Variations in Indonesian Mahabharata
by Indrajit Bandyopadhyay

Ramayana and Mahabharata reached Java along the trade routes by the first centuries C.E. and possibly much earlier. Naturally, some of the Mahabharata narratives in Indonesia may be older than the Indian Mahabharata in its present corpus, which was still evolving as late as 4th Century A.D. There is thus, no way turning away from the Indonesian version, some parts of which may even be closer to Vyasa’s ‘original‘. It is better to admit at the outset that though we propose here to discus some major Indonesian variations, the term ‘variation‘ is entirely relative in so far as it may well be the other way round.

Our main sources of the Indonesian version are the old Javanese Literatures and renderings, folk culture and Wayang puppet show. Most scholars now agree that Wayang made its entry in Javanese culture at the latest during the rule of King Sri Maha Panggung (Raden Jaka Pakukuhan), in the 4th century. Furthermore it was developed by Airlangga, one of the great kings in East Java in the 11th century. Wayang Kulit was declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization “a masterpiece of the oral and intangible of humanity” in Paris on Nov.7, 2003.

Wayang Kulit means “shadow from leather”. Wayang is a Javanese word meaning “shadow” or “ghost”, kulit means “leather”. It is a theatrical performance of living actors (Wayang orang), three dimensional puppets (Wayang golek) or shadow images projected before a backlit screen (Wayang kulit). The Wayang kulit uses two-dimensional puppets chiseled by hand of buffalo or goat parchment; like paper dolls, but with arms that swivel. The story teller and puppet master is called Dalang. He plays different characters with its different voice, with the accompaniment of Gamelan, Javanese traditional orchestra, as the background music. These shadow puppet plays (there are well over 200 different plays) contain the elements of the great Indian epics but have been made uniquely Javanese.

Bil Baird, in his book ‘The Art of the Puppet ‘ says, ‘Perhaps the most interesting of the south-Indian puppet types … were the Tholubomalatta — the articulated, leather, shadow puppets — which are the probable ancestors of Indonesia’s Wayang.’ Victor H. Mair gives a concise run-down of the literary evidence for ancient Indian shadow theatre: ‘It is likely that the shadow play existed already in the first century B.C……there is a reference to rupparupakam in the Pali Therigatha (“Hymns of the Elder Nuns”). This may be compared to a reference to rupopajivana in the twelfth book of the Mahabharata (12.194, II. 5-6)…….the tolubommalata (“the play of leather dolls”) of Andhra Pradesh, the tolubommalata (“the play of leather dolls”) of Tamil Nadu, the togalugombai atta (“the play of leather dolls”) of Karnataka, and the tholupava kootu (“the play of leather dolls”) of Kerala…….In Indonesia, whereto Hindu culture spread around AD 100, we have the Wayang theatre. One form of Wayang theatre serves to demonstrate the possible origin of puppetry from picture explanations. Considered the oldest form of Wayang, this is the Wayang beber, a picture narration form. Its history is interesting and revealing for the demonstration of the origins of shadow theatre.’

The Mahabharata narratives as found in present Wayang consist of folk-narratives developed by Wayang puppet-masters and bards over the ages, as also the narratives of Old Javanese Literature, which perhaps itself owes much to Folk-narratives. Kakawin Bhāratayuddha is an Old Javanese poetical rendering of some Parvas of the Mahabharata by Mpu Sedah and his brother Mpu Panuluh in Indian meters (kāvya or Kakawin). The commencement of this work was exactly November 6, 1157. It is by far the oldest extant Javanese work. Some important Kakawins relevant to our present discussion are – Kakawin Arjunawiwaha, by Mpu Kanwa, – 1030, Kakawin Krsnayana, Kakawin Bharatayuddha, by Mpu Sedah and Mpu Panuluh, 1157, Kakawin Hariwangsa Kakawin Gatotkacaśraya, Kakawin Arjunawijaya, by Mpu Tantular, and Kakawin Parthayajña.

With reference to Old Javanese literature and particularly Wayang puppet show, let us now see what major variations we find in the Indonesian narrative from its Indian origin. Let us also see the similarities of some Indian variations with the Indonesian narrative.


In the wayang kulit/leather-puppet performance Prabu Matsyapati or Durgandana, is the King of Wiroto(Virata). He is the son of Basukiswara, a just and powerful king of Cedhiwiyasa. Virataraja Matsya is Satyabati’s brother. Satyabati or Durgandini makes love to Bambang Palasara (Rishi Parashara) in a boat and produces five children.

Among them one daughter Rekatawati later on marries her own uncle Prabu Matsyapati. The other four brothers live and serve in the palace of Wirata. Palasara and Durgandini or Satyawati come to stay in the palace, learn the art of love (kamashashtra) and Satyawati gives birth to Kresna Dwipayana. Their new palace and country/island is named Astina. Palasara changes his name to Prabu/King Dipakeswara. They live together happily for several years. Thus in the Indonesian version Satyavati and Parashara is a happily married couple, whereas in the Indian version it is just a ‘one-day’ affair. Here Satyabati is a member of the royal palace, whereas in the Indian version she is brought up by a fisherman. The Indian Jain version of the Mahabharata also supports that Vyasa is a legitimate child.

Durgandana or King Matswapati accepts his brother-in-law Palasara as his Guru. When Palasara’s father, the hermit of Satasrengga or Sapta Arga, Begawan Sakri(Vashishtha’s son Shakti) passes away, he has to return to Satasrengga respecting the last wish of his father. He has also been told by Narada that Satyawati should marry Sentanu. Despite intense inner conflict, he finally leaves the life of palace. Kresna Dwipayana follows him to Setasrengga and becomes his student. This has a parallel in the Keralian Cherusseri Bharatham or Bharatagatha. After Vyasa’s birth, Parasara instructs Satyavati that she will become the King’s wife and not to accept anything from the King till he gives her the land.

Vyasa is thus related to this land of Matsya through his mother, and Shantanu-Satyabati love-affair and marriage becomes a ‘celestial script’ written by Narada! This Indonesian version perhaps provides an explaination to the Indian story why the Pandavas chose Virata on Dhaumya’s advice for their incognito one-year exile. In the Indian Mahabharata Dhaumya is a Vyaghrapadi Brahmin, which is one sect of Vashishtha i.e. Vyasa’s Gotra. Again Yudhishthira identifies himself as a Vyaghrapadi before king Virata.

The Indonesian version makes Kresna Dwaipayana the actual King of Hastinapura after the death of Bhisma’s brothers. He rules the country wisely. The life in his kingdom is just and prosperous. Later he steps down as king and carries on a life as a hermit. He changes his name to Begaban Abiyoso(Vyasa). There is no niyoga here; Vyasa actually marries the Princesses of Kasi Kingdom, Ambika and Ambalika, after the death of his half-brothers.


King Sentanu (Shantanu) and the queen of Hastinapura Satyawati or Durgandini sends Bhisma to join the contest in Kasi to win the three princesses Amba, Ambika and Ambalika for his two younger brothers, Citragada and Citrasena (Chitrangada and Bichitrabirya). Shantanu is alive when Bhisma goes to the Swamvara. In the Indian version Shantanu and Chitrangada are already dead.

Amba falls in love with Bhisma and wants to marry him. Bhisma tries hard to convince her of the impossibility of the union. He asks Amba to marry with her lover, Salwa, the King of Soba Kingdom. But she has already admitted Bhisma as her husband. Bhisma desperately tries to scare her with his arrow. Amba says she would rather die than live in shame. Unintentionally the arrow gets shot, and Amba is killed. Amba’s spirit curses Bhisma that in Baratayuda she would pick-up his soul through a lady-warrior expert in archery. Bhisma deeply regrets the accident because he has also started loving Amba. After his death in Baratayuda, his soul and Amba’s, live together happily in eternal life in heaven. There is no Bhisma-Parashuram duel here or Amba’s reincarnation. Bhisma is more humane here with a vibrating heart beneath his ascetic mask. In the Keralian Cherusseri Bharatham too Amba wants to marry Bhisma and approaches Vyasa to advise Bhisma to marry her.


