Jakarta Globe, Ari Susanto, Sep 28, 2014
|German archeologist and art historian|
Lydia Kieven. (JG Photos/Ari Susanto)
Through her personal journey of learning ancient Javanese language, art and culture, the German archeologist became transfixed by the chronicles of Panji, which originated from the 14th-century Majapahit era. Kieven stumbled across the stories of Panji during a hike of East Java’s Mount Penanggungan sanctuary in 1996 to seek out reliefs depicting the epic Mahabharata poem’s Arjuna and Bima at Kendalisodo temple.
Unfortunately, her trip had been in vain as the panels were nowhere to be found. Instead, Kieven discovered four reliefs portraying a couple’s journey with the romantic backdrops of mountains, forests and the ocean. The woman had long, flowing hair, while her male companion seemed to be wearing a cap.
“[The reliefs] were beautiful; they caught my attention and reminded me of a photograph I had once seen of Panji,” Kieven says.
The archeologist returned to Germany and immersed herself in old literature about the prince written by Dutch authors, but none satisfied her curiosity, so she decided to return to Java, where she reconstructed the relief carvings that had captured her attention, instead of focusing solely on text.
The story of Panji can be traced as far back as the 1300s, appearing in various cultures and parts of Southeast Asia, including Kalimantan, Bali, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Cambodia. The tale was adapted in each tradition and given various titles but bore the same storyline. Throughout the centuries, the Panji epic has been developed into various artistic performance, including the shadow puppet show of Wayang Beber and the mask dance Topeng Dalang.
The series of stories followed the journey of Prince Panji (or Inu Kertapat) from the kingdom of Kahuripan and Princess Galuh Candrakirana (or Dewi Sekartaji) from Kediri. The two monarchies ruled in East Java prior to the Majapahit period. The narrative begins when the two engaged lovers are torn apart and must each embark on a journey — in disguise — to be reunited.
“The couple’s journey to find each other is not a love story, but rather a spiritual journey to seek sanctity, purity, and peace. In the reliefs, we could find Panji’s finger pointing at objects as if he is asking us to follow the path of spirituality, such as dipping in water — for purifying — and meeting the spiritual guru,” she says.
|Lydia Kieven has dedicated nearly|
two decades of her life to the ancient
Javanese folklore of Prince Panji and
his love, Princess Galuh. (JG Photo/
“Panji represents a human, like us, who searches for [spirituality] through stages depicted in the reliefs. Both Panji and Galuh are presented as being modest and humble, leaving their royal lives for adventure,” she says.
Kieven’s mission to capture the lingering traces of Panji throughout Java, Kalimantan and Bali has not been without its challenges, but the archeologist says she gained inspiration from the ancient tale she has dedicated her life to.
“Panji and Galuh were very steadfast in their efforts to find on another. No obstacles could stop them,” Kieven says.
Two months after her first encounter with the reliefs depicting Panji and Galuh, doctors diagnosed Kieven with a malignant form of cancer that required surgery and chemotherapy. Despite her weakened condition, the German continued with her research paper on narrative sculptures and literary traditions of Southeast Asia, presenting a complete draft in September 1996, to the Netherlands’ Leiden University.
Then, while still reeling from the devitalizing effects of radiation, Kieven once again traveled to Java to complete her research. Back in the archipelago, however, she was faced with another obstacle: lack of funds. The resilient art historian didn’t let a debilitating illness stop her expedition, nor would she allow something as trivial as money to keep her away from Panji and Galuh’s adventures, so Kieven took up work as a travel guide, leading German tourists.
She continued her work, scrutinizing reliefs from temple to temple, including the Penataran, the largest Hindu temple complex of East Java and home to multiple intricately-carved reliefs and two statues of Panji and Galuh. In 2000 alone, she visited 20 sites for her research.
The two statues have since been moved and are now conserved separately: Panji is kept in the art library of the Bandung Institute of Technology in West Java, while Galuh is housed in Jakarta’s National Museum. Kieven hopes the two will once again be united, as described in the epic tale of their spiritual journey