Comparing Mahabharata to Mahabharata

Persian and Indonesian Mahabharata Cases – Part 2

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Comparing Mahabharata to Mahabharata

Indonesian Mahabharata Old Javanese Prose Version

When the Sanskrit Mahabharata left our shores and migrated to Indonesia in 8th cen AD, it found versions of Mahabharata extant and available for a long time, going back to beginning of trade relationships between India and Farther India, most likely around 1st century AD or even earlier.

There was a Mahabharata version extolling God Arjuna, described on his flying chariot with his spouse and served by flying goddesses holding his Shankha, Jala, Dhupa and Naivedya and his own demon charioteer. Demon he had defeated and had forever pledged to support him. There was a version of Bharat Samhita from Kampuchea transcribed by Somasharma which was recited continuously for 300 years before Mahabharata version we are discussing reached Java shores. The Japanese had their Kyoritsuiso since 516 AD around same time. The Japanese already familiar with 100 Kauravas and their 6 opponents Pandavas and Krishna since 251 AD work of Kang Seng-Hui. The last part of name of that monk indicates he was Indian or Persian.

These included Adi Parva, Sabha Parva (in much larger detail) till Udyoga Parva and Vana Parva. In 472 AD, we had 121 stories of Sabha Parva as Tsa pao Tsang ching by intriguingly named Kekaya Tang Yao. The Subhasita Ratna Nidhi, a commentary extolling Arjuna and Bhima was found in Mongolia and basis of Uyghur legends.

All of these books and versions would be known to Indonesians plus other direct imports from India which we do not have more physical evidence of. In the tropics of India and Indian Islands (Indonesia), Paper and Parchments fight atmosphere to live another day. Only way for them to become immortal is by making copies. Regularly and hopefully without mistakes.

I have talked elsewhere about Wayang, Lakhon Mahabharata, Balinese and Joglesemar Mahabharatas. There are many variations. We will focus on Old Javanese Mahabharata synopsis this came from the 8th century import from India. Elsewhere I have discussed the Phalgunadi’s Mahabharata based at Balinese courts.

Then there are the Wayang Plays, based in Java, Joglesemar, Bali, Sunda and other regions. They differ on the sources they use.

Lakon cycle (From Kats, J. Het Javaansche toneel, I: Wajang Poerwa. Volkslectuur, 1923. (in Dutch))

This covers the 12 generations: beginning with Vishnu, the Pandavas’s ancestor, and ending with Pariksita, who supposedly was the father of the first “historic” king of Java, Jadajana.

Chronicle the struggle for the political power between Pandavas, Pandu’s five sons, Judistira (Yudhishthira?), Bima (Bhima?), Ardjuna (Arjuna), Nakula, and Sadewa (Sahadeva) and their cousins, the 99 Kaurawa brothers.

Only 32 of the 149 lakon dramatize the conflict between the cousins while 94 lakon are set during the period the Pandavas ruled the Kingdom of Amarta or Amaravati or Indraprastha.

“A golden age of the Pandavas, a time of youthful self-confidence, when they lived exuberantly, reveling in excitement and in adventure” (Brandon). 
“A life of power and recklessness, giving rise to ceaseless battle with ogres who threatened man and the gods, and to an almost unbroken succession of bridal abductions and bridal contests, through which the most beautiful princesses and daughters of holy seers were brought into the royal palaces of the Pandavas as their family expanded.

The 149 Lakon cycle (think of each Lakon as Upaparva) which are split into 11 MahaParvas:

  • Adiasnshavatara
  • Pandu
  • Childhood or “Hunting by Pandavas”
  • Expulsion from Court or Prasthanika Parva
  • Amartya or Indraprastha Parva: This alone composed of 94 Lakons. In size, this is bigger than Indian Mahabharata combined. 
  • DyutaParva
  • Vana Parva
  • Virata Parva
  • Udyoga Parva
  • BharataYuddha
  • Kalimataya (after the war)

Karimataya is son/grandson of Yudhishthara who rules as King after War, Yudhishthara in more of emperor till Parikshita is his successor later.

Bali Wayang is different based not on Javanese dalang but on Ancient Kakavins or poems which preceded the 8th century Sanskrit edition. Its based on 4 Epic cycles:

  • Arjuna Sahsrabahu
  • Rama
  • Pandavas
  • Madya wayang.

Wayang Purva begins these 4 Epics and is 446 pages of stupendous stories, many of these are in Puranas as well.

Now, the 8th century text which came from India was translated into old Javanese and now is preserved in 8 Main Parvas.

The last four of them are Asramavasika, Mosal-parvan, Prasthanikaparvan and Swargarohana Parva. Even the 8th century translator of Old Javanese text also states that these four seems have been added recently. They are not Vyas’s work. As they have come from India and has the name of Vyas, they still worship the whole book but give more merit to earlier Parvas.

The Old Javanese Swargarohana Parva is much much larger. Basically, ours is a pamphlet so Old Javanese is completely different would not be wrong statement. Yudhishthara becomes the Great God is the theme. It is either an import and we in India have lost the larger Swargarohana (Alf Hiebetel thinks so) or it is Javanese creativity.

