Dharmawangśa’s heritage On the appreciation of the Old Javanese Mahābhārata

Willem van der Molen


As we all know, the Old Javanese Mahābhārata was not created from scratch by a Javanese author but was translated (in some sense) from the Sanskrit. The story of Hiḍimbī reveals an interesting difference between the Old Javanese version and the Sanskrit version of the text. In the latter2 Hiḍimbī appeals to Kuntī, Bhīma’s mother, after Bhīma keeps rejecting her. However, it is not Kuntī who gives the answer but Yudhiṣṭhira, her son: he is the one who gives permission to Hiḍimbī to take Bhīma as her husband. We should remember that Kuntī at this point in the story is a widow; her husband died a long time ago. Yudhiṣṭhira is her eldest son. In the Old Javanese version it is Kuntī herself who answers Hiḍimbī.
This difference between the Sanskrit Mahābhārata and the Old Javanese Mahābhārata is interesting, because it reflects a well-known difference between traditional Indian and Indonesian societies concerning the position of women. It is archetypical for the difference between the two versions of the text in general: the Old Javanese version follows the story faithfully but gives its own twist to it. This interpretation, I have to admit, is not generally accepted. The established scholarly opinion has it that the Old Javanese Mahābhārata is a shortened derivative, meaning that it copies or imitates the Sanskrit story, shortening it without adding anything new to the story.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17510/wjhi.v12i2.123


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