A Malayan Variation of the Mahabharata
Pradip Bhattacharya
HIKAYAT PANDAVA LIMA: A MALAY MAHABHARATA by Translated from the original Malay by Harry Aveling Writers Workshop, Kolkata, 2024, 309 pp., INR 1200.00
June 2024, volume 48, No 6

Professor Aveling has complemented his translation of Hikayat Seri Rama, the Malay Ramayana (2020) by translating into English a Malay Pandava Chronicle, one of the many versions of the Mahabharata in Southeast Asia, drawing upon the old Javanese Bharatayuddha (1157-59 CE), Ghatokachasraya and Hariwangsa. Dated vaguely 1350-1700, the anonymous Hikayat Pandava Lima was meant for recitation in the royal court. Hikayat Pandava Lima, suggests Aveling, is a collection of scripts for staging with actors or puppets. The heroic episodes are peppered with erotica and clowning, e.g., Rajuna (Arjuna) having fun at the expense of his attendants Semar and Chemura, as in Wayang theatre.

Claiming to relate in Malay the Javanese story of their ancestors, the Indian source is obvious. Mantras are in Javanese. Islamic influence is apparent in Darmawangsa’s (Yudhishthira’s) infallible weapon kalima sada (kalima shahadah, declaration of faith), and in scribal notes that resurrection and rebirth are untrue.

Continue reading this review