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Panji stories

Just arrived back in Bali, which is why I've had 5 minutes to update by blog (apologies to all those who've been waiting for months for news). Flew Singapore airlines, who pay their CEO less than one third of what Qantas pays theirs, but Singapore was on schedule (and always has more leg room). Is their a correlation?

Bali's tourist industry is hotting up, and it's not just the Ubud Writers Festival (which is the main reason I'm here). Until the current economic crisis hits (which may see a return to Bali's downturns of the early and late 1980s), business is booming, at least in all the tourist spots.

My part in the project looking at the clothing industry in the Asia Pacific is slowly gathering momentum. Interesting how the industry is now centralised in one little corner (and even two streets) of Bali, at Seminyak, but that Bali, like Cambodia, has been able to remain competitive as a clothes producer by avoiding the bulk production of low-quality goods in the style of China, and instead has gone for fashion niches.

Three sad items that I haven't had time to put on the public record. The past few months have seen a number of losses to the world of Indonesian scholarship, particularly Bali:

First, Ketut Kantor, gambuh and other dance teacher to a generation of Balinese dancers at ASTI/ISI and to a lot of westerners, died of a stroke, the last in a series (and probably preventable in a Western country, but it would have helped if he didn't smoke). Ketut was an important advisor to me in the 1980s when I was researching gambuh, and a great store of knowledge. I was glad to have visited him earlier in the year.

Then not long afterwards Cristina Formaggia, the energy behind the Gambuh project, died in Italy. Cristina not only got together the wonderful Lontar publication, but was responsible for getting the funding to give Bali'smost important dance form a major stimulus. And because of her visitors can see the dance every month at Pura Batuan (pester those tour guides, the more rapacious refuse to take people there because they can't get their usual 60% cut).

Then in August Thea van Lennep, who taught me and a whole lot of other Sydney University students Dutch and linguistics, died in Sydney. Thea was an inspiring teacher, and imparted a love of writers such as Haase and Dumont, as well as of the savage irony of Van der Tuuk's letters.


See Sanat Kumara's site:

Gambuh, a classic dance drama that now is on the edge of extinction,
is considered as the ancestor of all Balinese dances. All
dance-techniques originate in its movement, all scales and melodies
from its peculiar gamelan. It is so rare that a Balinese may never see
a gambuh performance throughout his life.


Just got a copy of the condensed translation of the Serat Centhini by Soewito Santoso and Kestity Pringgoharjono, with great photographs by Fendi Siregar (The Centhini Story: The Javanese Journey of Life, Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2006). The philologist in me would like to know more about how the translation was done (what text was used, the multi-volume romanised version?), and how the condensation process occurred, but from a reader's point of view it is very exciting to have the text made available to a wider audience. What is really nice about the book is that it includes photographs of the key sites, and even objects and ceremonies, discussed as the various protagonists wander over the island of Java in the wake of the fall of Demak to the kingdom of Mataram.

The text has an interesting relationship with Panji stories, not just because both are concerned with journeys, but also because the expositions of contemporary life and values is clearly meant to provide models for readers. I look forward to sitting down with this book next to the full Javanese text. It would be nice if this could also provide a precedent for publishers to sponsor translations (preferably in full) of other classics of Indonesian literature. Stuart Robson long ago talked of the need for readable versions of some of the great Kekawin in a series like the Penguin Classics.


Last week the Panji festival was held successfully in East Java. Major activities took place at the PPLH environmental centre at Seloliman, and the tourism campus at Universitas Merdeka Malang. The latter was the site for the first conference on Panji narratives and Panji culture, and many thanks are owed both to Lydia Kieven for initiating the whole event, and to our hosts at UnMer, especially Gunawan Wibisono and all the other committee members, for their marvellous organisation.


My own paper was on the spread of Panji stories, from their origins in East Java in the pre-Majapahit period, to the various versions found as far away as Thailand and Burma. I included some great comparative illustrations from the C19th frescoes at Wat Samanat Wihan, in Bangkok, which has scenes from the Inao story that are very close to Balinese depictions of the Malat. There is a lot more to be done in this area, following on the lead set by Stuart Robson in his work on Javanese, Balinese, Malay and Thai Panji stories.

Lydia's paper was on her work on the depictions of 'cap figures', some of whom are clearly Panji, in East Javanese temple reliefs of the C12-C15th era. Lydia's new insights into the roles of these stories and the light they shed on the nature of ancient Javanese temples is exciting a lot of interest. Also speaking on East Javanese temples was Dr Josef Proyotomo, who is dramatically re-interpreting East Javanese temples as examples of elaborated indigenous menhirs, rather than imported Indian religious buildings.


