The Kakawin Sutasoma: A Look at ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ & Perceptions of the Text’s Religious Implications

Class Year


Document Type

Student Research Paper

Date of Creation

Spring 2015

Department 1

Center for Global Education


This study, to be concise, is an analysis of the religious aspects of the epic Sutasoma. Written in the 14th century CE during the height of the Majapahit Empire of East Java, this kakawin has raised several questions about its religious orientation, messages, and motives; questions, which, given the religious ambiguity of the time, are extremely difficult to answer. The Sutasoma also contains the famous line, “bhinneka tunggal ika,” which, often translated as “unity in diversity,” has since been adopted as the Indonesian national motto. The context and meaning of this passage has also been heavily contested. This study, therefore, is an attempt to contribute to these ongoing debates. By comparing the works of published scholars with the words of a diverse group of Indonesian individuals, this work explores the various interpretations of the story, its characters, and the “bhinneka tunggal ika” passage. Not only does this work examine the subtleties of the religious aspects of the famous story, it also serves to demonstrate that ancient literature, regardless of its distance from the present day, still remains relevant in modernity.

This paper was written for the Indonesia: Arts, Religion, and Social Change program.