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Rethinking Indian Influence in Javanese Shadow Theater Traditions Laurie J. Sears The actress' singing, like the beautiful movements of the magical antelope, or the art of poetry, makes the audience "forget" the everyday world (laukika) and enter the fantastic (alaukika) realm of imagination that is latent within them. The entire play is a reenactment of this idea. The mind of the poet, the hero, and the audience is symbolized here by the director, who holds together the various strands of the theatre so that the rasa of the play can be realized and savored .1 Each Javanese shadow play is part of an oral tradition which has been transmitted from dhalang (puppeteer) to dhalang for centuries. The dhalang draw a portion of their repertoire from the episodes and characters of the pan-Indian epics, the Rämäyana and Mahäbhärata,2 and, although some of the plays follow Indian versions of the stories, many more are original Javanese creations. The Javanese term wayang purwa (ancient shadows) refers to what some scholars have called the Hindu-Javanese epic repertoire. The notion of a Hindu-Javanese epoch in Javanese history was introduced by British scholars such as Stamford Raffles in the early nineteenth century to refer to that period of Java's past that had seen the adoption and adaption of a variety of Indian religious, cultural, legal, and textual traditions. The shadow theater tradition was among the many literary, artistic, and archaeological artifacts that were given Indian origins by first the British and then the Dutch scholars. Despite these nineteenth century orientalist efforts to locate the origins of the Javanese shadow theater in India, the structure of the shadow plays was believed for a time to be authentically Javanese since various scenes and all the stage equipment bear 90 Laurie J. Sears9 1 Javanese rather than Sanskritic names. Although the dramatic form and other elements of the Javanese wayang purwa may be indigenous, the aesthetics of the shadow theater will be shown to display important links to Sanskrit dramatic theory. In this essay I argue that Javanese poets and puppeteers played an active role in interpreting the rich philosophy of Sanskrit aesthetics which reached its height in tenth- and eleventh-century India. The adoption of Sanskritic aesthetics should not, however, be seen as a mere indication of Javanese imitation of Indian models; rather, Javanese literati of that period are shown to have been as sophisticated as their Indian colleagues and able to partake of an esoteric cultural tradition to which only a small percentage of Indie society had access. Indian influences on Javanese culture. The matter of Indian influences in Javanese cultural and artistic traditions has become an unwelcome discourse in the field of Javanese studies. The days when the older kingdoms of Southeast Asia were considered to be a part of Greater India are long past, and today nationalistic Southeast Asians or the scholars who study Southeast Asia tend to be disturbed at being reminded that a great Southeast Asian cultural debt to India does exist. In their studies of Java in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, generations of Dutch colonial scholars were fascinated by the overwhelming evidence of Indian cultural influence on older Javanese traditions. In their eyes the obvious connections with India seemed to enhance the Javanese cultural world, for if Java had an ancient culture comparable to that of the ancient Indian subcontinent, this only added to the already known economic value of Java as a colonial possession. There was also an additional if somewhat contradictory factor: since Java had required Indian culture in the past to advance its societal evolution, its people were shown again in need of a higher culture—at this point in history a European one—to help it accommodate to the forces and new technologies of the modern world. Thus the Java created by Dutch scholars was envisioned as a reproduction and even at times a parody of ancient Indian culture. As nineteenth-century Dutch scholars steeped themselves in Javanese literary traditions, they could not avoid seeing that the plays of the wayang theater drew characters from the Rämäyana and Mahäbhärata epics of India. Perhaps...


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