German archaeologist studies Panji stories

07 September 2007 (Jakarta Post) – A story reporting on a German archaeologist’s work on studying the Panji stories depicted on Javanese temples. I am personally unfamiliar with the Panji stories myself, but they seem to be indigenous to Java and seem to have spread to the Malay-speaking world. Set in Java, the Panji stories tell of Raden Inu, the king of Kuripan is betrothed to the daughter of the King of Daha. The princess disappears, and Raden Inu goes in search of his betrothed disguised as Panji, the titular character. Like the Ramayana, the Panji stories have been expressed in a number of literary and theatrical forms, although limited in transmission to the Malay-speaking world. The stories are an interesting source of information for archaeologists because they provide a peek into courtly and daily life in pre-Islamic Java; indeed the kingdoms of Kuripan and Daha (also known as Kediri) historically existed in the 12th century.

German studies ‘Panji’ stories

Lydia Kleven, an archaeologist from Koln University, Germany, said Tuesday at a seminar in Surabaya she was doing her thesis on the Panji stories of East Java.

The stories date back to the Majapahit kingdom era.

“I’m very much interested in the Panji stories because the characters have uniquely East Javanese traits and are not influenced by either the West Javanese or Indian styles. In fact, in those days, Indonesian culture was heavily influenced by Indian culture,” she said.

Kleven said she first got to know the Panji stories in 1996, while on a visit to Kendalisodo Temple, which is situated on the slopes of Mount Penanggungan. She saw in the reliefs of the temple that the main character, Panji, was wearing headgear. This depiction, she added, had also been found in a number of other temples in East Java.

“It seems that during the times of the Majapahit kingdom wearing headgear was the prevailing trend, not only among the nobility but also among commoners. The same is true of the accessories worn by a number of characters in these stories. They are unique and cannot be found in other temples outside East Java,” she said.

The Panji stories of love and heroism spread following the expansion of the kingdom’s power to other countries in Southeast Asia.


Books mentioning the Panji Stories:
Ancient History (The Indonesian Heritage Series) by Indonesian Heritage

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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