Blog: ‘The elusive Panji pops up in Leiden’

By Clara Brakel

Who is Panji, and what exactly is a Panji tale? 
Recently, on 21 September 2018, a special symposium was organised by the Leiden University Library and the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) to celebrate the Unesco-Memory of the World recognition of the Panji stories in manuscripts in Leiden University Library as well as in libraries in Indonesia and mainland Southeast Asia.

To this day the adventures of Panji, prince of an ancient kingdom in East Java (Jenggala), remain immensely popular in Indonesia, especially in Java and Bali – yet it is not easy to say who is Panji, and what exactly is a Panji tale. Starting in colonial times, many scholarly studies have been written about the meaning of Panji stories, their historical and cultural value for the peoples of Indonesia, and the world at large. While the majority of these studies concern literary versions of Panji stories, more recent research also investigates the depictions of Panji tales on temple-reliefs, in paintings on scrolls or cloth, and in drawings. But in spite of all these scholarly investigations, it remains hard to define what all Panji stories have in common. Is there indeed an “essential Panji story”, and if so, in which form?


Photo: KITLV collection.

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