Javanese Literature

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Javanese Literature


the most ancient literature of Indonesia and one of the richest literatures of that country (seeINDONESIA: Literature).

Javanese literature, which is written in Javanese, was initially fed by two sources: local folklore and ancient Indian epics. The oldest Kawi text is the Chanda Kirana (c. 778), a collection of rules for writing poetry; it subsequently became the basis for the narrative poems known as kekawins. Between the tenth and 12th centuries, prose versions of the puranas, of Buddhist treatises, and of many books of the Mahabharata were written. Court poets turned away from Indian subjects and produced original works whose action was set in Java, such as Kanwa’s Arjuna’s Wedding (1035) and Triguna’s Krsnayana (1104). The 14th-century narrative poem Arjuna Wijaya, by Tantular, is regarded as a purely Javanese work. Prapantja’s narrative poem Nagarakertagama (1365) was the first work to present historical information about Java and to depict the life of the Javanese.

During the period of the Majapahit empire in Java, from 1293 to circa 1520, there developed a literature based on folklore and written in Middle Javanese. Notable works of this period were the cosmogenic prose treatise Tantu Panggelaran, the historical legend Chalón Arang, and the mock-chronicle Pararaton. Poetry was dominated by the indigenous Javanese metric system known as matjapat. The romantic epic, represented by narrative poems about Panji and Damar Wulan, occupied an important place.

Islam, which became established in Java in the 16th and 17th century, inspired hagiographic literature about the prophet Muhammad, Amir Hamzah, and Javanese devotees of Islam, as well as works on Arabic and Persian themes. The prose chronicle Babad Tanah Jawi was compiled in the early 17th century. Sufi tenets, both orthodox and heretical, became intermingled with Javanese mystical ideas and found expression in the philosophic narrative poems known as sulukah. The political instability in Java in the 16th and 17th century gave currency in literature to messianic ideas and legends of just rulers. Realistic elements also appeared, however, notably in the narrative poem Pronochitro (late 17th century). The fanciful mock-chronicle Baron Sakender ridiculed the Dutch East India Company (1602–1799), which had established a trade monopoly on the islands of the Malay Archipelago.

The second half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th constituted the final period in the development of classical Javanese literature; known as the Javanese renaissance, it was characterized by an escape into the past. Nearly all of ancient Javanese literature and many Javanese and Malay literary works of the 16th and 17th century were translated into Modern Javanese. Important works of this period included the lyric and philosophic narrative poems Kitab Vichara Keras, by Yasadipura (died 1842), and Joko Lodang and Kolotido, by Ronggowarsito (1802–74).

In the late 19th century the development of book-making and the distribution of printed matter in Javanese fostered a rejuvenation of Javanese literature. An increasing proportion of works published were written in prose: numerous educative pamphlets, travel books, and didactic novellas; most of the novellas were based on subject matter taken from folklore.

In the early 20th century a major contribution to Javanese literature was made by the teacher, Enlightenment figure, and writer Padma Susastra (1840–1926), the writers Marta Arjano and Viroatmojo, and the writers associated with the official Balai Pustaka Publishing House. The Javanese aristocracy and the colonial system were harshly criticized by writers who took part in the national movement, such as Marko Kartodikromo (1878–1978) and Yosovidagdo (1888–1958). A new school of poetry, whose principal figure was Intojo, emerged.

In the second quarter of the 20th century, especially after Indonesian independence was proclaimed in 1945, many Javanese writers began writing in Indonesian. The most popular genre in Javanese literature today is the short story, which usually appears in the periodical press. The few novels that are written generally deal with everyday life, as in the works of such figures as T. Suroto and A. Saerozi.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The poem is written in macapat, the poetic meters in which much of Javanese literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was composed and which were not employed in Malay writing.
According to Pigeaud, Old Javanese literature already possessed some rather elaborate treatises on eroticism, especially referring to sexual intercourse.
Florida, 'Reading the unread in traditional Javanese literature', Indonesia, 44 (1987): 1-15.
Dutch colonial definitions of what constituted Old Javanese literature were narrow in the extreme.
Here we find the origins of the rivalling positions that understanding the Indies and Islam should be grounded in high Javanese literature and canonical Arabic texts on Islamic law versus those more concerned with the practicalities of colonial administration and thus the need for knowledge of functioning societies and vernacular languages.
(24) The presence of a frame-story through which doctrine is presented in the form of a divinely transmitted truth is a common internal textual strategy of authorization and empowerment in both Sanskrit and Old Javanese literature. The frame-story is usually a dialogue between divine interlocutors such as the Lord Siva and his son Kumara, the god Brhaspati, the Goddess Devi or a Rsi.
He can be contacted at This study has benefited from the comments of colleagues and students at Gadjah Mada University, and especially the helpful and insightful detailed critiques by the three anonymous Old Javanese literature specialists who served as referees for the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies.
In sum, this book has much to offer and I highly recommend it as an accessible introduction to Old Javanese literature and pre-colonial Indonesian culture.
As the inaugural volumes in a series devoted to the study of Javanese literature, culture, and history, the ILCAA (the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) has published a text and translation of the Old Javanese Ramayana Kakawin (rk).