Saturday, March 15, 2014

Balinese Paintings – Flags and Banners[1-2]

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Bali lies between 8 and 9 degrees south of the equator and is a state within Indonesia. Its total area is approximately 5,363 square meters, with the island measuring 153km by 112km. There are eight regencies in Bali, namely: Badung, Gianyar, Tabanan, Klungkung, Karangasem, Buleleng, Jembrana and Bangli. The capital of Bali is Denpasur, which is near the southern coast. Holiday destinations include Kuta, Ubud and Sanur.

The official flag of Bali - Coat of Arms of Bali on top of a saffron background.

The “wet season” in Bali is from November to March, whereas the “dry season” is from April to October. The average temperature in the costal regions is approximately 28ºC during May, June, July and approximately 30ºC in March and October. The humidity is high - from a minimum of 70% to a maximum of 95%.

Map of Bali.

The population of Bali in 2010 was 3,891,000. The majority of Balinese practice the Hindu religion, which they call Agama Hindu Dharma - the “Religion of the Hindu Doctrine”. The Hindu-Bali philosophy encourages a peaceful balance between human beings, the environment and the spiritual world.

Ancient Hindu temple in Bali.

There are three spoken languages on Bali: Balinese and its dialects, Indonesian and a kind of old Javanese called Kawi. English is widely spoken in the tourism areas as well as for business.

Dances, dramatic performances and art form an important part of every ritual on Bali. They are an integral part of Balinese religion and culture and are employed as an expression of the people’s devotion to the gods.

Bali's art festival is a celebration of Balinese food and culture. Held annually, the festival attracts tourists from all over the world and features a range of art, dance, food, theatre, architecture and beautiful traditional Balinese tribal dress.

Bali is known as the “last paradise on earth” and is the most popular tourist destination in the world; 2.57 million people visited Bali last year.

A Short History of Bali
Bali was forced out of isolation by the Islamic conquest in Java that occurred 500 years ago. Balinese culture has digested influences from Islamic, Chinese and various European cultures and regurgitated these influences in Balinese terms. It is a distinctive culture that has emerged and in fact maintains a balance between the hierarchical dogmas of an Indian-derived caste system and a basic egalitarian system, the latter of which dominates life for the vast majority of Balinese.

The rajas (i.e. Kings) and the high priest of the Brahmana caste derive their pre-eminence from the last East Javanese kingdom of Majapahit (ca. 14th Century). These Javanese kingdoms had instigated a political and religious system based on the Hindu scriptures of three aristocratic “races”, namely the Triwangsa (consisting of Brahmana), Ksatria and Wesia. These three high castes regarded themselves as destined to dominate the rest of the Balinese, whom they classified as Sudra. However, due to food cultivation requiring a co-operative labor force and decentralized village organizations, a less rigid and more egalitarian society developed.

The Raja of Buleleng killing himself with 400 followers, in an 1849 up-rising against the Dutch.

The creative tension between these principles of hierarchy and equality gave Balinese society a resilience, which enabled it to withstand the initial onslaught at first of Islam and then later the Christianity of the Dutch. When the Dutch did finally conquer the independent Balinese states, the power of the rajas was curbed and although the collection of taxes was changed, little else of Balinese life was altered. To be Balinese means to be a member of at least three temple communities and to participate in the festivals of these temples, which are held once within a Balinese year (210 days).

Traditional Balinese Painting - Kober (Flags) and Lontek (Banners)[1]
The history of Balinese painting, with its complicated cultural and social framework, is far from clear cut. Early accounts of Bali by Europeans mentioned Balinese paintings as part of the decorations of the rajas courts, particular when rituals involving the rajas’ family were performed (e.g. weddings). Paintings were also deemed appropriate as gifts between rajas and were also loaned, even in times of great rivalry or hostility between rajas. Outside the courts, the use of paintings was limited to the decorations of non-court festivals and occasionally within households, as an extension of what was originally considered a royal prerogative. Hence traditional paintings of Bali became Sudra (i.e. members of the lowest caste in Bali) art, expressing Sudra values and perceptions. Hence it is important to realize that a key to understanding the Balinese painting tradition is to understand the Balinese mindset – although servants to the aristocracy, they were also mockers of the royal courts refined posturing’s. Such a stance is well known in an Australian context – the “tall poppy” syndrome – where Australian's try to mock, deride and so “equalize” people with over bloated egos.

Balinese paintings fall into five categories: flags and banners; (ii) ceiling paintings; (iii) ider-ider (cloth painting in a horizontal strip format); (iv) langse (form of a cloth painting used as a curtain) and, (v) tabing (kind of cloth painting in a rectangular format hung on walls) – Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV. Today’s post will deal with flags and banners.

18th Century Royal Banner, Jakarta Textile Museum (Indonesia).
Comment: Handspun cotton, silk, natural dyes, batik, mordant printing.
Size: 322 cm (width) x 172 cm (length).

No Balinese ceremony or procession is complete without flags and banners. A lot of these were created in Kamasan village complex, and so are clearly identical in style with narrative paintings.