Gendari (Gandhari) plants hatred in the mind of her sons against Pendawa(Pandavas) because her love to Pandu is rejected. That is why the Korawa(Kauravas) always hate the Pendawa since their childhood. The portrayal of Gandhari as an evil character has its parallel in the Keralian oral epic Mavaratam Pattu. Kantakari (Gandhari) wishes to see the children of Kuncutevi (Kunti) dead. She tries to kill them. In the seventh month of Kuncutevi’s pregnancy, Kantakari tries to poison Kuncutevi. Once, seeing blood coming out through the drain of a room where the Pandavas are sleeping, Kantakari, assuming that the Pandavas are killed, rejoices and bathes in the blood. She is depicted as a blood-thirsty woman.


King Pandu appoints Sangkuni (Shakuni) as his chief minister, after Gandamana quits. In the Indian version Shakuni gains prominence only after Dhritarashtra ascends throne.

Sursena’s cousin Sang Kuntiboja raises Kunti and ‘ratu pedanda siwa budha’ (high priest) performs ‘upacara meningkat dewasa’, her puberty ceremony. This is indeed a very fine example of Indonesianization of Mahabharata. In Indonesia it is an ancient practice that a girl’s first menses is celebrated and then the rite of tooth filling follows for girls and boys. This ceremony must be carried out before marriage; often it is incorporated into the marriage ceremony. The canine teeth, which the Balinese regard as animalistic fangs, are filed flat. This represents the moving out of the more extreme aspects of one’s personality as one enters adulthood. After the tooth-filling a father’s duties to his female children are generally regarded as being completed.

The Indonesian version tallies with the Indian in that Kunti menstruates when Durvasa/Brahmana stays as a guest in Kuntibhoja’s house. Here is something new that Kunti is ‘Ratu Begawan Duwasena’s’ (Durvasa) disciple. The rest of the story is similar. Here is also a very clear hint what Durvasa might have done to her. Kunti is said to have ‘felt wrong and not ready to be a mother’. (My article ‘Karna’s Father Found‘)

The Indonesian Surya myth goes as follows. One night, attracted by Kunti’s mantra, Betara Surya(Sun-God) arrives. The young Kunti is trapped by god Surya and becomes pregnant. His father is very angry. Thus, here Kuntibhoja knows Kunti’s childbirth. Betara Surya admits his responsibility. The Indian Surya slipped away! With Surya’s magical strength, Kunti delivers a son through her ear and remains a virgin. As the son is born through ear, his name is Karna, or Suryaputra or Suryaatmaja. In Javanese traditional teachings, ears are the gate of amorous desire. Karna’s birth through Kunti’s ear has a parallel in the Indian variation of Bheel Mahabharata found among the Dungari Bheels of Gujarat. The Keralian Cherusseri Bharatham too has the same myth of Karna’s birth through Kunti’s ear.
According to one version of Wayang, Sang Prabhu Pandu is alive when his sons become disciples of Risi Krepa and Rsi Drona. The Indian version has Pandu long been dead.

Here Puntadewo (Yudistira), Bratasena (Bima) and Permadi (Arjuna) all three are Pandu’s biological sons. The Gods are the Pandavas’ spiritual fathers.


Widura (Vidura) marries Padmarini, the daughter of King Dipakendra of Pangombakan. He gets a son, Sanjaya and two daughters, Padmasari and Padmawati. Here, Sanjaya is Vidura’s son. Vidura is also the father-in-law of Nakula and Sahadeva! The Indonesian version thus offers an explanation of Vidura’s partiality for the Pandavas, and leaves no room to speculate that Vidura fathered Yudhishthira.


In the Indonesian version Yatugriha-parva is a bit different. The lac house is set at Balai Sigala-gala, a retreat palace of Bharata family. The conspiring Kauravas are present with the Pandavas. It is Narada who comes and reveals to the Pandavas about the conspiracy. When the fire begins to burn the palace, they follow a Garangan (white squirrel) and escape through an underground tunnel. Narada vanishes. In the Indian version, Dhritarashtra sends the Pandavas to Varnabarta. Vidura realises the conspiracy and appoints a Khanaka (tunnel-digger). The presence of at least some of the Kauravas has a parallel in the Keralian Bharatam Pattu, where Karna and Shakuni surround the lac house and set fire to it.


Kresna calls him Samiaji. His other name is Guna Talikrama. His childhood name is Puntodewa . He has a holy heirloom Jamus Kalimasada, for protection, truth and mastering the true knowledge of life (Ilmu Sejati). When he sees a terrible injustice, he becomes angry and automatically transforms (Triwikrama) into a huge white giant.

Yudhishthira cannot reject the gambling proposal by Korawa and Sengkuni because he is seduced by forbidden Mo Limo .

Yudhishthira takes active part in cleansing the jungle of Wanamarta. This episode is known as Babat Wanamarta. He has to face a spirit-giant in a duel. The giant has an heirloom in the form of a set of earrings. He challenges Yudhishthira to wear his earrings. If he is strong enough to wear the earrings, then the spirit-giant would surrender. Yudhishthira proves to be strong to wear them and the giant accepts his defeat. He wishes to serve Yudhishthira forever, In Baratayuda, the giant does nothing when Yudhishthira fights against King Salya.

He has two wives

1) Drupadi is his loyal wife. Pancawala is his son from Draupadi.
2) Dewi Kuntulwilaten

After the Baratayuda, he rules Hastinapura again with his new name, Prabu Kalimataya.


Bima or Werkudara’s other names are Bayu Tanaya, Dandum Wacana, Kusuma Waligita, Bondan Paksajandu and Satria Jodipati. His name as a child was Arya Bratasena. Once he becomes a king of Gilingwesi by the name of Prabu Tungguwasesa .

Besides a well known warrior, Bhima is a spiritual person in pursuit of the knowledge of truth (Ilmu Sejati). In search of Holy Water- Perwitasari, the essence of life he becomes omniscient. He becomes a fighter of truth, a Satrio Pinandito, who has mastered the knowledge of truth – Ilmu sejati,. He has a separate palace named Jodypati. To everybody, even to Dewas (gods) he speaks in Ngoko language (lower level language). Only to Dewa Ruci (a God resembling him) he speaks in Kromo Inggil language (high level language). This shows he never thinks of himself as elite, but is a very down-to-earth person.

He has at least two wives other than Draupadi

1) Nagagini, the daughter of Sang Hyang Antaboga(Ananta Nag), a god ascetic living in the seventh layer of the earth(Sapta Pratala). She is an earth goddess. In the Keralian Mavaratam Pattu too Bhima marries a serpent girl.

2) Dewi Urang Ayu, the daughter of Sang Hyang Baruna, a powerful god living under the ocean. In Balinese mythology Devi Durga, a goddess of death and disease, is Varuna’s wife. That makes Durga Bhima’s mother-in-law! Whew!

As a father he is a loser, because all his powerful sons Antareja, Gatotkaca and Antasena die long before him.

1)      Antareja is son of Bima with Nagagini. Educated and trained by his own grand-father, Antareja becomes invincible. He has tremendous magical power. If he licks the footprint of someone, that person would die. If he participates in the Kuru-war with his unbelievable power, the Kurus should be eliminated within a short time. He is too strong for any opponent. Furthermore there is a prediction that if he takes part in Baratayuda he should meet Baladewa. Kresna knows that his brother cannot match Antareja. Kresna secretly executes heaven’s order by causing his death. Antareja licks his own footprint and dies at once. This story of killing of Ghatothkacha’s son is akin to the Rajasthani and Assamese story of Barbareek’s death caused by Krishna. In a Dalit telling of the Mahabharata i.e. deval stories sung in jagrans by ‘untouchable’ Meghwals, one such story is that of Khatu Shyamji. Krishna is responsible for Ghatotkach’s son Barbareek. Barbareek’s headless body is worshipped in a temple in Sikar, Rajasthan. In Telugu folk narratives too the same story of Barbareek is found.

