Uncovering the Javanese Ramayana

The epic Ramayana, while originally from India, has had a far-reaching influence into the cultures of Southeast Asia where it is retold through reliefs on temples as well as traditional arts like shadow-puppetry and dance. Of course, the story gradually becomes adapted to the local culture, and it seems that the Javanese version of Ramayana contains some significant differences from the original. These differences are only now coming to light as some of the more ancient Javanese texts become translated.

Hanuman sculpture
photo credit: kevingessner

Understanding the tall tale of ‘Ramayana’

Jakarta Post, 16 August 2009

“Ramayana” is one of the world’s best epic telling the story of Rama and Sinta’s undying love for each other. Originating from the Hindi culture, the story was adapted during ancient Javanese times and nowadays can still be seen in stone reliefs, plays, and even comic books.

Despite its popularity, some parts of the Javanese version of the story remain hidden in the ancient script and have not been translated yet.

Dr. Willem van der Molen, an expert in Javanese literature from Leiden University, the Netherlands, said the original Javanese version of the story could unfold more details about the history and culture of the Javanese.

Speaking at a public lecture on the Javanese Ramayana on May 29, van der Molen said the Ramayana story needed to be rewritten.


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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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