Panji (prince)

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Panji (formerly Pandji) was a legendary prince in East Java, Indonesia, whose adventures comprise a cycle of Javanese stories. Along with the Ramayana and Mahabharata, this cycle, known in Bali as Malat, is the subject of various poems and a genre of wayang theater known as wayang gedog ("gedog" means "mask"[1]), or wayang topeng (masked dance-pantomime).[2] Some details of Panji’s story may be based on Kamesvara, a twelfth-century Javanese king,[3] but Panji is also said to perform deeds traditionally ascribed to mythical ancestors,[4] and it has been conjectured that the story was based on an ancient sun and moon myth.[5] The saga of Panji contains many elements typical of Hindu literature; Panj is considered to be an incarnation of Vishnu, and his betrothed, Candra Kirana, an incarnation of Dewi Sri.

There are many versions of the Panji story, which is told in drama, dance and poetry throughout Southeast Asia. The main theme is the romance between Panji and Candra Kirana. On the eve of their wedding day, before they meet for the first time, she is kidnapped by the god Betara Kala, and Panji sets out in search of her. The lovers, both in disguise, travel from one kingdom to another and cross paths many times without recognizing each other, even fighting against each other in battle, until finally they are united. Panji tales have been a fertile source for literature and drama throughout Indonesia, Malaya, Thailand, Laos, the Philippines and Myanmar.[6]

Characters and names

Panji and the other characters in the Panji cycle appear with various names in different versions of the tales. Other names for Panji include Raden Panji, Raden Inu, Inu (of) Koripan, Ino (or Hino) Kartapati, Cekel Wanengpati, and Kuda Wanengpati.[6]

Panji is the prince of Kuripan (Koripan). He is usually depicted in an unadorned helmetlike rounded cap.[7] The mask for Panji has a smooth white or green face; narrow, elongated eyes; a straight and pointed nose; and delicate, half-open lips.[8]

Panji is engaged to be married to Candra Kirana (also Sekar Taji), the princess of Daha (Kediri). Later in the story, she is sometimes called Kuda Narawangsa when she appears disguised as a man. Panji's principal adversary is Klono (Kelana Tunjung Seta), a ferocious king who desires Candra Kirana and tries to destroy Daha and capture her. Other common characters are Gunung Sari (Candra Kirana's brother), Ragil Kuning or Dewi Onengan (Panji's sister married to Gunung Sari), Wirun, Kartala and Andaga (relatives and companions of Panji).[6]


There are many versions of the Panji story, which is told in drama, dance and poetry throughout Southeast Asia. One of the longest versions, the Malaysian "Hikayat Misa Taman Jaya Jayeng Kusuma," starts with the betrothal of Raden Inu (Panji) to Raden Galuh (Candra Kirana) while they are still infants. The two have never met. As he grows older and becomes interested in women, Raden Inu, curious about his future bride, sends the fat clown Semar to draw a picture of her. Semar mistakenly brings back a portrait of the fierce demon-fighting goddess, Durga. Frightened, Panji wants to call off the wedding; in the meantime, he has laid eyes on the most beautiful woman in the world who is, unknown to him, his real future bride, Raden Galuh. On the eve of their wedding, before they can meet for the first time, Raden Galuh is kidnapped by the god Betara Kala, who leaves her in a forest.

The kidnapping begins a long series of trials and separations which give storytellers wide latitude to adapt various episodes to their audiences. The gods manipulate circumstances in such a way that the lovers, both in disguise, cross paths many times without recognizing each other, even fighting against each other in battle. In one version,[9] immediately after Candra Kirana disappears, a princess with a different visage claims to be Candra Kirana and attempts to console Panji, alleging that she was carried off by Durga, and will regain her original appearance as soon as they are married. Panji orders preparations for their wedding to resume, not knowing that in reality this is a demon-princess who wants Panji for herself. The true Candra Kirana, alone in the forest, is advised by gods that she must return to the palace disguised as a man to be reunited with Panji. She does so, discovers Panji’s plans to marry the false Candra Kirana, writes him a letter revealing the true situation, and vanishes. Upon discovering this, Panji rushes to search for his love while his courtiers kill the demonic impostor.

