Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

The Kakavin and Serat Kandas

Ranga Rao Nippani

To a Hindu traveller in the Eastern Archipelago, the Puppet Shows of Burma, the Swing Festival of Bangkok, the Wayong shadow plays of Java, and the Bali dances are reminiscent of familiar scenes nearer home. And as he passes on from one scene of enchantment to another, the feeling grows on him that he is never outside the pale of Hindu culture and of Hindu influence, though thousands of miles away from the nearest port of India.

The Rama legend in Indonesia is a live force. It is finely interwoven with the daily life of the people. To these happy islanders, the mythic heroes of India’s sacred epics are national heroes, of flesh and blood, who lived and ruled over their country. A mass of local legend has worked itself into these epics. No doubt, the Ramayana and Mahabharatha as portrayed by the Wayong shadow plays of Java, the Kakavin, the Malay Hikayat Seri Rama, the Serat Kandas, the Ramayana Sasak, and the Ramayana Nitis are distorted beyond recognition from the classical work of Valmiki with which we are all familiar. But setting aside these discrepancies, it is really admirable how these islanders (who are Muslims) have preserved the sacred epics through several centuries of transition, though all contact between India and Indonesia was absolutely severed even as early as the 12th century A.D.

Modern India in her craze for westernisation has given up the study of her sacred epics, though India’s truant sons, in the far-eastern islands, still cherish and revere them with an astonishing zeal.

Ramayana is still portrayed in the Puppet Shows of Burma colonised by the Andhras. The Kings of Siam consider themselves the descendents of Rama. The last king of Siam was Rama VI. Authyia (Ayodhya) and Lop-buri (Lava-Puri), the two ancient capitals of Siam, are still known by their legendary names. Siam was colonised by Tamilians. The present boy-king of Siam is known by his Tamil name Ananda Mahidol. Ramayana scenes are worked in silver on the gates of Vat Chetu Pon, a Buddhist temple of Bangkok. Inscriptions of Cambodia reveal that the ancient Khemers were descendants of the Solar dynasty. The temples of Cambodia (Kambuja) Ba Puon (Hema-sringa-giri?) Angkor Vat and Angkor Thom are full of reliefs from Ramayana and Mahabharatha. The Chams of Indo-China state that they have a Ramayana of their own. They claim that they are descendents of monkeys. Hanuman is today known among them as Anuman. Ramayana is well known in China as it was incorporated in the Lankavatarasutra. The Tibetans claim Hanuman as their god, and state that they had tails for a long time. It is hardly possible to state to which country the Ramayana had not penetrated in some form or other.

The sources of the Javanese Ramayana are from old manuscripts popularly known as the Kakavin, the Serat Kandas, the Ramayana Sasak and Ramayana Nitis and the Malay Hikayat Seri Rama. The Kakavin composed during the period of the Kedari dynasty (but for the omission of chapter 7) is the nearest approach to the classical work of Valmiki. The second version which is more akin to the Malay Ramayana is very popular with the common people.

The Serat Kandas begin with Adam in Mecca, with his sons Abil, Kabil and Satan. We then get a curious account of Uma and Noah and of the birth of Vishnu and Vasuki, and only in chapter 22 is the birth of Rama narrated. From chapter 22 to chapter 45 local legend is worked in, the parentage of Rama and Ravana is discussed, and many of their ancestors are Javanese Princes. In this work Rama is called Bargava, Sita is called Sinta, and Janaka is called Kala.

The Mahabharatha version of the Rama legend differs in many respects from the version of Valmiki. In the Serat Kandas we find that Sita is apparently Ravana’s daughter. The Adbhuta Ramayana, the Uttarapurana of the Jains, the Folk-tales of Guzarat, and the Siamese version corroborate this view.

It is also believed that the Tamil Ramayana of Kambar might have been the source of the Javanese versions.

Some of the incidents mentioned in the Javanese version correspond to the incidents mentioned in the Krittibas of Bengal, and in the Punjabi, Guzarati and Ceylonese versions, and differs from the classical work of Valmiki. To cite one example, in the earlier works we find that Sita is Ravana’s real daughter; in the later versions, Serat Kandas, Sita is only supposed to be Ravana’s daughter; and in Valmiki’s version there is of course no relationship between Sita and Ravana.

How then should we reconcile these differences? The only solution appears to be that there should have existed several versions of the Ramayana legend before Valmiki, which were carried over to these islands by colonists from India in the twilight of recorded history, and some of them naturally got mixed up with local tradition and legend. It was given to Valmiki to have produced a refined version of the Ramayana to suit the stage of civilisation in his times. So, if the Javanese are to be accused of having taken great liberties with the Ramayana legend, the same charge may be leveled against Valmiki for having given us what might have been, in all probability, after all a refined version of a Ramayana legend.

To a student of Indology the study of the Javanese Ramayana forms an interesting subject for research, while the problem of the divergences between the classical version of Valmiki and the Javanese versions remains an open question.


1. Wilhelm Stutterheim–Rama Legenden und Rama Reliefe.

2. G. Maspero–Le Royaume de Champa.

3. Hubert–Le Legende Du Ramayana en Annam.

4. B R. Chatterjee–India and Java.

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