2)      Antasena, sea goddess Urang Ayu’s son. He also has strong magical ability to kill his enemies by spitting over his poison. Anantasena’s prowess is like a spitting cobra. He is very much concerned for the victory of Pandavas in Bharatayuddha. He is advised by his grand-father to ask to Sang Hyang Wenang, the greatest decision-maker of life, the grand-father of Batara Guru about the result of the war. When Antasena asks him what he is supposed to do, to secure Pandava’s victory, Sang Hayang Wenang tells him, that he has to be a Tumbal (spiritual tool to gain something) for Pendawa. In other word, he has to sacrifice his life. Antasena has no objection to sacrifice himself. Sang Hyang Wenang stares at him sharply, using his extraordinary powerful eyes, focussing on a spot between his eyes. Astonishingly, Antasena’s body becomes smaller and smaller and he vanishes. His soul returns to heaven. Thus, he cannot take part in Bharatayuddha.

3)      Gatokaca, from Arimbi (Hirimba).

Bhima has also powerful grandsons

1)      Danurwinda (son of Antareja) serves as a Patih (Prime Minister) under Parikesit.

2)      Sasi Kirana (son of Gatotkaca and Arjuna’s daughter Pergiwa) is a chief-warrior of Hastinapura under Parikesit.

There is no mention of Barbareek here or his mother Maurvi. However according to folklore of Rajasthan, Barbareek is the son of Bhim and a Nag Kanya – Ahilawati. Since Nagagini is a Naga-kanya, Ahilawati might be Nagagini, and Antareja and Barbareek might be same.


Arjuna’s name as a boy is Permadi.

He is a religious-minded adventurer who never keeps himself confined within the Karaton (Kuru) wall. Sometimes, he lives as an ascetic, sometimes he goes to remote places to learn from a guru or sometimes he meditates alone.

Arjuna is also incarnation of Wisnu (Vishnu). In the episode of Kresna’s (Krishna) marriage with Rukmini, both of them appear as Wisnu, fighting each other. It is stopped immediately by Barata Guru. The story appears in Kakawin Harivamsha. This story of Krishna-Arjuna fight has a parallel in a Bengali folk version, though over different issue. In the Tamil ‘Kurkshetra Malai’ too we get Krishna fighting Pandavas who are helped by Duryodhana.

Arjuna’s wives and sons are many. His wives other than Draupadi are

1)      Dewi Jimambang, the daughter of Begawan Wilwuk from Pringgadani (Hirimba’s kingdom). She falls in love with Arjuna when the Pandavas are cleaning the jungle of Wanamarta to build a new palace. From his father-in-law, Arjuna receives a kind of perfume oil, Jayengkaton. With this perfume oil, the unseen becomes clearly visible.

2)      Princes Subadra, Kresna’s twin sister from the Kingdom of Mandura.

3)      Srikandi(Shikhandi, Draupadi’s sister). After seeing Arjuna at the time of his marriage to Subhadra, she falls in love with him. Srikandi becomes his disciple in archery. After completing her course in archery, Srikandi tells Arjuna that he could be her husband, if he could find a woman who can defeat her in an archery contest. Larasati is appointed by Arjuna. In the contest, Srikandi loses willingly and gains Arjuna. Looks like ‘Dil ki baji jita jang har kar’!

4)      Larasati. ‘Laras’ means ‘to tune-up, feeling relaxed’ etc., ‘Ati’ means ‘heart.’

5)      Arjuna has also several goddess wives. The most beautiful is goddess Supraba. She is also the most beautiful goddess in Khayangan (the abode of gods). He marries Supraba as a gift from Batara Guru (Indra) after defeating Nirwatakawaca (Nivatakabacha), the ogre giant King. The Arjunawiwaha dance-drama (Wayang Wong or Sendratari), Yogyakarta style, describes the marriage between Arjuna and the heavenly nymphs. 0ne day the giant king Newatakawaca from Ngimanimantaka proposes Supraba. Nivatakavacha has a goddess wife, Dewi Prabasini, with whom he has two sons: Bumiloka and Bumisangara and a daughter Mustakaweni. But it is not enough for him. Still he wants to marry Supraba . His request is turned down by the gods. But all the gods are unable to face Newatakawaca. According to the gods, only Arjuna can face him. At that time Arjuna happens to be living as an ascetic.

Batara Guru, disguised as a king, called Kilatawarna, tests Arjuna’s supernatural powers. First Arjuna is tempted by beautiful nymphs from heaven, including Dewi Supraba, but he cannot be tempted. Then a wild boar (disguise of Mamangmurka, commander-in-chief of Newatakawaca) destroys the plants around Arjuna, who is in meditation. A startled Arjuna takes his bow and arrow and shoots it. To his surprise the boar is shot at the same time by Kilatawarna. The two quarrels and a violent fight ensue. Kilatnwarna is beaten and changes into Batara Guru. This episode is a clear parallel to the Kirata-Arjuna episode in the Indian version, though there is no Shiva here. Batara Guru conveys to Arjuna the real purpose of his visit, and finding that Arjuna is willing to kill Newatakawaca, Batara Guru gives him a magic arrow called Pasupati. Newatakawaca has received no answer from the gods to his proposal and is impatient and angry. When Arjuna approaches him, Newatakawaca stabs him with his weapon called limpung (a short lance). Arjuna pretends that he has been killed, and Supraba comes to tease Newatakawaca, who is delighted and bursts into hilarious laughter. Arjuna uses this opportunity to shoot the Pasupati arrow at the root of Newatakawaca’s tongue, which is his vulnerable spot. Newatakawaca is killed instantly. As a reward the gods marry Arjuna to Supraba and other heavenly nymphs. Arjuna is crowned as king of heaven for seven days with plenty of wives!

6)      Dresanala, the daughter of Betara Brama.

7)      Wilutama, another Goddess.

8)      Duryodhana’s wife Banowati. Arjuna is her secret lover, and after Duryodhana’s death their love affair continues. He marries her. But she is killed by Ashwathama.

9)      After Banowati is killed by Aswatama, Arjuna is very sad. Then he marries Citrahoyi, the widow of Arjunapati, who resembles Banowati.

10)  Naga-kanya Palupi (Ulupi).

11)  A Rishi-kanya. She is daughter of Resi Sidiwaspada from the abode of Glagahwangi.

The Indian version of Mahabharata portrays Arjuna as invincible in love and war. The Indonesian version makes him lose in both matters at least once. What’s more, this same story combines Ekalavya-episode, Dhristradumnya-birth-episode and Arjuna’s defeat all in one! Palgunadi is the king of Paranggelang. He wants to be Drona’s student, but Drona refuses, telling him he is too occupied with Pendawa-Korawa education. Palgunadi through meditation creates a statue of Drona. He makes self-training diligently, accompanied by his faithful and beautiful wife, Dewi Anggraini. Later Drona, upon seeing, Palgunadi’s expertise agrees to recognize him as his student. Arjuna challenges Palgunadi to a duel but is defeated. Arjuna protests. Drona is afraid to lose his job in Hastina and by trickery he seeks Palgunadi’s ring heirloom called Roning Ampal. Palgunadi, believing that he is accepted as his student, gives it to Drona. Now he is easily killed by Drona. Palgunadi’s soul vows to take revenge in Baratayuda. He incarnates as Drestajumena (Dhrishtadumnya). In memory of Palgunadi, Drona gives a new name to Arjuna, Palguna. Arjuna now desires Dewi Anggraini. But she refuses his love. She remains loyal to her husband’s memory and rejects Arjuna’s temptation. Arjuna’s falling in love with the Indonesian Ekalabya’s wife, and the Indonesian Ekalabya taking rebirth as Dhrishtadumnya is indeed a gem of a variation!

Arjuna’s progenies are

1)      Wisanggeni from Dresanala. He is not afraid of anybody. Like Bima and Antasena, he speaks in Ngoko language. His fate is the same as Antasena’s. He disappears mysteriously before Bharatayuddha. In Tamil Peruntevanar’s version of 5th-6th century AD, Aravan, Arjuna’s son, is sacrificed pre-war; to ensure a Pandava victory. The Tamil ‘Aravan Ammanai’ too sings of the sacrifice of Aravan to Kotravai (Durga). The sacrifice is celebrated in Vallalur near Coimbatore.

2)      Wilugangga from Wilutama.

