Literary representations of war and warfare in old Javanese kakawin poetry

Jakl, Jiri (2014). Literary representations of war and warfare in old Javanese kakawin poetry PhD Thesis, School of Languages and Comp Cultural Studies, The University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2014.602

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Author Jakl, Jiri
Thesis Title Literary representations of war and warfare in old Javanese kakawin poetry
Formatted title
Literary representations of war and warfare in old Javanese kakawin poetry
School, Centre or Institute School of Languages and Comp Cultural Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
DOI 10.14264/uql.2014.602
Publication date 2014-11-30
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status Other
Supervisor Helen Creese
Adam Bowles
Total pages 176
Language eng
Subjects 2005 Literary Studies
Formatted abstract
This thesis studies literary representations of war in kakawin. The battle, a central event of kakawin warfare, is conceptualized as a sacrifice on the battlefield. Blood-spilling and unlimited martial violence are depicted as the two most important aspects of the battle and kakawin warfare pays scant attention to strategic aims and tactical considerations. The main argument of this thesis is that virtually all aspects of warfare, even the most mundane, have been constructed to represent martial violence in terms of sacrifice. Furthermore, the thesis demonstrates that literary representations of warfare in kakawin are highly selective. Those aspects that were of high symbolic value for pre- modern court society, for example, the decapitation of the enemies on the battlefield, are given prominence, while aspects of low symbolic value, such as the logistics of war campaigns, were of little or no concern to the authors. Javanese poets preferred to think about martial violence in terms of metaphor. They employed the same set of words and concepts for battle as for animal sacrifice and the hunt, two other activities in which life is destroyed. I argue that in numerous metaphors Javanese poets express the idea that blood spilled on the battlefield is an enriching substance that increases the fertility of the earth and its potential to grow crops and sustain people. Correspondences are drawn between gushing blood and rivers bringing precious water to peasants, and between the spilled blood of fallen warriors and the flow of volcanic mud (guntur) bringing enriching minerals to the fields. I argue that the earth is envisaged as the ultimate recipient of oblations consisting of the flesh and blood of dead soldiers. I argue further that the literary motif of corpses of warriors slain in battle, left lying on the battlefield, is structurally similar to the phenomenon of blood offerings (tawur) to chthonian spirits. I demonstrate that a similar sacrificial symbolism is known from the Old Javanese inscriptional record such as the establishment of religious free-hold territories (sīma). The thesis also presents the first sustained discussion of the rich imagery of cooking, eating and food symbolism that pervades the depiction of battles in kakawin.

This thesis presents new evidence that poets did more than merely conform to poetical requirements in including the war scenes typical of kakawin. Earlier scholars have presumed that literary representations of war and warfare in kakawin are highly stereotypical and among the least 'localized' themes in Old Javanese poetry (Zoetmulder 1974:188). Nevertheless, their findings have been based primarily on the analysis of a single text, the Bhāratayuddha, the twelfth-century Old Javanese version of Sanskrit Mahābhārata. To develop a more balanced view of the topic, I have collected and analysed the available evidence pertaining to war and warfare in all kakawin belonging to the Javanese textual tradition. In addition, I analyze in detail the structure of the kakawin army and propose a number of refined understandings of Old Javanese military terminology. These findings demonstrate that, in spite of the fictional character of kakawin warfare, the warriors are engaged in martial practices that do reflect the martial culture familiar in the pre- modern Javanese court milieu. As was previously argued by Creese (2004:42) for the topic of sexuality and marriage patterns in the kakawin world, it was essential that kakawin embodied the social reality of their time or they would lose force.

The motif of battle-sacrifice is not only a powerful literary formula. The symbolism of the metaphor of battle as a sacrifice pervades virtually all martial scenes. This thesis attributes the prominence of formulaic passages in descriptions of battles to the function of the author, the kawi, as the practitioner of 'literary magic', or the 'language priest' in the service of his royal patron (Teeuw and Robson 2005: 1). His task was to construct the text as a 'temple of poetry' into which the (terrific aspect of) the divinity.

Finally, I develop the concept of the 'landscape of warfare'. Javanese poets constructed a mytho- poetical zone of war—the ‘landscape of war’—in which all elements of battle and war embody the martial: not only warriors, but also animals, plants, and even inanimate objects, all contribute to the creation of an all-encompassing physical and sensory world. Virtually all the passages in which the 'landscape of warfare' is found make use of Javanese rather than Sanskrit words and thus this landscape reflects Old Javanese aesthetic and poetics.
Keyword War
Literary representations
Old Javanese
Sacrificial symbolism

Document type: Thesis
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Created: Mon, 10 Nov 2014, 00:52:33 EST by Jiri Jakl on behalf of Scholarly Communication and Digitisation Service