About the Book
Beginning with a chapter on the role played by
the Ramayana in India and the various forms it acquired in the land of its
birth, the authors shift focus in the subsequent chapters of this book to
Indonesia. They examine the creative manner in which Indian cultural elements
were absorbed and moulded in Indonesia through a process which began nearly two
thousand years ago, a process in which the Ramayana has had a vibrant presence
for much of the time. Indeed, a central theme of the book is that the Ramayana is
as much the property of Indonesia as of India.
The authors provide a comprehensive view of the
spheres that are touched by the Ramayana in Indonesia - in literature, the
plastic and performing arts, in moral and political philosophy, and the variety
of Ramayana tellings in the region. These range from
the millennium-old sculptural masterpieces in the temples of Lara Jonggrang (Prambanan) to the
spectacular enactment today in an open air amphitheatre with the same temples
illuminated in the background; from the poetic rendition of the late
ninth-century Old Javanese Ramayana Kakawin to the
allegorical use of the Ramayana themes in the overthrow of President Suharto.
The book draws upon the work done by scholars of many
nations, not all of which is readily accessible; and while it is designed
primarily for the general reader, specialists too will find it extremely
useful. The volume is enlivened by over 100 plates, of which 23 are in colour.
About the Author
Malini Saran holds a post-graduate degree in art history.
Now a resident of Delhi, she has lived for more than ten years in Southeast
Asia, of which five were in Indonesia. Vinod C. Khanna was educated in Bombay and Oxford and is a former
diplomat. He was India’s Ambassador in Indonesia from 1985 to 1988 and is the
co-author of India and China: The Way Ahead.
The idea of this book grew from the interest
which we developed during our stay in Jakarta (Saran from 1982 to 1987; Khanna from 1985 to 1988) in the broad theme of the impact
of India on Indonesian civilization. We decided to focus our study on the role
of the Ramayana in the cultural history of Indonesia, both because of its
continuing vitality in the archipelago and because of it being, in many ways,
paradigmatic of the larger phenomenon which has been called, somewhat
The years spent in Indonesia enabled us to see,
study and enjoy the numerous Indonesian works of beauty inspired by the
Ramayana. We came to realize that a true understanding of the role of the
Ramayana in Indonesia through the centuries requires that it be seen in its
local setting as part of a distinct cultural entity, an organism with a life of
The role which the Mahabharata has played in
the cultural history of Indonesia is as significant as that of the Ramayana,
but attempting a study of both the epics would have been too ambitious a task
for a single book. The choice of the Ramayana as our theme is primarily a
matter of personal preference. But the fact that some of the most outstanding
achievements in more than one field of Indonesian culture were inspired by the
Ramayana suggests that this is not an idiosyncratic choice.
To get a true idea of what the Ramayana has
meant to the people of Indonesia over the last thousand years or so, we feel it
is necessary to take an integrated look at all the cultural spheres which the
Ramayana has touched -literature, the plastic and performing arts, political
and moral philosophy. When we could not find any single study with such a
comprehensive view of the subject, we decided to attempt it ourselves. In doing
so we have not confined ourselves within the limits of any particular academic
discipline; we have given ourselves the licence to move freely between various
related fields to see how one illuminates the other. While the work is designed
primarily for the general reader, it is hoped that specialists too will find
some merit in this approach.
We have profited from a great deal of excellent
work done by scholars from many nations. Not all of this is easily accessible,
being buried in a variety of scholarly journals and books now available only in
specialized libraries. Subject to our linguistic limitations we have tried to
take into account all the major works on the topic. At the same time, several
of the hypotheses and interpretations offered by the earlier authors have been
rendered obsolete by subsequent discoveries and the emergence of new
The first two chapters of the book put in
historical perspective the journey of the Ramayana to Indonesia. Chapter 1
begins by looking at the role the Ramayana has played and the multiple forms it
had acquired in India itself, the land of its birth. In Chapter 2 we briefly
examine the creative manner in which Indian cultural elements were absorbed in
Indonesia through a process which began nearly two thousand years ago. The
Ramayana and the Mahabharata were vibrant ingredients in the process.
Chapter 3 is devoted to the study of the
earliest surviving depiction of the Rama story in the archipelago. It was
etched into the friezes of the Shiva and Brahma temples of the Lara Jonggrang complex in Prambanan,
Central Java, built probably in the late ninth century. A comprehensive account
of this sculpted Ramayana is presented here.
Almost contemporary with the Prambanan reliefs, and a product of the same Central
Javanese cultural ethos, is a literary masterpiece written in Old Javanese,
known as the Ramayana kakawin. As we shall see in
Chapter 4, it is perhaps the most impressive retelling of the Rama tale beyond
the shores of India. We critically examine here the estab1ished views about the
nature of the relationship between this Ramayana and the Sanskrit poem Bhattikavyam, on which it is based.
In the middle of the tenth century, the centre
of political power in the region moved to East Java. The religious and artistic
links with India remained uninterrupted though attenuated. Chapter 5 shows how Ramayanas continued to be narrated in Java, adjusting to
the distinctly Javanese flavour which marked the religion, the arts and
literature of this period.
The decline of the Majapahits,
the last major Hindu-Buddhist Javanese empire, in the
fifteenth century, and the emergence of Islam as the new great political force did
not see the end of the Ramayana story in Indonesia. In fact, it was in Islamic
Java that some of the most interesting new chapters were written in the
adventures of the Rama tale, and it is to these that we turn in Chapter 6.
In contemporary times, it is primarily through
a variegated performing arts tradition that the islands of Java and Bali pursue
their continuing fascination for both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Chapter
7 endeavours to give the reader a flavour of this in Java. We also touch upon
the innovative use of symbols drawn from the Ramayana during the popular
upsurge which overthrew President Suharto, dramatically illustrating the
continuing powerful presence of the Rama tale in the Indonesian imagination.
Chapter 8 takes a look at the artistic
tradition of Hindu Bali, where a know