3)      Ongko Wijaya or Abimayu (Abhimanyu) from Subhadra. His wives were – Dewi Utari (Uttara) of Wirata. Their son is Parikesit (Parikhshit). Another of his wife is Siti Sundari, Kresna’s daughter. In the Eleventh-century old Javanese ‘ Kakawin Ghatotkacšraya’, it is Goddess Durga, who comes to the aid of separated lovers, and unites Abhimanyu and Siti Sunadari. Abhimanyu marries Siti Sundari after quite an adventure, helped by Ghatothkacha. Duryodana’s son Lesmana Dakumara is also madly in love with the beautiful Siti Sundari. Abhimanyu and Ghatothkacha have to defeat them, and meanwhile Abhimanyu also finds twin girls – Pregiwa and Pregiwati – who turn out to be Arjuna’s daughters!

In the Tamil ‘Abimannan Sundari Malai’ of 6600 lines we find the same love story of Abhimanyu and Sundari, daughter of Krishna and Alarmelu Mankai. Sundari is asked for by Duryodhana for his son Lakkunan. Aravan and Ghatotkacha help Abhimanyu to win Sundari with krishna’s blessing. The story has another parallel in the Telugu folk version of ‘Shashirekha Parinayam’, where Ghatothkacha helps Abhimanyu’s marriage with Shashirekha, Balaram’s daughter.

Once King Duryudana informs his entourage that Wahyu Cakraningrat, or the divine blessing of kingship, is soon to descend to earth to be bestowed on the most worthy. The king summons his son, Lesmana, and commands him to strive for the Wahyu by going on a spiritual retreat in the Krendhayana forest. Meanwhile, in preparing himself to receive the Wahyu, Abimanyu is clearing his mind by taking a journey in an unknown forest, admiring its great beauty. Semar and his three sons accompany him. In passing through dense forest, Abimanyu encounters demon soldiers, who try to expel him from the forest. Abimanyu kills Gendir Penjalin, the Cakil (a giant with two movable arms and a portruding fang) and another demon. The essence of the Wahyu, taking the form of the god Wulandrema, enters Lesmana. The disguised receptacle of the Wahyu, taking the form of a beautiful woman, Wulandremi, attempts to seduce him. Ignoring Durna’s advice, Lesmana succumbs to Wulandremi’s seductive temptations. Wulandrema leaves him. Arjuna and Bima arrive at the scene and are delighted to learn that Abimanyu has received the Wahyu, since this means that Abimanyu’s descendants will be future kings.

4)      Bambang Irawan (Iravan) from Ulupi. He marries Titisari, another daughter of Kresna. He becomes the ruler of the kingdom of Rencang Kencana and is then called Prabu Gambir Anom. Arjuna and Duryodana each wants his own son to marry Krishna’s daughter, Titisari. The plot pits the houses of the Pandawas and the Kurawas against each other, with Krishna in the middle. To complicate matters further, Krishna’s eldest daughter, Siti Sendari has been separated from Abhimanyu as a result of family feud. Into this already complex situation steps the evil ogre king Barandjana. He is consumed by an overwhelming passion for the same young maiden. Fearing that Krishna would laugh at him if he sues for marriage, the ogre king decides he will steal the girl and make her his bride. The resultant confusion permits Siti Sendari to manipulate events. She succeeds in winning her sister’s hand for Iravan, and in the process reunites herself with her own husband, Abhimanyu. In the end, both Duryodana and the ogre king are defeated. The real heroine in this play is Siti Sundari, who uses intelligence and guile to bring about a happy ending. Iravan is killed in a duel in Bharatayuddha along with his enormous and strong enemy- a giant – Kalasrenggi.

5)      Bambang Sumitra, the son of Larasati. Semar, Arjuna’s loyal servant has to arrange the wedding ceremony of Sumitra, because Arjuna is negligent to his other sons. The wedding helped by gods is successful and extravagant.

6)      Priyambada. His mother is a Rishi-kanya, the daughter of Resi Sidiwaspada He helps Shikhandi to recover Kalimasada, the holy heirloom of Yudistira, stolen by the daughter of Niwatakawaca, Mustakaweni. After the recovery the happy-ending is the wedding of Mustakaweni with Priyambada. That Arjuna’s son marries Nivatakabacha’s daughter is indeed remarkable.

7)      Pregiwa and Pregiwati are his two daughters. Their mother is unknown. They are brought up by their grandfather – an old hermit named Begawan Sidikwacana. When they grow-up they ask who their father really is, and the grandfather tells them that their father is Arjuna. Then they set out in search of their father. Abhimanyu rescues them and finally they find their father. Ghatothkacha marries them with Arjuna’s permission. Ghatothkacha becoming Arjuna’s son-in-law is another interesting twist!
The famous arrow Kuntawijaya(Indra’s Ekaghnni of the Indian version) which could have killed Arjuna, had Karna not used it on Ghatothkacha falls into Karna’s hand by mistake of Batara Guru (Indra). The heirloom Kuntawijaya is an arrow with a case, a gift from Batara Guru for Arjuna. By mistake Batara Narada gives it to Karna, who resembles Arjuna. Karna and Arjuna struggle to obtain the heirloom. Karna gets the arrow while Arjuna gets its case only. This is an explanation how the Ekaghnni falls into Karna’s hand. This incident happens long before Bhima’s marriage to Hirimba.
Arjuna forgets to pray the safety of his sons to Batara Guru, and prays for the safety of Pandavas only. As a consequence, he becomes indirectly responsible for their death.

In the Indonesian version Arjuna and Karna have identical looks. Karna-Arjuna resemblance has a parallel in the Malayalam – Cherusseri Bharatham (Bharatagatha). In her swamvara Draupadi looks at Karna with desire, because she confuses Karna for Arjuna.

Kangsa (our very familiar Kamsha-mama) organizes a “cock fight” to eliminate Krishna-Balaram. Suratrimantra is his cock-fighter. He is sure, Kakrasana(Balaram) and Narayana should appear to see the fight. Then they would be killed. But in the thrilling fight the robust giant Suratrimantra is killed by Bratasena (young Bima). Kangsa is caught and assassinated by Permadi (Arjuna). This is indeed a great twist that Kansha is killed by Arjuna.


Nakula’s name as a child was Pinten. Nakula-Sahadeva has never seen their father as when they were born Pandu had died. Soon their mother died too, at young age. Only with their help, King Salya – the chief-warrior of Hastinapura could be quickly eliminated. After the Baratayuda, honouring King Salya’s wish, they become rulers of Mandaraka (Madra).

Nakula’s court domain is Sawojajar. He is an expert in agriculture. He has three wives other than Draupadi. Padmasari (the daughter of Widura), Dewi Suyati and Srengganawati.

Sahadeva’s childhood name was Tangsen. He is an expert in animal husbandry. Sadewa has a padepokan/spiritual retreat-Bumi Retawu . As a result of his solemn spiritual deeds he becomes a Satrio Pinandito (Kshatriya Pandit). With his powerful spiritual strength, he is able to release Betari Durga from her punishment. Sadewa helps her to gain back her true consciousness; she becomes again Dewi Uma, the wife of Betara Guru.

He too has three wives other than Draupadi – Padmawati (Widura’s daughter), Endang Sadarmi (daughter of Resi Tembang Petra from the hermit of Parangalas) and Srengginiwati. He has at least two sons – Raden Sabekti, a son from Endang Sadarmi and Dewi Tanjung a daughter from Srengginiwati


One Javanese Wayang sub-variation of Draupadi’s swamvara is however different. Here there is no archery competition. The winner of the contest is to be the one, who can defeat, Patih Gandamana, uncle of Draupadi, in a duel battle. It is as per the wish of king Drupada. Meanwhile Kunti and Pandavas decide to join the contest, with the purpose to get a wife for Yudhishthira. As Bima is already a married man, he represents Yudhidhthira, defeats Gandamana and wins her for his elder brother. Gandamana knows of his imminent death and gives his strength to Bhima before his death. That it is Bhima and not Arjuna who wins Draupadi has a parallel in Nepal’s Dangaura Tharu folk version of Mahabharata. Bhima shoots and hits the rau swamvara, which is the target in this case.