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Dear friends of Javanese culture,

the plan for the Panji Festival in East Java is still alive. Recently I had contact with Pak Suryo Prawiroatmojo who confirmed it.

It is planned for the days from Tuesday 4th of September until incl. Sunday 9th of September 2007.

The venue is not clear yet. There are different options in and around Malang.

To go on with the planning and organizing, please let me know by the 30th of June if you want to
(a) - attend and present something, or
(b) - only attend.

In case (a) please tell the title and kind of presentation (lecture, performance).

Thank you for your cooperation. Looking forward to the event!

Kind regards,
Lydia Kieven

Please reply through the 'comments' and I will pass the information onto Lydia

One of the projects I've been involved with over the last 15 years is the research and documentation of gambuh, the dance-drama form in which Panji narratives (and other stories) are depicted in Bali. A nice write-up with photos can be found at


Lydia Kieven is attempting to organise a Panji festival in East Java in September. So far there has been a mixed response, but she is keen to keep the idea going. The following letter from Lydia describes what is planned (noting that the first deadline has already passed). Please respond directly to me and I'll pass you on to Lydia:

Dear friends of Javanese culture,

after having been in Java in October (for my research on the Panji reliefs) where I met the people of the committee for the Panji Festival in East Java, I give you some information about the situation.

We had a meeting at the 11th of October in Hotel Sativa in Pacet (which is situated in the area between Mojokerto and Trawas), where most of the members of the committee attended (Pak Suryo who initiated this meeting, Pak Soleh, Pak Adi Pracaya, Pak Wawan Enruji, Pak Dwi Cahyono, Mbak Lilis). There were several members of wayang-topeng-groups from Jombang and other places in East Java who also attended and expressed their interest of joining the festival. Pak Song and Pak David and their assistent Pak Yasson from the Hotel Sativa gave a warm welcome and provided food for the breaking of the fasting (this was still the time of Ramadhan).
People from the committee expressed that they are very happy that so far about 7 people from foreign countries (Australia, Netherlands, England, Germany) have reacted to my letters and are willing to attend the festival and present papers on various topics.

The plan for the program of the festival is quite the same as I wrote in my last information from 19th of June 2006. In case you've lost that information, I attach it once more to this email.

The main result of the meeting was the fixing of the date of the festival: From Tuesday 4th until Sunday 9th of September 2007, which means 6 days. This date was chosen out of several reasons:
The festival should take place before the month of Ramadhan which will start around the 13th of September 2007. It should be some time after the festivities of the 17th of August, the Indonesian national day. A date after the Ramadhan would not be suitable, because it would be too risky to have the start of the rainy season already.

The festival will consist of different parts, each of them is handled individually by different persons of the committee:

- agriculture and ritual (Pak Suryo)
- performances of Wayang Topeng in the style of Malang (Pak Soleh and others)
- performances of Wayang Topeng in the style of Cirebon and other areas of Indonesia (Pak Prapto)
- Mask dances from Cambodia and Thailand
- archaeology/ history/ literature by Indonesian academics (Pak Dwi Cahyono)
- archaeology/ history/ literature by foreign academics (Lydia Kieven)
- exhibition (Mbak Lilis)

There are still different ideas about the place of the event:
(a) All the events being centered in Tulusbesar (near Tumpang in the area of Malang, about an hour's drive from Malang) at the Padepokan Mangun Dharma of Pak Soleh
(b) The events being spread over several places, like in Tulusbesar, and in the University of Malang, and in the Hotel Sativa in Pacet, and maybe others

We made a decision for a deadline for registering so that the further planning can be done more concretely: Participants who would like to present something (dance, performance, paper, etc.), should register before the 1st of March 2007.

An earlier registration will be very much appreciated!

Yours sincereley,
Lydia Kieven


Panji stories are a set of narratives that have their origins in East Java, probably around the thirteenth century. Panji narratives can be found, inter alia, in various forms of the Javanese language, Balinese, Malay, Thai, Lao, Khmer and Burmese. These narratives typically concern wandering princes searching for wandering princesses.

I have already written extensively on the major Panji narrative found on Bali, the Kidung Malat Rasmi, in my Journeys of Desire: The Balinese Malat in Text and History. Leiden: KITLV, 2005, see In Bali Panji stories are performed in the gambuh dance drama.


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