Panji experiences many adventures, staying in forests with hermits, working as a servant in different palaces, always searching for traces of his lost bride. His quest takes him from one kingdom to another. Panji resorts to a number of disguises to gain entry to the court of each kingdom; a favorite ploy is pretending to be a witch-doctor with the power to cure the impotence of the enemy king. Another strategy is to have his own servant, Semar, persuade Togok, the king's servant, to propose his master's services to the king as an adviser or a minister. Candra Kirana, meanwhile, continues her male disguise, undergoes her own series of adventures, and ends up as the king of Bali. The show always ends with a series of battles in which the forces of good overcome the forces of evil.[10]

In the climax of the story, Panji and Candra Kirana unknowingly oppose each other on the battlefield. There, as witnesses are ordered to leave, Candra Kirana confides to her opponent that she is the bride of Panji, and that she has disguised herself as a warrior because the gods have told her that she can win back her prince only in a face-to-face combat where his blood is made to flow. They fight with swords and arrows, but she is unable to harm him until she resorts to her hairpin. Panji is wounded, reveals his identity, and they are happily united on earth, and later after death.

After their marriage, Candra Kirana gives birth to a son, named Raja Putra. Panji Asmarabangun rules Jenggala using the official names "Sri Kameswara," "Prabu Suryowiseso," and "Hino Kertapati."


Panji is said to perform deeds traditionally ascribed to mythical ancestors,[11] and it has also been conjectured that the basis of the story is an ancient sun and moon myth.[12] The character Betara Kala is related to Batara Kala of Javanese origin , a beastly giant who bites the sun and moon to cause eclipses, and also bites humans.

Some details of Panji’s story may also be based on Kamesvara, a twelfth-century Javanese king.[3] Airlangga, founder of the kingdom of Kauripan, was the son of the Balinese King Udayana and his Javanese wife, Princess Mahendradatta (the sister of Dharmawangsa, the last king of the old Mataram kingdom). To avoid conflict between his two sons, Airlangga divided his kingdom into Kediri (Kedari) in the west, and Janggala in the east of the former territory of Mataram. Little is known about Janggala, except that it was located near Gedangan Sidoarjo (close to Surabaya) and its first two rulers were Jayanegara and his successor Wajadrawa. Fifty years after the two kingdoms were divided, they were reunited by Kamesvara (1116-1136), the raja of Kediri, in 1117, through his marriage to the princess Dewi Kirana, a daughter of Wajadrawa.[13]

In the Surakarta court poet Ranggawarsita's genealogy Pustaka Rada Mada, the Javanese kings, including Panji, are considered the descendants of the Pandawas of the Mahabharata.[14] In Java and Bali, Raden Panji is considered to be a descendant of the Pandawas and a reincarnation of Vishnu. Candra Kirana (Radiant Ray of the Moon,) is an incarnation of Dewi Sri. On the Buddhist mainland, Raden Panji is a future Buddha.[15] The saga of Panji contains many elements typical of Hindu literature, such as reincarnation, meditation, sprinkling of holy water to resurrect the dead, long journeys and disguises. Hindu gods play major roles in the story; Durga is a Hindu goddess who kills demons. In Smaradahana ("The fire of love"), written by Mpu Dharmaja during the reign of the second Kediri king Kameswara (1115 – 1130) of Shiva, Kameswara was adored as an incarnation of Kamajaya (god of love), and his capital city Dahana (later called Daha) was said to be the most beautiful city, admired throughout the known world. Kameçwara's wife, queen Çri Kirana, the princess of Janggala, was celebrated as a woman of extraordinary beauty, the incarnation of Kamaratih, goddess of love and passion. After death, they reunited in heaven in their original forms of Vishnu and Dewi Sri.

Appearances in art and literature

Scenes from the Panji cycles appear in the narrative reliefs of the walls of East Javanese pre-Islamic candi from the thirteenth century, where they are presented gracefully, naturalistically and delicately, in contrast to wayang style.[16]

Sunan Giri (b. 1442 C.E.), an Islamic evangelist and educator in East Java, is credited with several innovations in wayang (Indonesian theater), including the creation of wayang gedog in 1553, to enact the Panji stories.[17] The word "gedog" comes from "kedok," which, like "topeng," means "mask." Wayang kulit performances of the Panji cycle are similar to performances of the wayang purwa (those based on the Indian epics); however, because of their material they are considered less significant. In addition, the headdresses worn by the characters are simpler, and the garment worn on the lower body is based on Javanese court dress.[18] Plots based on the Panji cycle are also common in East Javanese wayang klitik (using wooden puppets), in West Javanese wayang golek (using three-dimensional rod puppets), and in wayang beber (stories depicted pictorially on scrolls).[19] It is also the principal basis of the stories used in wayang topeng (masked dance-pantomime).[20]

In Bali, where the cycle is known as Malat, the story is performed in the gambuh plays and in the operatic Arja.[6] Gambuh first appeared in Bali at the peak of the Hindu kingdoms in the sixteenth century when, following the Islamization of Java, Javanese noble families and clergy sought refuge in Bali. The literary traditions and art forms which had originally been imported into Java by Indian sages and scholars were transferred, along with the splendor of the royal Javanese courts, to the courts of Bali, where they were preserved during the centuries that followed. Gambuh, a form of theater which includes dancing, music and dialogue, reflects the values which prevailed at the time of the royal courts of Java and Bali. Based on the Malat, gambuh always portrays the struggle between forces of good and evil, with good triumphing at the end.