When Dursasana tries to undress Draupadi in front of the public, she is saved by Batara Darma, the god of justice. She vows that she would never wear a breast-cloth if not made from Dursasana skin. Her seeking help from Yama/ Dharma and not Krishna has a parallel in the Keralian Bharatmala. In the Keralian Cherusseri Bharatham too Draupadi is like Kali in her revenge. Hearing that Dussasana has fallen, Draupadi goes to the battlefield and puts her foot on his chest. Bhima tears Dussasana’s body into pieces and Drinks his blood. Draupadi wears the liver as a garland, collects the teeth of Dussasana and laughs.

Kencaka (Kichaka) has uncontrollable desire towards women. Kencaka is at first lustful to her and tries to possess her by temptation, but gradually his lust turns to love. He proposes her to be his official wife by the consent of the queen. With only two weeks time left for the end of the incognito exile, the situation poses a threat to the Pandavas. One night, Bima kills Kichaka. The Indonesian version gives Kichaka a human face as his lust turns to love. After the news of the death of Kencaka reaches the intelligent force of Korawa, they analyse, the killer has to be Bima and decides to attack Virata. In Bharatamala too, when Kicaka’s death is reported in the court of Hastinapura, elders conclude that Bhima has done it; Draupadi might be the cause.


Dewi Wara Sembadra is the twin sister of Narajana/Kresna. She is a charming, ‘black-sweet’ lady Dewi Roro Ireng. She is also very wise as an incarnation of Wisnu. Here, Basudewa and Pandu decide her marriage. Arjuna marries Subhadra with all pomp in a rather ‘social’ way. There is no Subhadra-harana by Arjuna. Even Pandu is alive at the time of the marriage. There is however Subhadra-harana by Bhurishrava (or by a giant according to another sub-variation) and Arjuna is the rescuer (Ghatothkacha in another variation).


The Indonesian version gives important place to the Pandava servants (the Ponokawans). Everywhere Arjuna goes, he is always escorted by his loyal servant, Semar, accompanied by his sons Gareng, Petruk, Bagong. They are inseparable. Semar is actually God Ismaya and it is his duty to always protect Arjuna. Semar is never tired to give wise advice to Arjuna. It is a unique master-servant relation!


As a youngster his name was Bambang Kumbayana. Durna’s father is a Brahmana (Hindu priest). Here there is no mention of his father or birth from his father’s ejaculated semen.

Gandamana from Cempala or Panchala kingdom is his ex-rival. Gandamana is Patih of Hastinapura. This is a remarkable departure from the Indian narrative that a man from Panchala is chief minister of Hastinapur. In the Indian version Kuru-Panchala are arch rivals with the rivalry spanning over generations. Durna has to involve in a face to face battle with Gandamana. Durna is totally defeated and one of his hands is fractured badly for life. His nose is broken, so he has a twisted nose forever.

Duryodhana and Dushhashana

Duryudana is not the legitimate heir of Hastinapura. The Indonesian Mahabharata takes a clear stand on the question of legitimacy. The wayang puppeteers call him Prabu Kurupati.

Gendari strongly influences Destarata and Sengkuni to coronate Duryodhana as king of Hastinapura. Despite their hatred for the Pandavas, Duryudana and his sister and brothers always ask help from the Pandavas in difficult time. Duryudana’s misbehaviour against the Pandavas is encouraged by Sengkuni, Karna and Burisrawa and other ruling elite of Hastinapura. He has a special hatred for Arjuna because he knows that his wife, Banowati (Bhanumati, the daughter of Shalya) secretly loves Arjuna.

There is no unfair warfare on Bima’s part in his climactic battle with Duryodhana. Bhima challenges him in duel with bludgeon. The fight is terrific but within a short time Duryudana is in trouble. Without shame, he runs away and tries to hide somewhere to save his life. At last, he is assassinated by Bima. That Duryodhana flees from battle has a parallel in Nepal’s Dangaura Tharu folk version of Mahabharata.

Dursasana too seeks help from Arjuna to marry princess Sartini from Srawantipura.


Resi Stunakarna helps Srikandi become a man. Her name changes to Bambang Kandihawa . As a man, he marries princess Durniti, the daughter of a giant king, Prabu Dike from the kingdom of Manimantaka. From this marriage, a son is born, by the name of Nirbita, who later-on, succeeds his grand-father as a king of Manimantaka. Nirbita’s grandfather is none other than Prabu Niwatakawaca.

She as a woman falls madly in love with Arjuna. Draupadi does not approve this. Shikhandi makes strategies which work. Once the Garden of Maerakaca , the palace garden in Pancala is badly damaged. Arjuna restores the garden, and is entitled to marry Srikandi.

In Yogyakarta there is another lakon, an addition to the Pregiwa -Pregiwati story, called lakon Suprabawati Tinanding (Suprabawati fighting Srikandi). When king Kresna holds the contest for his daughter, a king from Simbarmanyura called Dasalengkara, also wants to marry Dewi Siti Sundari. The wedding-gift is his twin sisters Dewi Suprabawati and Dewi Suradewati. Unfortunately, when the messenger arrives at Dwarawati the marriage between Abimanyu and Dewi Siti Sundari is already in preparation. Bima becomes violently angry and kicks the messenger out of the palace. A battle ensues. The all women troops from the Simbarmanyura kingdom are led by Dewi Suprabawati herself and her younger sister Dewi Suradewati. From the Pandawa family, the wives of Arjuna go to battle under the command of Srikandi. A heavy battle then takes place between the two women’s armies where even Garudas are used as vehicles for air-fights. Abirnanyu also joins the fighting as he feels responsible for the cause of it and Gatotkaca helps him. The Pandawas win the battle and the marriage between Abimanyu and Dewi Siti Sundari takes place without any hindrance.

Shikhandi’s ‘amazonian’ qualities have a parallel in the Tamil myth of Queen Alli. She is a rather masculine lady, until Arjuna tames her and makes a woman and faithful wife of her!


Gatotkaca’s other names are Jabang Tetuko, Purbaya and Satria Pringgadani.

When Gatotkaca is born, his navel can not be cut with any knife. Upon advice from a wise man, the navel is cut by the casing of Kunto arrow, the heirloom Arjuna gets from Batara Guru. But the Kunto’s casing goes inside the baby’s navel permanently. The fate predicts that when the arrow Kunto returns to its casing then Gatotkaca should die.

Gatotkaca becomes the new king of Pringgadani with full support of all his giant-uncles. Brajadenta and Brajamusti are his chief-warriors. Brajamusti is very loyal and caring to Gatotkaca. The youngest Uncle Kala Bendana is very kind-hearted and truthful. By a stroke of fate, Kala Bendara dies at Gatotkaca’s hand, when he tells Siti Sundari (Krishna’s daughter) the whereabouts of Abhimanyu, who is at that time marrying Dewi Utari (Uttara). Siti Sundari becomes very upset. Gatotkaca blames Bendana. He hits Kala Bendana too strong. The old good giant dies. But he loves his nephew very much and tells that he won’t go to heaven without Gatotkaca.

Gatotkaca admits his mistake and is ready to pay for it. In Bharatyuddha when Karna shoots the arrow Kunto, it can not reach Gatotkaca, because he flies too high. In a very quick move, Kalabendana’s spirit guides the arrow Kunto to return to its casing, which is inside Ghatothkacha. So, with the help of Kalabendana’s spirit, Kunto hits Gatotkaca. Gatotkaca’s spirit together with Kalabendana’s goes happily to eternity.
Once, Gatotkaca becomes a king in Kahyangan (heaven). Kahyangan is attacked by the forces of a giant king Pracona of Guwakrenda because Pracona’s proposal to marry the most beautiful goddess Dewi Supraba has been turned down. The gods have difficulties to defeat Guwakrenda’s troop. Gatotkaca is assigned to lead the battle. King Pracona and his powerful Patih (first-minister), Sekipu are killed by Gatotkaca. As a reward, he is given kingship of Kahyangan. Ghatothkacha is a great man. He, however, relinquishes the rule of heaven for the duties of his own country.
His wives are

1)      Pergiwa, Arjuna’s daughter. At the time Abhimanyu is going to marry Siti Sundari, Ghatothkacha sees Pregiwa and Pregiwath for the first time and falls madly in love with Pregiwa, He intends to ask his uncle Arjuna for her hand after they reach Madukara. Pregiwa silently responds to his love. Abhimanyu and Ghatothkacha arrive at Madukara, after defeating the Kauravas, and Arjuna is delighted to see that his son has managed to find twin girls, and is further exalted that they are his own daughters. Gatotkaca then asks Arjuna’s permission to marry Pregiwa, and his request is granted. Their son is Sasi Kirana who becomes one of Hastinapura’s chief-warrior under Parikesit.

