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  • From Lanka Eastwards: The Ramayana in the Literature and Visual Arts of Indonesia
  • M. Rajantheran
From Lanka Eastwards: The Ramayana in the Literature and Visual Arts of Indonesia. By Andrea Acri, Helen Creese and Arlo Griffiths (EDS), Leiden: KITLV Press, 2011 259 pp. ISBN 978-9067-18-384-0

This book consists of a selection of the articles presented at a workshop in 2009. The ten articles are divided into two main categories, Part I (six articles): Old Javanese Kakawin and The Kakawin Ramayana and Part II (four articles): The Ramayana at Candi Prambanan and Candi Panataran.

It is evident that the book aims to create an informed historical understanding through a variety of cultural, artistic and religious discourses on contemporary Indonesia. The transculturally intellectual contribution which has shaped the cultural heritage of Indonesia over time is presented in these articles by writers who are knowledgeable in their respective fields of study.

Since ancient times almost all cultures in South and Southeast Asia have been influenced by Indian culture, especially by its great literature like the Ramayana, Mahabharatha and Pancatantra. Though the Ramayana and Mahabharata traditions are still celebrated in some parts of this region, they are downplayed in other areas. Nonetheless, in most parts of Indonesia the Ramayana and Mahabharata are seen as a pride of their culture. In Bali these two works are often displayed in the form of stage performances, moral codes, religious practices and even as landmarks.

The editors have rightly pointed out the existence of two main approaches—Indianizing and Indonesianizing—in the study of ancient Indonesian culture. No local scholars submitted papers for the workshop; extra efforts should have been made to obtain academic contributions from them as their absence leaves a large academic gap in the effort to present a comprehensive study of Indonesia's culture.

Though the articles have been organized objectively, the study would present amore comprehensive account if it included a historical survey of the Old Javanese Kakawin and the Kakawin Ramayana. This is important for readers who are new to this field of study. According to the editors, the first two papers in Part I cover the general perspectives on Kakawin and the Kakawin Ramayana. But in reality those two articles are indeed very specific in their scope: the first article deals with stuti (hymns of praise) in Kakawins and the second deals with kavisamaya-adi from a comparative approach.

Stuart Robson, in his article entitled 'Hymns in Kakawins, The Ramayana and Other Examples', shows the importance of stuti in Kakawin Ramayana and other literary examples. He observes that these hymns have been inserted mainly at critical junctures in the plots, which are indeed found in a majority of known Kakawins, including the Kakawin Ramayana. Though this article is presented in a proper academic form, the findings are not new. For example, the writer's conclusion about stuti is not new but common knowledge to Indian Studies scholars.

The second article, by Wesley Michel, entitled 'Poetic Conventions as Opposed to Conventional Poetry? A Place for Kavisamaya-adi in Comparative Kavya/Kakawin Studies' is also a content analysis study focusing on epic conventions [End Page 125] (kavisamaya-adi) that is topoi, rather than on formal components such as figure of speech and prosody which have dominated past comparative studies of Kakawin or kavya. This is a specific study of the Kakawin genre from the comparative perspective of Indian kavya literature and poetology ('science of figures') called alamkara-sastra in Sanskrit. This article is well designed, written and contains good findings.

Thomas Hunter, in his article entitled 'Figures of Repetition (yamaka) in the Bhattikavya, the Raguvamsa, the Siwagraha Inscriptions and the Kakawin Ramayana', follows the footsteps of C. Hooykaas, who made a similar analysis using the yamaka (figure of speech) found in alamkara-sastra. However, Thomas Hunter has demonstrated that this yamaka predominates in both the Kakawin Ramayana and the Old Javanese Siwagrha inscription of 856 AD. He further provides significant new evidence to support the hypothesis that the Kakawin is contemporary with the inscription, a hypothesis originally developed by Walker Aichele on the basis of a study of their contents. The finding of this article is beneficial to...


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