South East Asia's Panji Tales

The Panji tales are stories of the many adventures of Prince Panji (Raden Inu Kertapati), as he searches for his missing bride,  Princess Chandra Kirana (Dewi Sekartaji). Their adventures undertaken in various disguises and with a range of different names, before the lovers are reunited. The setting is in East Java featuring a number of kingdoms such as Kahuripan (also known as Janggala), Daha (Kediri), Gegelang and Singhasari (Tumapel). 

(Photo : Kemdikbud)

The tales are estimated have emerged in the Majapahit kingdom’s heyday in the 13thcentury and were spread by merchants along the trading routes, and became one of the most popular forms of literature in Southeast Asia.

Dewi Sekartaji, depicted in modern art (2019 Panji Festival - Kediri). Photo: Warstek 

According to Noriah Mohamed - researcher from Universiti Sains Malaysia -  the influences of the Panji Tales also can be found on “Sejarah Melayu” (Malay Annals)  and “Hikayat Hang Tuah”. 

In “Sejarah Melayu” (Malay Annals) , the author mentioned a Majapahit princess named Raden Galuh Candra Kirana whose beauty captivates Sultan Mansur Shah. The name of this princess is also found in the Panji Tales. In the “Hikayat Hang Tuah”. It's written that the queen of Daha has two daughters, the eldest was Princess Galuh Candra Kirana. 

The British Library holds ten Malay manuscripts containing Panji stories or related tales, all of which have now been fully digitised.

Sketch of Panji, wearing his distinctive rounded cap, found in a Malay manuscript of Hikayat Dewa Mandu. ( Source: The British Library )

The Thai version of the Panji cycle was first compiled in the 18th century by two daughters of King Borommakot, who first heard the stories through their Malay servant.

Each princess then compiled their own version of the stories into two compositions used for traditional art performances, namely Inao Yai (Big Inao) or Dalang and Inao Lek (Small Inao) or just Inao.

Inao and Busaba (Thailand). Photo:

There were names changed in the Thai version of the Panji Tales. Raden Inu Kertapati became Inao, and Candra Kirana (Sekar Taji) became Busaba. The word Busaba was probably derived from “Busba” - from the Sanskrit word "Puspa", which means flower. Similar to the Javanese word "Sekar" also means flower. 

Interestingly, the names of places haven’t changed much. Inao  is a prince of Kurepan, Busaba is a princess of Doha. Both Kurepan (Kuripan/Kahuripan) and Daha are names of places in East Java. 

Khmer version of the Panji/Inao Tales. Photo:

How the Panji Tales reached Cambodia has been the subject of debate. The first opinion states that Cambodia received the Panji Tales through Thailand. This is due to the similarity of names and storylines with the Thai version.

Another opinion states that Cambodia received the Panji tales directly from Majapahit. In the book Negara Kertagama (a book from 14th century)., Cambodia was written as one of the Majapahit's partners, Thus, the interaction between Majapahit and Cambodia took place before that book was written, and the Panji tales included. 

Panji Jayakusuma. Photo: Kerajaan Nusantara

On 30 October 2017, The Panji manuscripts were inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.  The manuscripts were submitted by Cambodia, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Malaysia and the United Kingdom.


ASEANers, Panji Stories, Panji Tales