The Four main ones are Adiparvam, Virataparvam, Udyogaparvam, Bheeshmaparvam. I have used the comments from Manjushree Gupta, Saroja Bhate’s summaries and Raghu Veera’s works (some of which was published by BORI in 1936).


Old Javanese VirataParvana is a very vibrant and literary merit text. The Old Javanese version is not a mere mechanical translation but a huge repository of stories, many imported from India, many home grown, all of great literary and poetic merit. Rural Javanese like rural Indians love Virata Parva.

One major change is that Pandavas are hidden for lot longer, almost six years or nine years, the terms are almost identical. The period of Vana and Agyatavasa is thus longer almost 17 years and that may be because of sheer mass of stories the Indonesian authors put into this period.

They also change the story. The Pandavas did not spend all the time in Vana but because of frequent Kaurava attacks on them in the forests, they were putting Rishis, public, servants, family members at risk. So Yudhishthara and the Pandavas decide to go into hiding a lot earlier even though they did not need to.

In Our Mahabharata Virata Parva, when Duryodhana and his committee are looking into searching for Pandavas, the remarks are that no one has heard from them since the Ghoshyatra and Jayadratha defeat many years ago.

Indian Vana Parva is a huge reliquary of Puranic stories. The Indonesian Vana Parva is an extended Virata Parva and reliquary of stories of common man and little joys and enjoying life with whatever family and support you have. All stories revolve around Pandavas in various disguises and helping common man.

Old Javanese Parvas do not conform to our current story. The story line is intact but many little stories and events and number of characters are lot more. Pandavas travel incognito or in full and make friends and help people across the length and breadth of Asia. When they reveal themselves in end, and send out the clarion call for help, Dhritrashtra is astonished by the huge armada and wealth of what he supposed were the paupers living in forest. This is the same questions Dhritrashtra keep lamenting in our Mahabharata as well.

There was an attempt at BORI to use this in their critical edition but the sheer mass of stories and extra characters changed their mind though published a BORI edition of Indonesian Virata Parvam.

The current performing arts of Wayang Purva are based on Adiparvam and VirataParvam but they are much larger and much different from our recessions. I will discuss Bhartayuddha the other part of this Epic which is based on UdyogaParvram and Bheeshmaparvam. There is another Indonesian War part of the Epic based on Nine Parvas cycle which I had already described earlier.

Adiparvam is also split into large Parvas or Kakawins. Stories or Mini-Epics.

They include likes of Astikayana, RatnaVijaya, Dimbi Vicitra, Indra Vijaya, Ambasraya which are some of Parvas taken from Indian Adi Parva stories.

RatnaVijaya is Bhima defeating Sunsa Upsunda. IndraVijaya is victory over Indra.

Now Old Javanese Mahabharata has two separate Parthayanas. First Parthayana regarding the twelve year exile is the (Adventures of Arjuna in his first exile period) in 55 cantos some 9000 verses!. This is followed by a mini-Epic called Subhadra Vivaha which is described is much detail.

There is also a separate epic Arjuna-Vivaha which is based on Arjuna’s sole adventures in Vana Parva and his marriage to seven top Apsaras and it also covers Indralokigamana section. Then there is Indrakila Parthayana (Arjuna in Vanavasa period) which also covers Kirata section.

Adiparvam and Krishna Leela

People comment about Krishna leela missing from Mahabharata in India. That is also because the Mahabharata is based on Yudhishthara not Krishna. This Old Javanese prose text solves the issue for these fans by adding Krishna based Kakawins as part of the flow. 

It starts with HarivamsaParvan near beginning of Adi Parvam which details Krishna’s ancestral adventures then comes KrsnAndhaka Parva (Kamsa stories and Leela) then cp,es KrishnaVijaya parva dealing with Jarasandh battles and other wars. Then comes Krsnakalantaka dealing with setting up Dwarka and Kalayavana.

And finally Krishnayana is added mostly Krishna and Rukmini as Rama and Sita.

Later on, there is separate epic based on Yadavas titled Ghatotkasaraya on Ghatotacha. Using these Kakawins in part of the flow, we have the author do not have these characters appear and disappear for long sequences in main story telling, they thus have their own Epics.

Harivamsa is completely independent of India. It is influenced by Pancharatra but different stories abound. It also had the stories of the ancestors.

Krishnayana is very close to Indian sources straight from Epic and some Indian Harivamsa.

Ghatotkachasrya‘s heroes are Ghatotkacha, Purbaya, Abhimanyu, Prativindhya (plus his brothers) and heroines including Krishna’s daughters Ksitisundari, Satisundari, and two Rishi kanyas, all four of them totally unknown to Indian Puranas. Though, there is story of a Rishi Kanya and Prativindhya in one of Indian Puranas.

The Vana Parvam has huge epical deviations, its own Parvas like Dharmakusuma and Surantaka (adventures of Yudhishthara) are very different from Indian Epic. Lot less teaching, much more action.

A separate Epic is taken out at end of Virata Parvam, AbhimanyuVivaha which is detailed wedding plus detailed assembling of warriors and friends of Pandavas.

These variations in the Indonesian Main Parvas are too many to detail. I will from time to time post some stories that may interest for its correspondence in Indian milieu.

I will discuss the BharataYuddha section and our War Parvas in next post. 


Post Author: Mahabharata World

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