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Old 5th September 2019, 12:01 AM   #10
A. G. Maisey
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Yes Gustav, Bernet Kempers does identify the central figure as a punakawan, and frankly, I have a bit of a problem with that too. In my reference ("Ancient Indonesian Art", A.J. Bernet Kempers, Harvard University Press, 1959) the Tantri Kamandaka is not mentioned. If Bernet Kempers was able to link this bas-relief to one of the Tantri stories, this would seem to indicate that this bas-relief came from a site which had more, or all of the Tantri stories, the Tantri stories do not stand alone, but as a series of animal tales containing advice on statecraft & morals suitable for a ruler. They are drawn from the original Pancatantra, which is a sort of Indian 1001 nights, Pancatantra is written in Sanskrit.

The Tantri stories appear on several candis in East Jawa and in Central Jawa. They can be found on Candi Mendut and Candi Sojiwan in Central Jawa, these are Early Classical, so pre-date the Kamandaka, but in East Jawa there are 14(?) Tantri stotries on Candi Jago, and 11 (?) or these can be related to the Kamandaka. Candi Jago is mid-14th century.

In Jawa the Pancatantra was used to produce five different versions, the oldest version is the Tantri Kamandaka which was produced around 1000AD to 1050AD, which places it around the period of transition from Central Jawa to East Jawa cultural period.

Now, in Old Javanese the word punakawan (panakawan) comes from "kawan", kawan means "friend", "panakawan" a member of a group that forms followers or retinue. In Modern Javanese "panakawan" means a servant or a follower, but has the further specific meaning in association with the wayang of being a clown-servant of the hero. In wayang there are four panakawan:- Semar, Petruk, Gareng, Bagong. Non-native speakers of Javanese tend to think of a panakawan in association with its wayang usage where the idea of servant + humour is present, but in reality the primary meaning of the word "panakawan/punakawan" is simply a member of a group of followers or retinue.

So, we have the question of whether Bernet Kempers intended his identification of the central figure as a panakawan to be wayang related, or whether the word should be understood in its general, rather than specific sense. Since he uses the word "comic" we can be reasonably confident that he is using panakawan in the sense of a wayang character. This is where the problem arises, because it seems probable that the comic nature of the wayang panakawans did not arise until wayang golek was replaced by wayang purwa in the 15th century in Demak, the replacement occurred because of Raden Patah's prohibition that applied to the wayang golek puppets.

So, if wayang punakawans became comic in the 15th century, how could a bas relief attributed to an earlier period represent a comic punakawan? Bear in mind, in Majapahit Old Javanese was in use, and a wayang punakawan was not automatically a comic figure. Moreover, the comic punakawan is associated with the Ramayana, and the Tantri stories do not involve the Ramayana.

I apologise for all this digression into off-topic matters, but the problem is this:- we cannot sensibly discuss the implications and intended meanings or purposes of Javanese/Balinese artistic representations in the absence of very diverse understanding of related fields, nor can we adopt a mental frame of reference that draws only upon our own life experience in the present era. In simple terms we need to try to adopt a frame of reference that applies to the time at which the matter being examined was generated.

We do not learn to understand the keris by studying the keris, we need to diversify our attentions and look at other elements.
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