Indic Ornaments on Javanese Shores Retooling Sanskrit Figures in the Old Javanese Rāmāyaṇa

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Yigal Bronner
Helen Creese



The Old Javanese Rāmāyaṇa Kakawin, the earliest known Javanese literary work, is based on the sixth-century Sanskrit Bhaṭṭikāvya. It is an outcome of a careful and thorough project of translation and adaptation that took place at a formative moment in the cultural exchange between South and Southeast Asia. In this essay we explore what it was that the Javanese poets set out to capture when they rendered the Bhaṭṭikāvya into Old Javanese, what sort of knowledge and protocols informed their work, in what way the outcome was different from the original, and what the Old Javanese Rāmāyaṇa can teach us about Bhaṭṭi’s poem and the nascent poetics of kakawin literature. In particular, we show how Sanskrit figures of speech, or ornaments (alaṃkāra) were understood, commented upon, expanded, and reconfigured. A close look at these texts allows us insights into this remarkable moment of cultural exchange.

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