Serat Centhini, Central Java’s version of Panji story

I used to have this children storybook about Kleting Kuning and Ande ande Lumut; it was my favourite book since I was able to read words because my house didn’t have many books back then. But during primary school, around p4, I guess, I lost the book. Nevertheless, the story remains intact in my head.

Years after that, I somehow learnt that KLeting Kuning story is one of the variants in Panji stories. I don’t know the other stories, but it kind of tickled me to read more on panji stories. But well, plans are just plans. I only read up on Panji stories recently and of course I felt stupid for neglecting to read up on this.

But late is better than never.

Few days ago I found this online… an article by Lydia Kieven

Simbolisme Cerita Panji dalam Relief-Relief di Candi Zaman Majap

It is a quite informative article on Panji stories or a short article. In short, Panji story is original Java story, it presents characters that are not connected in any ways to any Mahabarata or Ramayana stories, taking javanese kingdoms of Daha and Jenggala as settings. Eventhough the main characters of the story are prince and princess, but they are portrayed mostly in disguise as commoners in the plot, and even the visualisation of the story through reliefs (commonly found in temples in east java) or statue (very very very rare) is very humble, thus the story automatically connects with common people.

Interestingly, Panji stories are very well spread in south east asia. Thailand and Cambodia calls it Inao story, the Burmese calls it Eenaung, and Laotian loves the story as well. The story spread to those regions during Majapahit era.

Panji story has many variants, as I mentioned above, but they all have few things in common; we may say that these things are criteria for a story to be classified as Panji story. Here’re the few criteria:

  1. separation scene (usually between lovers)
  2. journey (the character taking the journey is usually accompanied by “friends”)
  3. unification of lovers in a marriage/sexual act
  4. meeting(s) with sage(s)
  5. crossing water body(ies) or a scene dealing with water

Overall, Panji story deals with human trying to reach higher wisdom. The scene of meeting(s) with sage(s) symbolizes dharma or higher spirituality teachings and the scene dealing with water acts as a cleansing medium to reach higher wisdom.

Looking at the criteria, I automatically realised that Centhini takes that pattern as well, but to the extreme. The separation exists in multiples in Serat Centhini, not only between lovers but also between family members. The journey is stretched to the extreme, spreading across 12 volumes. Unification in marriage/ sexual act are told generously in Serat Centhini (thus gaining its status as javanese kamasutra), there were hundreds of sages to be met by Serat Centhini characters and Serat Centhini doesn’t only cross water body, it drowns in the ocean.

How epic.

Panji stories are only popular in East Java and Bali, through wayang performances, dances and theatre performances. Central Java doesn’t tell Panji stories through its art forms at all. This might be because Panji stories are Hindu-Buddhist and Central Java kingdoms around that era were already islamic kingdoms. My speculation is that… Serat Centhini was written to be the Kejawen, Central Java version of Panji story.

Well, that’s just a speculation…

But looking at Panji story, Centhini story…. I realize that there was a need, a want in Java, to have its own original story that has no attachment to Mahabarata or Ramayana at all. Maybe it was an opposition movement in the past, maybe it was a show of ego… Nevertheless, we gotta be proud! After all, we are the ones who know what our people need, what our people want, and most importantly, we know our own life struggles and stories.


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