All the episodes of the Malat are recorded in a manuscript written in the old courtly kawi language and kept in a special place by the lead performer or by the most senior member of the theater in a special place. The noble characters express themselves in the classical kawi language, which is incomprehensible to the audience, but the servant characters speak among themselves in ordinary Balinese and act as intermediaries between the noble characters and the audience. Traditional performances lasted as long as six hours; today only certain episodes are performed, and the performances are much shorter. In the royal courts, gambuh was performed for the benefit of important visitors by companies of actors who lived in the palaces and were patronized by the kings. The parts of the royal and noble characters were often reserved for members of the royal family. Gradually, village communities took over from the courts, and the function of gambuh changed. It is now one of the rituals associated with the feasts and festivals which take place in and around the temple (odalan) every 210 days in the Balinese calendar, when the gods are welcomed and entertained by humans. Gambuh depicts the political exploits of Panji, while Arja and other forms emphasize the romantic drama between Raden Panji and Candra Kirana.[21]

Episodes from the epic of Panji epic are also popular subjects for Balinese painters and craftsmen.

Panji tales spread from East Java to become a fertile source for literature and drama throughout Bali, Malaya, Thailand, Laos, the Philippines and Myanmar.[6]

Panji stories are circulated predominantly in two languages, Javanese and Malay. They are part of the repertoire of Malay shadow plays, and remained part of Malay culture even after Hinduism declined and the influence of Islam became predominant.


  1. Holt, 124.
  2. Holt, 128.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, History of Indian and Indonesian Art (New York: Dover, 1985), 207.
  4. Frits A. Wagner, Indonesia; The Art Of An Island Group, Ann E. Keep, tr. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959), 92.
  5. Holt, 274.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Holt, 274.
  7. Holt, 88.
  8. Holt, 154-155.
  9. As outlined in Holt, 274. Three variations are given on 307-314.
  10. Emilko Susilo, Gambuh: A Dance-Drama of the Balinese Courts, Continuity and Change in the spiritual and Political Power of Balinese Performing Arts. Retrieved May 16, 2008.
  11. Frits A. Wagner, Indonesia; The Art Of An Island Group, Ann E. Keep, tr. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959), 92.
  12. Holt, 274.
  13. History of Indonesia 1000-1527, Indonesia Portal Retrieved May 16, 2008.
  14. James R. Brandon, On Thrones of Gold: Three Javanese Shadow Plays, Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1970, 9.
  15. James R. Brandon, Theatre in Southeast Asia (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1967), 106.
  16. Holt, 71.
  17. Brandon, 6.
  18. Jeune Scott-Kemball, Javanese Shadow Puppets: The Raffles Collection in the British Museum (Trustees of the British Museum, 1970), 41.
  19. Holt, 125, 127, 312.
  20. Holt, 128.
  21. Emilko Susilo, Gambuh: A Dance-Drama of the Balinese Courts, Cité Bleue, Geneve, Wednesday 3 May 2000. Retrieved May 16, 2008

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Alibasah, Margaret M. 1975. Indonesian folk tales. Jakarta: Djambatan.
  • Brandon, James R., Pandam Guritno, and Roger A. Long. 1993. On thrones of gold three Javanese shadow plays. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0585301441 ISBN 9780585301440
  • Brandon, James R. 1967. Theatre in Southeast Asia. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
  • Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish. 1985. History of Indian and Indonesian art. New York: Dover Publications.
  • Holt, Claire. 1967. Art in Indonesia; continuities and change. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
  • Galestin, Th. P., L. Langewis, and Rita Bolland. 1956. Lamak and Malat in Bali and a Sumba loom. Amsterdam: Royal Tropical Institute.
  • Rassers, W. H. 1959. Pañji, the culture hero; a structural study of religion in Java. The Hague: M. Nijhoff.
  • Robson, S. O. 1971. Wan̦ban̦ wideya. A Javanese Pañji romance. Bibliotheca Indonesica, 6. The Hague: Nijhoff.
  • Vickers, Adrian. 2005. Journeys of desire: a study of the Balinese text Malat. Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 217. Leiden: KITLV. ISBN 9067181374 ISBN 9789067181372
  • Wagner, Frits A. 1959. Indonesia; the art of an island group. Art of the world; the historical, sociological and religious backgrounds. New York: McGraw-Hill.


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