“R” is one of those letters where I really only considered one option. Mostly because “B” had so many other options.
That’s her appearance in Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne, which holds a special place in my heart. Aside from being 3D instead of 2D (in some cases), that’s what she’s looked like in all the games I’ve played. (Though she’s had a few different looks over the years, one of which I’ll show you below.) And this is what the Devil Survivor and Shin Megami Tensei IV games have to say about her:
A wicked witch and the symbol of evil in Balinese Hinduism.
When women who used magic held a grudge or went down the path of evil, they became this dreadful creature. She spreads plagues, causes natural disasters, curses people, and even uses evil spirits to do her bidding. The holy beast Barong that symbolizes good is her eternal rival. Even if defeated, she will come back to life, and their battle will have no end.
Persona Q had a slightly different version:
A wicked witch of Balinese lore, she represents evil and is Barong’s eternal rival.
Even if defeated, she will come back to life, and their battle will have no end.
As usual with the Persona Q version, it’s more an abbreviation than a different version.
It all sounds pretty straight-forward, right? But what about Barong?
Again, that’s what he looks like in Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne. And I sorely wanted to give you an animated .gif to show you the way he moves, because it’s so freakin’ cool. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one.) His back end sort of hops about and moves back and forth. Overall, he very much moves like a lion dance costume, with one man in the front and another in the back. (And there’s a good reason for that…)
In the two Devil Survivor games, the compendium description of Barong was this:
A holy beast said to live in the forests of Bali. It was originally an evil god, but through the people’s sanctification, it was made into their guardian.
Now a symbol of good in Bali and Hinduism, it is fated to war with Rangda, the avatar of evil, for all eternity.
And although the two Shin Megami Tensei IV games had a different version and Persona Q had a third version, none of them really add anything different, so I won’t bother quoting them, since this isn’t Barong’s post. (I didn’t see anything on his Wikipedia page about Barong ever having been evil, however…)
An interesting point about these two is that in almost every single game in the series, you have to fuse Barong and Rangda together in order to get Shiva in your party. (Um, a word of explanation for those who haven’t played any of the MegaTen games. In the majority of the games (with the Persona and Digital Devil Saga sub-serieses being the major exceptions) your combat party is largely composed of demons, with one (or sometimes more than one) human controlling them. A bit like Pokemon, but with blood, death, demonic nudity and the occasional apocalypse. (Though MegaTen came first.) You can get new demons in your party by talking to them in battle and convincing them to join you. Though they can level up to get stronger, they’ll soon be outclassed by your enemies no matter what you do. So you have to change out your demons for new ones, and the best way to do that is by fusing them with each other, allowing you to pass on some of their stats and skills, which can give you all kinds of benefits, including being able to negate weaknesses late in the game. Some demons can never be met in combat (or only appear as bosses) and can only be added to your party by fusing together certain demons. Shiva is one of the ones who can never be obtained in any way but a special fusion.) Also common in all the games is that Rangda (like Girimehkala) always reflects physical attacks. But she’s always weak to some form of magic (usually lightning), which Barong is always able to use.
But enough about the games: we’re moving on to the real Rangda now. Only because I don’t really know anything about Balinese Hinduism, I’m resorting to the super-lame technique of relying on Wikipedia. (So I apologize if it has steered me wrong!) This is how it starts out the entry on Rangda:
Rangda is the demon queen of the leyaks in Bali, according to traditional Balinese mythology. Terrifying to behold, the child-eating Rangda leads an army of evil witches against the leader of the forces of good — Barong. The battle between Barong and Rangda is featured in a Barong dance which represents the eternal battle between good and evil. Rangda is a term in old Javanese that means “widow”.
Yup, pretty straight-forward. The two big differences here are that the games don’t specify that her name means “widow” (which is not, after all, of humongous importance) and that there’s nothing here — or anywhere else in the Wikipedia entry — mentioning that she’ll revive even if killed. However, the “eternal battle” bit does rather imply that there can never be a winner, which would require one to be revived if killed, so I’ll give them that one. (I’m sure they have much more reliable sources than Wikipedia, anyway.)
The article also goes on to compare Rangda to the Hindu figures of Durga and Kali, especially pointing out that while Rangda is supposed to be the ultimate evil, there are also places where she’s viewed as protective, in much the same way that Kali is sometimes viewed as a protective goddess even though she’s normally seen merely as destructive. Also they both have the same colors associated with them: white, black and red.
While I’m at it, Kali’s appearance in Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne…
Wikipedia goes on to summarize two widows — one historical and one merely a legend — whose vicious quests for revenge are said to be a basis for Rangda. As it doesn’t actually tell us any stories about Rangda, it’s hard to know how much they do or don’t have in common with her.
However, they do provide this incredible photo:
These are Rangda and Barong costumes on display (as far as I can tell) in the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne. (Said museum has now joined my list of things I want to see if I ever make it to Germany! I wanna see these in person.) You can see right away how much the MegaTen Barong resembles his real-life counterpart! Rangda might look a little off in the game art above compared to the costume there, but this is what she looked like in some of the earlier games:
This version is much more traditional.
What’s with lolling tongues on women who are supposed to be terrifying figures, though? Rangda, Kali, the Gorgons…