2)      Suryawati

3)      Dewi Sumpani, a lady having strong supernatural power. In order to be more powerful, Gatotkaca has been given an Aji-aji/mantra called: Narantaka. To perfectly master the aji-aji, Gatotkaca has to meditate alone in a cave for 40 consecutive days with full abstinence from sex. Several days before the deadline, he feels that he is watched by a young lady. After finishing 40 days meditation, he goes out from the cave, and is greeted by an attractive village lady. The lady, Sumpani proposes him. Sumpani is not an ordinary village girl; she is a daughter of a powerful Resi. She has powerful mantras. Ultimately they marry.

One day, when Gatotkaca and his cousins are making a war exercise in Kurusetra, the Kauravas, led by Dursasana and his son Dursala attack them. Gatotkaca is captured but saved by his brother Antareja.


In Draupadi’s swamvara, one by one archers including king Shalya and Duryodhana fails. When Karna’s term comes, many people believe that he should be the winner, after seeing him raise the bow. But he misses the target and fails. This episode of Karna’s failure has a parallel in a Malayalam folk version — Cherusseri Bharatham (Bharatagatha). Karna fails in his attempt because of Krishna’s act, though there is no elaboration of what this act is. Again, the Tamil Vyasa Bharatam has similar things to say. Karna fails because when he tries to tie the string in the bow, it recoils and hurts him. In the Keralian Bharatmala too Karna fails in the contest along with Jarasandha, Salya, and Sisupala.

Karna wants to learn Brahmasirah mantra from Drona, but Drona refuses out of affection for Arjuna and also realising Karna’s foul intentions saying, ‘only holy, renounced yogis may know this mantra’. Many years later, Karna hearing a rumour about the death of the Pandavas, throws a big party and promises the people to give anything they want. Then leaving his wife Sutikanti and their seven sons under the care of her father (Shalya), he travels to Mt. Mnidyuti, to Bagawan Pongkatiksna’s holy dwelling. Once there, he meets his father, ‘sang hyang Surya’, who bestows him with Bajra Wijayacopa, a powerful energy weapon. He then travels to Mt. Mahendra to study with Begawan Ramaparasu, who because of Karna’s obedience and skill teaches him all he knows, including Brahmasirah mantra. Parashurama’s subsequent curse is similar to the Indian version.

The most poignant moment in the Indonesian version is the Karna-Arjuna meeting in the eve of Karna’s first day as the Kaurava army’s commander in chief. Arjuna secretly visits him. He has the most difficult moment in his life. Arjuna suddenly stands in front of him, kneels and greets him respectfully and says clearly, ‘Please accept my sincere respects and Pandava’s respect to you.’ Karna is deeply moved. His eyes are filled with tears. Arjuna proposes to make him the emperor of Hastinapura and hopes that he will join them. They speak emotionally with each other and express love for each other. Finally they decide to adhere by their Kshatriya duties and fight in next day’s battle. Then they embrace each other again without a word and Arjuna leaves with Karna’s permission.

Next day after Karna kills Ghatothkacha with his Kunto-arrow; Karna’s carriage is torn to pieces, hit by Ghatothkacha’s body falling from the sky. He is thrown away. With no carriage he meets Arjuna directly. He is aware that Arjuna has several heirlooms, which should kill him. But he would be happy to be killed by a mighty, powerful brother. He is happy that his brothers would be glorious rulers in Hastinapur. Finally Arjuna releases his Pasupati arrow piercing Karna through the neck. In the Indian version Karna is beheaded. Karna’s death is mourned deeply by both sides. The Pandava family performs Karna’s funeral rites with full honour. In the Indian version this happens at the end of the war after Kunti reveals Karnas’ identity to the Pandavas.


His name as a boy is Raden Narayana. He is the son of Basudewa with Dewi Badraini. He is the twin brother of Sembadra (Subhadra). Both of them have smooth black/dark colour of skin. He is tall with slender body and a good-looking face, brilliant and wise.

After defeating King Yudakala Kresna of Dwarawati, Narayana becomes the king of the kingdom of Dwarawati and takes his official name – Prabu Kresna. He is the king of Dwarawati, the wisest man in the world. He is the incarnation of Wisnu. Krishna’s kingship has a parallel in the Indian Buddhist Jataka tales, where Krishna is the eldest among ten brothers collectively called the Andakavenhudāsaputta. After killing Kangsha, they assume the sovereignty of Asitañjana. From there they set out to conquer the whole of Jambudīpa, starting with Ayojjhā (whose king, Kālasena, they take prisoner) and Dvāravatī, which they capture with the help of Kanhadīpayana. They make Dvāravatī their capital and divide their kingdom into ten shares. Balaram’s kingship is also supported in the Pali version.

According to Javanese Pedalangan (shadow-puppet story), Kresna has four wives.

1)      Dewi Jembawati, the daughter of Kapi Resi Jembawan, a respectable monkey guru, and Trijata, the daughter of Wibisana (Bibhishana?). Their two sons are Raden Samba and Raden Gunadewa. Samba lives with his father in Dwarawati palace, Gunadewa lives in Gadamana hermit. Samba is shown as a notorious character, making love to his sister-in-law. He gets killed by his half-brother Narakasura.

2)      Dewi Pratiwi, the daughter of Hyang Antoboga(Ananta Nag!), a very powerful god living in the 7th layer inside the earth( Sapta Pratala) Kresna’s son with her is Narakasura! In the Indian puranas, Narakasura is the son of Goddess earth, (referred to as Bhumi), by Lord Vishnu himself during his Varaha (boar) avatar. Here, Narakasura’s wife is Dewi Hagnyawati . She has illicit love-affair with Samba. So Narakasura kills Samba. Anantanag’s other daughter Nagagini is married to Bhima.

The spirit of Rahwana (Ravana), Prabu Godayitma of Tawang Gantungan misleads the power of Suteja or Narakasura. Godayitma and Narakasura become good friends; both of them have the same powerful mantra Pancasona, so they cannot be killed when their bodies touch the earth. Narakasura dies in Krishna’s hand. Krishna kills him, when amidst a Naraka-Ghatothkacha duel, Narakasura insults Krishna. Krishna learns the secret to kill him from Pratiwi, and cuts him with his Chakra. Ghatothkacha holds his dead body in the air, so that Naraka cannot revive. This story is unique because here we find the Ramayana character of Ravana.

3)      Dewi Rukmini, the daughter of Prabu Bismaka. Once, she dreams of making love with Kresna in his Triwikrama (a giant) state. A giant son is born – Saronodewo. He is not allowed to live in the palace. The Indian Pradumnya is absent here.

4)      Dewi Setyaboma(Satyabhama), the daughter of Prabu Setyajid, the elder sister of Setyaki. Satyaki is the army chief of Krishna’s kingdom.

5)      According to one sub-variation of Wayang, Krishna has another wife – Alarmelu Mankai. Siti Sundari is their daughter. Titisari is another daughter.


Baladewa is the king of Madura. He is assisted by two loyal persons:

Patih Pragota. His father is also a Patih (first minister of king Basudewa). He is big, tall, talks rudely, but is nice and loyal.

Prabawa. He is Pragota’s younger brother. He is assigned to handle the safety and security of the country.

