THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

21 September 2018

Panji in Javanese manuscripts

Today’s guest blog is by Java specialist Prof. Ann Kumar of the Australian National University.

The legend of the Javanese culture hero Panji has endured longer, spread more widely, and been represented in more genres than any other in Southeast Asia. From its origins in Java it spread across Indonesia to the Malay peninsula, and to mainland Southeast Asia (and, it has been argued, even to Japan). One has to look a long way west for a comparable phenomenon, the closest being the Arthurian legends. The popularity of these two legends from top to bottom of society, over such a large geographical area and over the better part of a millennium, is probably due to two main factors: the idealized picture they present of royal courts, and their focus on heroic battles and romance. As to whether Panji (or Arthur) was actually a historical figure we can only speculate.

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Serat Panji Angronagung Pakualaman, dated 1813. British Library, Add. 12281, ff. 1v-2r  noc

Illustrated in this blog are four Javanese manuscripts containing a range of Panji stories which are being digitised (hyperlinks will go live as each manuscript becomes accessible online). Panji stories have a daunting complexity, with many sub-plots, disguises, and deceptions. The Javanese scholar Poerbatjaraka analysed a large number of Panji texts, classifying them into seven main types, but despite this variety, there is a common structure of master narrative in most of them.

The story of Panji is set in the period following King Airlangga’s 1045 division of the east Javanese realm into two halves, Jenggala (also called Panjalu, with its capital Kuripan) and Kediri (also called Daha). A marriage is envisaged between Panji, Crown Prince of Jenggala, and his peerlessly beautiful and admirable beloved, Candrakirana (‘moonlight’), the daughter of the ruler of Kediri. Complications intervene: rival suitors, enemy attacks, and/or the disappearance of the princess. Panji, in disguise, solves the problem and then reveals himself. Like Panji, the princess too is often disguised, generally as a man. Eventually she reappears as her beautiful self, and she and Panji marry, returning peace and prosperity to the world. Other dramatis personae include the Klana, a ferocious barbarian from overseas who desires Candrakirana; Gunung Sari, Candrakirana’s brother; Ragil Kuning, Panji’s sister who marries Gunung Sari; and Wirun, Kertala and Andaga, young relatives of Panji. There are also panakawan (retainers) and servants.

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The story of Panji Kuda Waneng Pati, late 18th-early 19th century. British Library, Add. 12319, ff. 3v-4r  noc

Panji stories written at the Javanese courts display a high level of poetic language. One of the oldest that has survived is the Middle Javanese Wangbang Wideya, where Panji amply lives up to his cognomina jayeng rana, ‘victorious on the battlefield’ and jayeng tilem, ‘victorious in the bedchamber’. But apart from his famous martial and amorous prowess, he also displays a surprising number of other qualities.

The poet depicts him dressed for audience in a cloth (kain) of light red ochre in a South Indian (keling) pattern, with a black pointed tumpal motif, indicating royalty, and wearing a green sash of gilded cloth. His dagger (kris) is inlaid with a design of maids and lovers on a green ground and set with gold and gems, and he wears ear-studs of ivory painted green and decorated in gold, and a red and yellow flower (puspanidra) behind his ear. He is perfumed with fragrant musk and wearing a scented salve.

Panji is not just a dandy – he has many accomplishments. He is depicted painting a picture from a wayang play on a kain for his beloved to embroider; she has never seen such fine workmanship, more like the work of a god than of a mortal. He is also depicted writing a poem, and carving an armband.
He is a skilled gamelan player, and a skilled puppet master or dalang who performs the story of Supraba duta, using the Sanskrit words faultlessly. He is an expert in the sacred books, reflecting the high level of Indian influence in the courts of the period.

Nor is Panji just a handsome, glamorous, accomplished aristocrat – he is also a person of virtues. He is discerning, knowledgeable in letters, unselfish in thought and policy, skilled in considering the innermost feelings of others, generous to the poor, giving shade to those affected by heat, earning the devotion of the leading brahmans. He is unassuming, and gentle. Candrakirana too is beautiful, virtuous and accomplished, and at the beginning of the story has disappeared, in order to practice asceticism in a secluded place. Even allowing for poetic hyperbole, all this suggests a society whose élite were expected to be not just warriors but people of virtue, and accomplished in various arts – not universally the case in the 14th century.

For most Javanese, the Panji stories were known from performances, rather than written texts. Apart from the Indic repertoire which has been most extensively described by Western scholars, there is a second subdivision of wayang kulit  or shadow puppet theatre dedicated to the Panji stories, called wayang gedog. Wayang gedog performances in mid-nineteenth century Gresik were noted by a visitor, Cornets de Groot, who lists a dozen Panji stories (‘Dandang Welis, Kudanarawangsa, angrene, angron akoong, magat-koong, prijembada, prowelas maroe, moerdaningkoong, Djaja koesoema, kalmendang dadang dewa and wahoe djaja’).

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Wayang gedog text, probably from Yogyakarta, late 18th-early 19th century. British Library, MSS Jav 34, ff. 5v-6r  noc

In former times, there was also a type of wayang called wayang beber that used cambric scrolls, painted with illustrations of the characters and scenes of the story to be told. The scroll was stretched between two columns, and its story told by a dalang. In Bali, Gambuh - the oldest dance drama developed in 15th century Gelgel - is almost entirely based on Panji stories. The audience of a Panji dance or drama performance would recognize the different characters from the particular mask - called topeng in Javanese and malat in Balinese - worn portraying them.

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Mask (topeng) of Raden Panji, acquired in Java by T.S. Raffles, before 1817. British Museum, As1859,1228.282

MSS Jav 60  (3)

MSS Jav 60  (1)
Volume of fragments of Panji texts, inscribed on the frontispiece by Colin Mackenzie: Cheritra Toppeng, The History of Pandjee of Cooripan, containing an account of the civil wars & of the wars with the Rajahs of Tana Sabrang. British Library, MSS Jav 60, pp. 4-5  noc

Panji and his consort were present in society not only in theatrical performance. At all levels of Javanese society, major milestones in life are marked by prescribed ceremonies. In the ceremony for pregnant women, a ritual object is traditionally inscribed on one side with a drawing of Panji, and on the other one of Candrakirana, expressing the wish that a son might resemble the first, and a daughter the other. And finally, as if these myriad qualities were not enough, in addition to all his other feats and accomplishments Panji was traditionally believed to have invented Javanese theatre, the gamelan and the kris!

Ann Kumar  ccownwork

See Ann Kumar's JAVA WARRIOR WOMAN web page

All the Panji manuscripts illustrated above have been digitised through the Javanese manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project, supported by Mr S P Lohia.

On Malay manuscripts containing Panji tales, see: Panji stories in Malay

 On 21 September 2018, a Symposium on Panji Stories in Manuscripts and Performance will be held at Leiden University Library in the Netherlands.