Sometimes called the Barata-Yuddha. Critics have called this ancient Indian poem a history because of its naturalistic descriptions. But it is also the finest, most comprehensive Indian epic. Containing fragments on Hindu meditation, as well as representing the quintessence of all philosophies among all the Sanskrit books. This epic poem is about a civil wat in the legendary state of Bharat in India which took place over 2500 years ago. The half real, half divine good-populated magical world of this great Hindu story has awakened the same awe in Indonesians as the legends and literature of ancient Rome and Greece awoke in Renaissance man. A truly monumental work (90,000 stanzas), it’s the longest single poem in word literature. No translations of this 20 volume epic (of 1000 pages each volume) is as yet correct or comprehensive enough. Pundits differ on authoritative commentary of giant work: Bharat Bhau Deep, written in Sanskrit by Neelkanthji Maharaj, out of print since 1933.
The Indonesian Version
Using the original Indian story as the prototype, the Mahabharata was composed on Java in the 10th and 12th Centuries by the order of Kings. For at least 1000 years in Indonesia, the struggle between Pandavas and the Kurawas has served as an abundant source of mythology and inspiration for the arts and literature. Used as the central theme of wayang dramas, the story has been continuously re-worked, adapted and expanded to suit the needs of specific regional tastes. On Java and Bali it is performed as a shadow play and classical dance. In West Java, in wayang golek. Most Indonesian court poems were translated from the most popular episodes of this voluminous work. Ardjuna and Bima are favorites heroes. Ardjuna, for his ability to charm and conquer women and for his superior power in combat, and the giant Bima (God of Wind) for his fearlessness and physical might. The enemy Korawas are always shown with monsterous shapes. Often the various heroes have different names according to the state in their lives, their activity, the name of the kingdom or tribe, father’s name, etc. which makes it confusing to follow each character. From Java the poem has penetrated into the literature of the outer Indonesian islands as well.
The Mahabharata Story
Infused with many embellishment over the centuries, the original story is based on a historical war between two neighboring tribes, the Pandavas and the Korawas, which took place around the 9th Century B.C. These two families were in constant rivalry and the epic describes all the events day by day. The five Pandava brothers are continually proving superior to their cousins, the 99 korawas, all sons of blind king. The Korawas, filled with jealousy and hatred, set out to destroy the Pandavas, at one time lighting their house on fire. There is an archery contest in which Arjuna wins over all rivals, then a disasterous dice game which forces the Pandavas into exile in the forest for 12 years. All the bad blood culminates finally in the 18 day battle. ‘The Great Battle of the Bharatas’, which takes place between the holy rivers, the Gangga and the Yumma. Great courage and tragedy is shown by both sides and in the end many brave warriors die and there’s a great horse sacrifice. Bhagavad Gita is one of the Mahabharata’s most beautiful and most famous chapters, a prelude to the great battle, describing Ardjuna’s dialogue with his mentor and charioteer Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu), to whom he turns in anguish at the prospect of having to slay all his kinsmen and closest teachers. This moment of intense introspection and self-scructiny before the battle is called either ‘Ardjuna’s Despondency’ or ‘Ardjuna’s Hesitation’.
A 3rd Century B.C. poem which records events taking place a thousand years before it was written. The story represents the eternal conflict of good and evil and the eventual triumph of good. A passage in the 2nd Century A.D version mentions Indonesia (Yavadvipa) and describes it as having 7 kingdoms. Episodes from Old Javanese genre (which the Ramayana was translated into) serve as the basis for modern ballet, puppet shadow theatre, and classical dance dramas all over present-day Indonesia. The Ramayana is the literary counterpart to such masterpieces of Javanese architecture and sculpture as Borobudur, Candi Prambanan and Panataran, plus many other temples on which you can see the story depicted in reliefs and carvings. Outside of Yogya, Central Java, view episodes from the story of Rama performed (wayang orang)during the 4 nights of full moon each month in the dry season. In West Java the characters live on in the theatre of round puppets.
The Ramayana Story
The story takes place in the Himalayas and opens as Rama, a boy-child-terror-prodigy is winning archery competitions and cleaning demons out of hermitages. He won his beautiful lady super-seductress Sita by his skill with the bow and arrow. The King’s wicked wife demands that Rama, Sita and his devoted brother Laksmana be sent into exile in order to put her own son or the throne. Because of an old promise the king must comply. Cheated of their throne and banished to the deep forest for 14 years, the three of them live with saints and hermits. The 10-headed giant-demon Rawana’s sister one day wanders through the forest and catches sight of Rama, falling in love with his instantly. But Rama repulses her advances and she returns to Langka (Ceylon) to complain to her brother, the king of Demons. Rawana sends a servant in the shape of a beautiful golden deer who lures Rama away with Sita’s urging in order to kill it. Laksamana hears cries of pain and gives chase. While they’re both gone, Rawana arrives and abducts Sita, flying into the air back to his palace in Langka. A legendary bird, Garuda (Jatayu), dies while trying to rescue her from the demon’s clutches. Then, with the help of the white monkey general Hunuman (Anoman), the search begins. Hunuman send his monkey armies in all four directions into the world to find her. Meanwhile in Langka, the captured Sita refuses all Rawana’s advances despite his trick and threats. Hunuman finds Sita and tries to set her free. On his way back to India the monkey general sets Rawana’s capital on fire with his tail (this episode is a favorite lakon in wayang plays). Hunuman’s monkey armies then invide Langka, throwing boulders into the sea to build a causeway. After a 12 year war with many fierce battle, Rama finally kills Rawana with a magic arrow. Sita is reunited, but then Rama puts her faithfulness to test by an ordeal of fire. Satisfied, they all fly back to their Himalayan Kingdom in dead Rawana’s flying chariot. There, Rama ousts his half brother and assumes his rightful kingship and everyone lives happily ever after. In some versions, Rama, still doubting his wife’s reputation, banishes her. She lives in the woods, giving birth two sons. When Rama repents and asks her to return, she refuses and disappears into the earth. The poet, Valmiki, who wrote the oldest version, tekes the two sons as apprentices and Rama eventually makes it to heaven where he regains his original shape as Vishnu.