Baladewa has two powerful heirlooms – Nenggala, received during his meditation as a young hermit and Alugara, received from Batara Guru as a wedding present.
His wife is Erawati, daughter of Shalya. Arjuna helps Balaram to get Erawati. The name obviously is akin to Revati of the Indian version. It is one of the reasons why he loves Arjuna very much. He is a kind-hearted man, but is too temperamental. When he gets angry, only Arjuna can easily cool him down. From Erawati, he has two adopted sons – Wisata (Nishadha) and Wimuka(Ulmuka). When he gets married, many gods escort him friendly (Bala). That is the origin of the name Baladewa. His name as a boy was Raden Kakrasana. He is tall with athletically body, his skin was light yellow.

As a youth he lived with strong self-denial in the village of Widarakandang, so he is called Wasi Jaladara. He is called Basukiyana for being incarnation of god Basuki; Kusumawalikita (named by gods), Balarama (named by gods), and Alayuda, a name given by Narada.

Baladewa does not involve in Baratayuda. Kresna asks him to meditate in the cave of Grojogan Sewu (one thousand waterfalls) before the war starts. Kresna presumes that Baladewa is too strong for Pendawa. When Baladawa completes his meditation, Baratayuda is already over. Krishna’s trick with Balarama has a parallel in Keralian Cherusseri Bharatham, where Krishna keeps Balarama out of the war by making him believe that he has killed a Brahmana. Balarama goes out to pilgrimage for expiation.

Until the end of his long life on earth, he becomes a protector of Parikesit, the new king of Hastinapura. Unlike Indian version Balarama does not die in Yadava civil war. This story of Balarama’s survival has a parallel in the Indian Pali version.

That Balaram and Duryodhana are brothers-in-law having married each a daughter of Shalya may be one explanation of Balaram’s special favouring for Duryodhana. In the Telugu folk ‘Shashirekha Parinayam’, he contemplates his daughter’s marriage to Duryodhana’s son, even at the cost of breaking his own promise. And from Indian Mahabharata we know he contemplates Subhadra’s marriage to Duryodhana,


Raden Harya Ugrasena/Prabu Setyajid i.e. Satyaki is the youngest son of Prabu Kuntiboja. His mother is a goddess, Dewi Wresni. Later-on Setyaki becomes the chief warrior of Dwarawati kingdom under Prabu Kresna. Here Satyaki and Satyabhama are brother and sister of same parents. The Indonesian version thus explains Krishna-Satyaki’s special liking for each other.


Shakuni is known as Sengkuni or Harya Sakuni. His name as a youth is Harya Suman. As a youth he attempts a Kunti-harana from the hands of Pandu. A fight breaks, but Shakuni loses to Pandu. As a punishment, Pandu buries his body, only his head appears above the land. Shakuni is frightened to die, and cries for forgiveness. He says that if he is freed from the punishment, he would give his sister to Pandu and he would serve him. Pandu agrees but he gives Gendari to his elder blind brother Destarata. Gendari feels insulted but cannot do anything. She feels jilted.

Sengkuni follows his sister and lives in Hastinapura. Since the first day in Hastinapura, he eyes the position of Patih/Prime Minister. He is very jealous of Gandamana, the Patih to Hastinapura. He tries to find a way to oust Gandamana. Cunningly, he traps Gandamana to be ambushed by many giants. Gandamana falls down into a deep hole. Instead of helping Gandamana, Sengkuni buries him alive in the hole, Then Sengkuni reports hastily to king Pandu that Gandamana is killed by an army of giants.

Gandamana, using his supernatural power, Bandung Bondowoso, comes out safely. He knows who has done it to him. Gandamana beats Shakuni severely until he loses his charm permanently. As a gentleman, Gandamana reports the case to king Pandu and admits his mistake for the merciless beating of Shakuni. King Pandu releases Gandamana from his position as Patih and he goes back to his country. Thus Shakuni succeeds in ousting him. After Pandu makes him Patih, he serves him, until Pandu’s death.

By chance, Sengkuni has also invulnerability to sharp weapons. One day Sang Hyang Tunggal, the father of Betara Guru sends Lenga Tawa, oil with supernatural power to King Pandu. By rubbing the oil the body, the parts of the body should be invulnerable to sharp weapons. Pandu’s death occurs at this time.

After King Pandu passes away Begawan Abiyasa (Vyasa), decides to the use the oil for his grand-children, witnessed by Hastinapura dignitaries, such as Kunti, Destarata and wife, Bisma, Sengkuni etc. Korawa, the elder grand children, gets their first turn. They make a queue starting from Duryudana and so on. But they can not put in order. They push one another. Some of the oil of Tawa, held by Abiyasa, spills out to the floor. Sengkuni quickly rolls his body on the floor. Kunti who is standing nearby Vyasa, falls down to the floor. Shakuni does not miss the chance to touch Kunti. Immediately, pretending to help Kunti, he grabs her breast. Kunti is shocked and ashamed. She vows that she would never wear breast-cloth, if not made from Shakuni’ skin. That Shakuni molests Kunti is unique in Indonesian Mahabharata. Kunti’s vow to avenge is akin to Draupadi’s.

In Baratayuda, Sengkuni is executed by Bima. Bima knows very well, the weakest parts of Sengkuni’s body are his mouth and his anus. Bima stabs deeply those parts with his kuku Pancanaka (long finger nails in his thumbs of both hands). He tears Sengkuni’s mouth to pieces and then peels his skin fulfilling Kunti’s wish. Sengkuni dies in agony.


Indonesian version breathes more life to the character of Shalya. Shalya is portrayed as a great lover. He marries Bagaspati’s (Brihaspati) daughter Devi Pujawati against his father’s wishes. Wonder of wonder this man is monogamous. Salya makes a vow to Setyawati never to take another wife. This does not prevent him, however, to go to Draupadi’s swamvara. He kills his own father-in-law. Since Brihaspati is the symbol of Vedic wisdom, Shalya’s killing Brihaspati may actually mean his deviation from the brand of Vedic Brahmanism as prevalent in Kuru-Panchala. In this light we may understand the significance of Karna-Shalya dialogue in the Indian version in which Karna makes harsh derogatory remarks against the Madrakas.

Shalya has 5 children:

1)      Dewi Erawati. She marries Baladewa, the king of Mandura.

2)      Dewi Surtikanti, marries with Karna. They have two children: Warsakusuma and Warsasena. Surtikanti’s love to Arjuna is turned down. She marries Karna, the half brother of Arjuna, because Karna looks like Arjuna.

3)      Dewi Banowati, marries king Duryudana. They have two children: Leksmana Mandrakumara and Leksmanawati. The attractive princess Banowati is in fact deeply in love with Arjuna. Duryudana is mad in love with Banowati. Banowati always chases Arjuna to make a backstreet love. Arjuna asks Banowati if she really loves him, she has to marry Duryudana. The two re-unite after Duryodhana’s death.

4)      Raden Rukmarata. He is killed by Seta in Bharatayuddha.

5)      Raden Burisrawa. He is an impolite and arrogant giant. Since Salya hated his own father-in-law, Burisrawa is born to him as punishment. In Bharatayuddha, he is killed by his arch-rival Setyaki. In the Indian version Bhurishrava is Somdatta’s son and Bahlika’s grandson, and consequently a Puru-vamshi. Burisrawa is madly in love with Subadra, the wife of Arjuna. Once, he abducts Subhadra from Madukara, Arjuna’s palace. Luckily Antareja and Gatotkaca, the sons of Bima save her.

The Indonesian version in fact, abounds in knotty relations which give us insight into the motives of different characters. They are often unthought-of love-desire affairs like – Amba loves Bhisma, Bhisma loves Amba, Gandhari loves Pandu, Shakuni loves Kunti, Bhanumati loves Arjuna, Surtikanti loves Arjuna, Bhurishrava loves Subhadra, Arjuna loves Anggraini, and Kichaka loves Draupadi. All these love-desires remain unfulfilled.

