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The Indonesian Mahābhārata: The Ādiparva

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The Old-Javanese Ādiparva is written in the late tenth century (Phalgunadi 1990:4). It is remarkable, however, that the handwritings of the manuscript all are written in Balinese (Phalgunadi 1990:5). The epics and the purāṇas (ancient tales or legends) play an important role in Old-Javanese literature, which reveal a close collaboration between India and Indonesia. Many of the literary works in Sanskrit in originate from the Hindu era – between the tenth and fifteenth century (Phalgunadi 1990:3) – in Indonesia. Later, due to the Sultan of Demak’s usurpation of the Majapahit Kingdom in East-Java, the literary center of Indonesia shifted from Java to Bali. Large groups of members of the Royal Court, aristocrats, brahmins and the elite sought their refuge in Bali. They took with them to Bali nearly all of the Classical- and Central-Javanese works of the Kawi literature, among them the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata (Phalgunadi 1990:3).

Churning of the Ocean

The original version of the Mahābhārata of Vyasa consists of eighteen books (parvas). Only eight of these parvas have been preserved in Bali (Phalgunadi 1990:4). According to Phalgunadi, there once must have been a time in history when all eighteen parvas were kept in Indonesia. However, it remains yet unknown why the complete collection of parvas in Bali still remains incomplete. Phalgunadi assumes that the Kawi manuscripts, which are written on palm leafs and were stored in the Royal Court of Majapahit, possibly went missing when the Kingdom of Majapahit fell (1990:4).

The Indonesian Mahābhārata: The Ādiparva

Phalgunadi’s translation (1990:63 – 69) is primarily based on the manuscript that is preserved at the The International Academy of Indian Culture. The story goes as follows: The gods and demons gathered at the top of Mount Mahāmeru, for both parties wished to obtain the amṛta – the elixir of immortality. Viṣṇu said, that, in order to find the source from which the amṛta originated, they must churn the milky ocean, which required both the gods’ and demons’ supernatural powers. Thus, the gods and demons agreed to co-operate together, and so they went on their way to the milky ocean. The milky ocean was located at the center of the sea which surrounded Mount Mandara on the island of Śaṅkhadvīpa. Once they got there, the gods asked Samudra’s (the God of the Ocean) permission to churn the milky ocean. Samudra agreed and gave his permission. Then, Anantabhoga, a nāga, lifted up the mountain and used it as a stick to churn the milky ocean. Akūpā, the Turtle King, would support Mount Mandara so that the mountain would not fall down during the churning of the milky ocean. Vāsuki, a snake, functioned as churning rope, and got tied around the mountain. Indra sat on the top of the mountain in order to offer counter-balance and create stability.

The Indonesian Mahābhārata: The Ādiparva

The gods stood on the side of snake’s tail and the demons stood at the side of the head of the snake. And so the churning began. Soon a chaotic situation would follow. Large boulders fell down from the mountain, trees bumped up against each other, which caused a big fire. Many animals in the forest and in the sea fell victim to the fire. Due to the heavy storms and earthquakes, the churning became a difficult process. Mount Mandara was ablaze. Due to the heat of the fire and the flames thrown by Vāsuki, the milky ocean started to boil, giving the gods and demons a hard time. Then, Indra created heavy rain clouds, which, regulated by Viṣṇu, extinguished the blazing fire. Now, finally the milky ocean started to produce butter.

The Indonesian Mahābhārata: The Ādiparva

From the ocean emerged Ardhacandra (the half moon), Śrī Lakṣmī (the Goddess of Wealth), Uccaiśravā (a white horse) and the beautiful Kaustubhamaṇi gem stone. The last to appear from the ocean was Dhanvantari, the teacher of the Āyurveda; in his arms he held a white jar which contained the amṛta. But since all of these treasures went to the gods, the demons snatched the white jar of Dhanavantari. When the churning was completed, Mount Mandara was put back in place in Śaṅkhadvīpa, but then the gods realized the demons had taken possession of the holy nectar. In order to trick the demons, Viṣṇu took the form of a gorgeous woman – Mohinī. The demons got distracted by the appearance of Mohinī, and they willingly handed over the jar to her. Later, the demons realized how they had been betrayed by Viṣṇu, thereby entangling both parties in a heavy fight. Eventually the demons were beaten and Viṣṇu and the other gods, then, returned to their heavenly abiding. The amṛta had now become Viṣṇu’s possession, which he shared among the other gods. By drinking this holy nectar the gods became immortal.

The Indonesian Mahābhārata: The Ādiparva

However, there was an other demon, Rāhu, the son of Vipracitti and Siṃhikā, who disguised himself as a god, which allowed him to drank from the amṛta, too. The god of the Moon (Candra) and of the Sun (Āditya), however, recognized Rāhu’s disguise, and so they reported this to Viṣṇu. Just when he wanted to swallow the amrta, Rāhu was decapitated by Viṣṇu’s cakra (disc weapon). Yet this did not prevent Rāhu’s head to become immortal. Candra and Āditya, then, got involved in an ongoing fight with Rāhu, for he wanted to take revenge on them for what they did to him. And so, it is believed, that, occassionally Rāhu tends to swallow the Moon, while at other times trying to swallow the Sun. When this happens, there follows an eclipse accordingly of either the Moon or the Sun. The eclipse lasts only for a short moment though, because once Rāhu has swallowed the Moon or the Sun, it will soon be released again from Rāhu’s body, for only his head is immortal – thereby he remains unable to digest whatever he swallows down his throat.

The Indonesian Mahābhārata: The Ādiparva


Reference: Phalgunadi, I Gusti Putu, 1990, The Indonesian MahabharataAdiparvaThe First Book, translation from the Original Classical Kawi Text. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.

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