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Open Access On birds, ascetics, and kings in Central Java Rāmāyana Kakawin, 24.95–126 and 25

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On birds, ascetics, and kings in Central Java Rāmāyana Kakawin, 24.95–126 and 25

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image of Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde / Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia

In the first part of the paper I introduce stanzas 95-126 of Sarga 24 and the whole of Sarga 25 of the Old Javanese Rāmāyaṇa, which present the most difficult and least understood pieces of poetry in the whole of Old Javanese literature. The two sections, displaying a close relationship between each other on account of several shared lexical items and corresponding motifs, describe in allegorical terms animals, birds and plants in order to satirically represent ascetic and political characters of mid-9th century Central Java. Because of their idiosyncratic language and style, and because of their allegorical content which find no correspondences in the Bhaṭṭikāvya or other Sanskrit versions of the Rāmāyaṇa, they have been for long regarded as a ‘corpus alienum’ in the poem. The thesis of interpolation was criticized by Hooykaas (1958a/b/c), who, however, did not rule out the possibility of their having been composed by a ‘second hand’. Having tried to distinguish the various textual layers that characterize those sections, I turn to analyse their contents along the lines set out in the masterful article by Aichele (1969) ‘Vergessene Metaphern als Kriterien der Datierung des altjavanischen Rāmāyaṇa’, discussing the allegories depicted there in comparison with the contemporary Śiwagṛha metrical inscription. By taking into account additional Old Javanese textual and visual documents, I suggest a fine-tuning for some of the identifications advanced by the German scholar. In particular, I argue that the character of Wibhīṣaṇa (instead of Lakṣmaṇa, as argued by Aichele) in the poem could allegorically represent King Rakai Kayuwaṅi, and that the satirical descriptions of various kinds of water-birds of the heron family deceiving the freshwater fishes are to be taken as a critique directed to historical figures representing covert agents of the Śailendra prince Bālaputra disguised as Śaiva (and not Buddhist) ascetics. My conclusion is that the satirical themes displayed in the stanzas represent a case of ‘localization’ of materials widespread in Sanskrit literature, which should be taken into due consideration in order to understand the identity and religious affiliation of the ascetic figures allegorically represented in Sargas 24 and 25.

Affiliations: 1: Leiden University.


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