The kings of Mandura Kingdom (Where Balaram becomes king) are descendants of the king of Ayoddha. Prabu Basuketi was the son of Prabu Rama Batlawa, a king of Ayoddha, the son of Rama and Sinta. This Ikshvaku-Yadav connection has its parallel in the Indian Harivamsha. Besides, the name ‘Basuketi’ strongly resembles Vasuki, which opens up yet another possibility that Balaram himself might have been a Naga. In the Indian version of Harivamsha, Balaram is born under mysterious circumstances. He is born when his father is actually locked in Kamsha’s prison. That hints at the possibility that he might have been an adopted son of Vasudeva. In Indian Harivamsha there is a story that following the misunderstanding over the Samantaka jewel, sulky Balaram leaves Dwarka and Krishna and goes straight to Ayoddha. It is here that Duryodhana learns mace-fight from him during his 12 years stay at Ayoddha. Thus the Indian Harivamsha also attests Ikhsvaku-Balaram connection. The Yadav-Ayoddha connection is also attested by the Buddhist Pali stories, where it is said that the Andakavenhudāsaputtā(Krishna and his brothers) set out to conquer the whole of Jambudīpa, starting with Ayojjhā (whose king, Kālasena, they took prisoner) and Dvāravatī, which they captured with the help of Kanhadīpayana.

In the Indonesian version of the Rajasuya Yajna there is a pre-requisite that ‘it must be attended at least by one hundred kings’. When Yudhishthira decides to perform one, Jarasandha too contemplates the same. He decides to celebrate it by force. He captures around seventy kings from these neighboring countries, and imprisons them. Now comes the twist! The Pandava army attack Magadha, kill Jarasandha and liberate the seventy kings. Thus the Indonesian version totally rules out a Bhima-Arjuna-Krishna adventure and Bhima-Jarasandha duel. On that victorious day, Amarta kingdom celebrates Rajasuya. Sisupala starts to insult Krishna. Krishna has promised Sishupala’s mother that he would not hurt Sishupala till he insults Krishna in front of one hundred persons. Now that Sishupala does so, Krishna slays him in a duel. In the Indian version, Krishna simply beheads Sishupala with his Chakra, though there is one reference of an actual battle in Dhritarshtra’s speech. However, there is description of an actual battle in the Kerala version.

Some other interesting variations are that though the dice game is there, and also revocation of Yudhishthira’s losses by Dhritarashtra, there is no second dice game. The Pandavas have to go to exile as an alternative. Aswatama and Kartamarma are killed shortly after Baratayuda.

The beauty of the Indonesian version lies in the fact that it explores possibilities that any reader of the Indian version always cherishes to explore. One such episode is the Karna-Arjuna meeting, in which the two brothers embrace each other with tearful eyes. The Indian version has always left us with the question that if so many people know Karna’s true parentage, why not the Pandavas? The Indonesian poets believe that superiority in war always goes with superiority in love. Both Karna and Duryodhana are losers to Arjuna in both love and war. Both their wives love Arjuna. The superior might of the Pandavas in war also matches their ‘might’ in love spanning over three generations. In the Kuru-Pandava war of love, Dhritarashtra loses to Pandu, Duryodhana to Arjuna and Lakshmana to Abhimanyu!

Many questions remain unanswered like in the Indian version. One wonders the secret of the glue that keeps Bhima attached to Krishna despite the fact that Krishna hates Bhima’s progenies so ardently, and is responsible for their death. One cannot forget Krishna’s inhuman dance following Ghatothkacha’s death in the Indian version. Madhabacharya’s ‘Mahabharata Tatparyanirnaya’ attempts an answer to that by showing that Bhima is an ardent believer of the Bhagavata dharma. So whatever Krishna does is accepted by him. One, however, is bound to feel dissatisfied with this explanation.

The Indonesian version snatches away Draupadi’s singular share to molestation, attempted rape (or even rape by Kichaka), kidnapping and humiliation. Kunti and Subhadra share the same fate. Draupadi’s vengeance and Shakti-aspect is paralleled by her mother-in-law Kunti. Just as Draupadi decides not to do her hair until Duhshashana’s chest is split, Kunti too has taken a vow never to wear a kanchuli unless Shakuni lies dead. Bhima becomes instrumental to fulfil the vow of both mother and wife. Shalya as Karna’s father-in-law is bound to throw new light on the Karna-Shalya dialogue in the Indian Mahabharata, and is also a possible explanation why Shalya could swallow his ego and become Karna’s charioteer! Going by Indonesian version, the bitter Karna-Shalya dialogue in the Indian version is after all a father-in-law vs. son-in-law pleasantry bout!!

Another important aspect of the Indonesian version is its focus on the ‘neglected’ characters of the Indian version. The Pandava sons gain prominence, they are given individuality. They are not just shadows as in the Indian version, but are full-blooded. Some of them like Bhima’s sons are regarded as more valiant than all others. Life has been breathed into shadowy characters of the Indian version like Shakuni and Shalya.

The Indonesian variations have much in common to the South Indian variations. Geographical location and trade have naturally a role to play in this. But what compels our wonder is the resemblance in variations with variations of other parts of India as well. More research will certainly reveal facts of great historical and anthropological interests.

Let us now come back to the present. The Hinduism practiced in Indonesia today is also known by its formal Indonesian name Agama Hindu Dharma. At present the most dominant Hindu culture is to be found in Bali. About 93% of the population of Bali are official Hindus. ( Although only about 3% of Indonesian population is officially Hindu, Indonesian beliefs are too complex to classify as belonging to a single world religion. In Java in particular, a substantial number of Muslims follow a non-orthodox, Hindu-influenced form of Islam known as ‘Islam Abangan’ or ‘Islam Kejawèn’, while across the archipelago the Hindu legacy, along with the older mystic traditions, influences popular beliefs.

In present Indonesia, temples dedicated to the Pandavas can be found in Dieng. The Sanjaya dynasty, which established the first kingdom of Mataram, and which was founded around 730 A.D. by Sri Maharaja Sanjaya built the first Hindi-Javan temple site of Dieng (“Dieng” comes from ‘Di Hyang’ which means Abode of the Gods”) on the 2 000 meter (6 560 feet) high plateau, which is the basin of the surrounding volcanic region.’ ( The Arjuna, a group of Shiva temples, is the oldest Hindu temples in Java, built in 8th and 9th centuries. The plateau was once the site of over 400 temples. (For images visit The eight temples are of Arjuna, Semar, Gatutkaca, Puntadewa, Srikandi, Sembadra, Bima and Dwarawati. At present the Arjuna temple is waiting restoration, as it has been found collapsing (

Indonesia’s fascination with the Mahabharata and particularly with Bhima-Ghatothkacha is unflagging. Apart from the fact that Indonesian airlines is called ‘Garuda Airlines’, as recent as 1993, a Gatotkaca Statue has been built at the centre of road intersection at the northeast of Bali International airport. Even in modern Islamised Indonesia, he is identified as a flying knight who is responsible for air defence and security protection as his role for the Pandawa Kingdom was. It is believed the statue could contribute spiritual protection and safety for all incoming and outgoing flight. ( An Indonesian-made fly-by-wire airplane has been named CN-250 Gatotkaca. It was launched on November 10, 1994, by then President Suharto. Indonesia has decided to use the names of characters from Javanese mythology to name cyclones when it begins a new weather warning service. Some names include ‘Arimbi’ (Hirimba) and ‘Bhima’.
It is great to realise that despite geographical and political boundaries, our neighbouring country across the sea shares a common culture with us. We are they, they are us!

5) THE THARU BARKA NAACH: Nepal’s Dangaura Tharu folk version of Mahabharata. Ed Kurt Meyer & Pamela Deuel, translation by Dinesh Chamling Rai, Himal Books, Lalitpur Nepal 1998
7) Summary of Cherusseri Bharatam (Bharatagatha). A retelling Mahabharata in Malayalam. Authored by Ponathil Sankaran Nambiti during the reign of Udyavarman Kolathiri – M.E 621 to 640 (A.D 1446 to 1465). Summary by A. Purushothaman.
8) Summary of Bharatamala , a Mahabharata retelling in Malayalam from the fifteenth century. Study and commentary by Ponnara Saraswathy, Kannassa Smaraka Trust, Niranam. Thiruvalla, Kerala (2003).

May 5, 2007

Indrajit Bandyopadhyay is Lecturer in English at Kalyani Mahavidyalaya, Kalyani, WB.