolemaic geocentric model derived from Aristotle. According to Edith Jachimowiczhe, the space between the surface of the earth and the sphere of the Moon is known as the sub-lunary region. It is the realm of the elements, of minerals, plants, and animals, and of generation and corruption. In addition to the eight Ptolemaic spheres (Moon or falak al-kamar, Mercury or falak al-utarid, Venus or falak al- zuhra, Sun or falak al- shams, Mars or falak al-Mirrikh, Jupiter or falak al-Mushtari, Saturn or falak al-Zuhal, Fixed Stars or falak al-burudj), the Islamic cosmos has a ninth Sphere, the Sphere of Spheres or falak al-aflak. This astronomical or physical model of the cosmos is integrated with a theological or metaphysical cosmology.
In the explaining the relationship of the structure of the Islamic cosmos to the process of the primordial Creation, Jachimowiczhe cites theTasawwurat of Nasir al-Din Tusi, in which it is said that the creative force “reached the Throne of God, from the Throne reached the pedestal and, from the Pedestal again, descended to the sphere of Saturn and became attached to it. Again, it descended further, from one sphere to the other, until it reached the sphere of the moon. Then the exaltations and the rays of the stars, by the force of that energy and through the mediation of the sphere of the moon, fell upon the elements. This was certainly the cause which stirred the elements …” A line of force is drawn from the highest heaven down to the sublunary region and, given the notion of the ‘stirring’ of the elements, we might impute a turning movement to this force. In my own imagination, this line of force echoes the axial function and dynamics of the Pokok Pauh Janggi which links Dasar laut to Kayangan in the Malay cosmos.
Image: Jachimowicz, Edith (1975). Islamic Cosmology. In Carmen Blacker, Michael Loewe & J. Martin Plumley (eds.), Ancient Cosmologies. Allen & Unwin.
The Malay and Javanese word ‘kayangan‘ is synonymous with adnan, eden, firdaus, janah, nirwana, surga, indraloka, kedewaan, keindraan, suargaloka, suralaya, surgaloka and paradiso. In Malay cosmology, 5. Kayangan is inhabited by Dewa, Perman. This ‘skyworld’ is located directly above the Pokok Pauh Janggi which rises through the Pusat Tasik . This 2 Pusat Tasik Pauh Janggi is, in turn, directly above the 6 Dasar Laut which can be seen as the ‘underworld’. The combined downward spiral of the Pusat Tasek and the upward thrust of the enormous Pokok Pauh Janggi both pass through the 1 Dunia, combining to create the axis mundi of the Malay cosmos.
Anker Rentse explains, from ethnographic notes that seem to have been made in Ulu Kelantan“Shurga, Heaven, is on the top of Pauh Janggi, and Nuraka, Hell, is down below its roots. A gigantic hole between the roots causes the ocean water to disappear into hell’s big boiling-pot, kawah nufaka, whence the whirl-pool. Underneath the pot burns everlasting fire. A dragon guards the hole, the gate to hell (pintu nuraka) with its body in order to prevent the ocean from running dry. In Pusat Tasek an account is kept of the good and the bad deeds of every human being in the world. The accountant in Heaven is Ka’ Tebir, and in Hell, Kiraman. The last one is said to be so busy on occasions, that he gets angry, throws his pen on the floor and declares, Ini sekarang sudah chukup!”
The diagram is adapted after Md. Salleh Yaspar in Malaysian World View edited by Mohd Taib Osman.
According to Taib Osman, in the Malay cosmology, 1. Dunia is inhabited by Man, animals, plants, objects, spirits; 2. Pusat Tasik Pauh Janggi is inhabited by Nagas, Jins, Garudas; 3. Kayangan is inhabited by Dewa, Perman; 4. Dasar Laut is inhabited by Raja Lebis. Further, according to Anker Rentse, Syurga sits above the Pokok Pauh Janggi, while Neraka lies below it. It is from below the Dasar Laut, from hell’s boiling-pot or the kawah nufaka, that rises the swirl of the Pusat Tasek. A gigantic hole between the roots causes the ocean water to disappear into the boiling-pot. A dragon guards this hole that serves as the pintu Neraka. Its body also blocks the hole, preventing the ocean from running dry. In the Pusat Tasek an account is kept of the good and the bad deeds of every human being in the world.
In the Selangor Malay tale of Haji Batu, a man, journeying to perform the Haj, had to cross the fearsome Pusat Tasek (Navel of the Seas), a dangerous and fiendish place (Siapa terjatuh atau tergelincir, tersuruplah ia ke dalam pusar. Tempat menanti segala mara bahaya. Tempat duduk menantinya Nenek Sepit Pentala Naga di Laut Buih Gelombang Tujuh. Kalau si lemah yang sampai, maka hilang ghaiblah ia di mulut Raja Naga yang maha bisa).
As Haji Batu’s ship went down, he clung to the Pokok Pauh Janggi in the middle of the swirl of the Pusat Tasek, and following instructions he had received in a dream, drew himself up on 7 nails that he drove into the tree. When he reached the top, he found the nest of the mythical gigantic Burong Roc (Garuda) that lived there. He waited therein and when the Roc returned, he attached himself to the bird and flew Westward on his Journey to Mecca. (see Walter William Skeat’s Malay Magic).
The Dari Pusat Tasek exhibition will run at Percha Artspace, Lumut Waterfront till 19 Jan 2020. The performance for this event arises from the myth of the ‘navel of the seas’ or the Pusat Tasik Pauh Janggi. It is held in Malay folklore that somewhere in the proximity of the island of Borneo, or alternatively, somewhere off the mouth of the Perak river, there is a massive whirlpool that swirls down to the depths, draining the waters into the earth. At this nexus, rooted on the ocean floor, is the fabulous Pokok Pauh Janggi that reaches up to the heavens. At the base of this tree, at the bottom of the swirl of the ‘pusat tasek’, there is said to sit a giant crab, blocking the opening of the drain of the waters. It is the daily movements of this crab, that cause the oceans to rise and fall cyclically, giving us both the currents and the tides.
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