Kakawin Sutasoma

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Palm leaf manuscript of Kakawin Sutasoma, a 14th-century Javanese poem.

Kakawin Sutasoma is an Old Javanese poem in poetic meters (kakawin or kavya). It is the source of the motto of Indonesia, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which is usually translated as Unity in Diversity, although literally it means '(Although) in pieces, yet One'. It is not without reason that the motto was taken from this kakawin as the kakawin teaches religious tolerance, specifically between the Hindu and Buddhist religions.

The Kakawin tells the epic story of Lord Sutasoma, and was written by Mpu Tantular in the 14th Century.


Figure of gold from the Majapahit period representing Sutasoma being borne by the man-eater Kalmasapada

Buddha-to-be (Bodhisattva) was reincarnated as Sutasoma, the son of the King of Hastinapura. As an adult, he was very pious and devout, and did not wish to be married and crowned king. So one night, Sutasoma fled from Hastinapura.

When Sutasoma's absence was discovered, the palace was in tumult and the King and Queen were very sad, and were consoled by many people.

When he arrived in the forest, the noble Lord Sutasoma prayed in a shrine. The Goddess Widyukarali appeared before him and told him that his prayers had been heard and would be granted. Lord Sutasoma then climbed into the Himalaya mountains in the company of several holy men. When they arrived at a certain hermitage, he was told a story of a king who had been reincarnated as a demon who liked eating humans.

The story was that there was once a king called Purusada or Kalmasapada. One day all the meat that had been set aside for the consumption of the king was eaten by dogs and pigs. The chef was concerned, and hurriedly sought out alternatives, but couldn't find any. In desperation he went to a graveyard and cut off the leg of one of the corpses and prepared it for his king. Because he had been reincarnated as a demon, he had found the meal very tasty, and he asked his chef what type of meat the chef had prepared. The chef admitted that the meat had been from a human, and from that moment on, the king loved eating humans.

Soon there were no people left in his kingdom, either he had eaten his subjects, or they had fled. Soon the king suffered a wound in his leg which wouldn't heal, and he became more demonic and began to live in the jungle. By the time of Sutasoma's visit to the hermitage, the king had sworn that he would make an offering of 100 kings to the God Kala if he would cure him of his illness.

The holy men begged Sutasoma to kill this demonic king, but he refused. Even the Goddess Prithvi beseeched him to kill the king, but he was adamant he would not do it, as he wished to live the life of an ascetic.

So Sutasoma continued his journey. One day in the middle of the road he met a demon with an elephants head who preyed upon humans. Sutasoma nearly became his victim, but he fought the beast and struck him down so that he fell to the earth. It felt like Satusoma had tried to strike a mountain!

The demon surrendered and received a sermon from Sutasoma about the Buddhist religion and that it is forbidden to kill any living creature. Afterwards, the demon became Sutasomo's disciple.

And Sutasoma continued his journey. Next he met with a dragon. He defeated the dragon, and it also became his disciple.

Finally, Sutasoma met a hungry tigress who preyed on her own children! But Sutasoma stopped her and told her why she shouldn't. But the tigress persisted. Finally Sutasoma offered his own body as food for the tigress. She jumped on him and sucked out his blood, which was fresh and tasty. But the tigress realised that what she had done was wrong, and she began to cry and repented. Then the God Indra appeared and made Sutasoma live again. The tiger also became his disciple, and they all continued their journey.

By this time, there was a war between the demon king Kalmasapada and king Dasabahu, a cousin of Sutasoma. King Dasabahu happened to meet with Sutasoma and invited him home so that he could marry his daughter. Satusoma was married and returned home to Hastinapura. He had children and became King Sutasoma.

Finally, the story of Purusada must be finished. He had gathered together the 100 kings to offer to the God Kala, but Kala didn't want to accept them. Kala wanted to be offered King Sutasoma instead! Purusada made war with Sutasoma, but because Sutasoma didn't resist, he was captured and sacrificed to Kala. Sutasoma was prepared to be eaten so that the 100 kings could go free. Purusada was so affected by this sacrifice that he tried to atone for it. The 100 kings were released.

Historical Context[edit]

Kakawin Sutasoma was written by Tantular in the 'golden age' of the Majapahit empire, during the reign of either Prince Rajasanagara or King Hayam Wuruk. It is not known for certain when the Kakawin was authored, but it is thought most probably between 1365 and 1389. 1365 is the year in which the Kakawin Nagarakretagama was completed, while 1389 is the year in which King Hayam Wuruk died. Kakawin Sutasoma was written after Kakawin Nagarakretagama.

As well as authoring the Kakawin Sutasoma, Tantular is also known to have written Kakawin Arjunawiwaha. Both Kakakawin use very similar language and have a very similar style. Another well-known Kakawin, for example, is Kakawin Ramayana, Mahabarata, Bharatayudha, Gatotkacasraya, Smaradahana, Arjunawijaya, Siwaratrikalpa, and Kunjarakarna.

Kakawin Sutasoma is considered unique in Javanese literature because it is the only Kakawin which is Buddhist in nature.

Existing copies of Kakawin Sutasoma have survived in the form of handwritten manuscripts, written both on lontar and on paper. Nearly all surviving copies originated in Bali. However, there is one Javanese fragment surviving which forms part of the 'Merapi and Merbabu Collection'. This is a collection of ancient manuscripts originating from the region of the mountains of Merapi and Merbabu in Central Java. The survival of this fragment confirms that the text of Kakawin Sutasoma is indeed Javanese rather than Balinese in origin.

Kakawin Sutasoma is one of the most popular Kakawin in Bali, and was popularised by I Gusti Surgria, an expert in Balinese literature who included examples from the Kakawin in his book on the study of Kakawin.


Between 1959 - 1961 I Gusti Bagus Sugriwa worked on an edition of the text which included the Old Javanese version of the text accompanied by a translation into Indonesian. It was also translated and published in English by Soewito Santoso. Extracts of the text were published in 1975. Another English translation was published in 2008 by Kate O'Brien.

There have also been many extracts published in Bali, although they have Balinese characteristics and are translated into Balinese.


  • (in Javanese) Dinas Pendidikan Bali, 1993, Kakawin Sutasoma. Denpasar: Dinas Pendidikan Bali.
  • (in Indonesian) Poerbatjaraka dan Tardjan Hadiwidjaja, 1952, Kepustakaan Djawa'. Djakarta/Amsterdam: Djambatan.
  • (in English) Soewito Santoso, 1975, Sutasoma. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan
  • (in Indonesian) I Gusti Bagus Sugriwa, 1959 - 1961 Sutasoma / ditulis dengan huruf Bali dan Latin, diberi arti dengan bahasa Bali dan bahasa Indonesia. Denpasar: Pustakamas
  • (in English) P.J. Zoetmulder, 1974, Kalangwan: a survey of old Javanese literature. The Hague : Martinus Nijhoff ISBN 90-247-1674-8
  • (in Indonesian) P.J. Zoetmulder, 1983, Kalangwan. Sastra Jawa Kuno Selayang Pandang. pp. 415-437. Jakarta: Djambatan