Flags are painted on both sides so that the “show-through” matches perfectly; that is, one side is thus a mirror image of the other. Flags come in pairs. For example, the two below show a similar but opposed characters from a mythological viewpoint.

One of a pair of Lontek – Red and Black Nagas (detailed view).
Size: Each pair is 345 x 65 cm at base.
Note: Naga is a type of aquatic serpentine semi-divine creature mentioned in Buddhist and Hindu literature.
Courtesy reference[1].

Second of the pair (detailed view).
Comments[1]: Kamasan work (1930s). Best quality work on thick, possibly Balinese cloth and painted on both sides. They were normally mounted on a single bamboo pole, which thinned out so rapidly that the top drooped over. “Nagas” seem to be the only subject for painted lotek (i.e. pennant), and of course their form fitted the shape of the flag very well. The two colors represent a version of Balinese creative duality: the red is male and the black is female and together they form two aspects of the primal naga Basuki. Only the male and female pair make up the entity of that name.
Courtesy of reference[1].

On the other hand, the two below show a complementary male and female pair. The male and female represent a perfect duality. They are, or can be defined as, totally opposed in every characteristic, and yet they are absolutely interdependent – a high point of complementary opposition. This aspect is very clearly expressed in Balinese religious life.

One of the Pair of Kober (Flags) – Raksasa (i.e. demon) and Hanoman.
Comments[1]: Kamasan, best quality work on both sides of Balinese heavy cloth, ca. 1900.
Size: Each pair is 53 x 49 cm.
Note: The white patches on both pieces are insect holes.
Courtesy reference[1].

Second of the pair - Raksasa and Hanoman.
Comments[1]: This pair of flags shows an opposed pair of raksasa (probably a named demon) and Hanoman. Hanoman holds a lontar palm (i.e. dried palm leaf used for writing and drawing) as his weapon, and the raksasa holds a club. This pair exemplifies the ideal matching images in flags and banners – two characters of identical grade and power but one on the left and the other on the right. The poses are the same and the pair is an expression of a balanced confrontation between symmetrical opposites that is so valued and so important in Balinese cosmology.
Courtesy reference[1].

One of the Pair of Kober (Flags) – Sugriwa (monkey king) and Subali (monkey king).
Comments[1]: Kamasan village complex; early 20th Century from Pura Puseh Tabanan. Best quality work on both sides of Balinese cloth.
Size: Each pair is 78 x 67 cm.
Courtesy reference[1].

Second of the pair – Sugriwa and Subali.
Comments[1]: This is a perfect pair of Balinese flags; they are identical and so there is no way of identifying one as Sugriwa and the other as his brother – Subali. However, because they are a pair we know that both are represented here. These two monkey kings are important characters from the Ramayane; Subali was the elder and thus rightfully King, but he stole his brother’s wife and expelled him when his brother protested. Sugriwa, whilst in exile persuaded Rama to shoot Subali from cover, while Subali was fighting with Sugriwa. When the two monkeys first fought Rama could not distinguish who was who and so in the second encounter Sugriwa tied some leaves around his neck to differentiate himself from his brother, whereby Rama was able to shoot Subali. Their identity - yet opposition - perfectly expresses the inherent and creative duality of the world and of human life as conceived by the Balinese.
Courtesy reference[1].

Kober (Flag) – Beiyu.
Comments[1]: Kamasan work painted on both sides, late 19th Century. Best quality work, riddled with holes.

Beiyu is the god of the wind and the father of Bima and Hanoman. Beiyu’s divinity is indicated by the nimbus (i.e. the “god spot” on the forehead) and the lotus on which he stands. This flag contains an extremely elaborate decoration: the very detailed border on the outer edge, and the floral decoration on the slot for the pole. Beiyu’s red and white check poleng trousers are also unusual. Due to Beiyu divinity, it is difficult to imagine what character was opposed to Beiyu on the other pair of this flag (which has not surfaced as yet).
Size: Each pair is 79 x 67 cm.

Comparatively little flag painting is now done in Kamasan Village complex. Moreover, flags by their very nature are exposed to the elements (animals that eat cloth, wind, rain and UV light) and so deteriorate very quickly. Old flags and banners, in tolerable condition, are rare. Although flag and banner painting is probably the most widely practiced traditional form of painting in Bali, it is more than likely that painted banners and flags will disappear from the Balinese scene. Nowadays more and more, plain cloth ones are used, particularly for the lontek.

Pair of Kober (Flags) – Bima (left) and Arjuna (right).
Comments[1]: Unknown origin, perhaps from a temple on Nusa Penida (?).
Mid to late 19th Century. Painted on both sides of coarse Balinese cloth.

The characters on this pair of flags represent a different dimension of paired opposition from thus so far considered. Bima and Arjuna are brothers, allies and both on the good or right side. The Balinese however conceive of these two as being “opposed” since they are manifestations of different sorts of power: Bima is loud, strong and rough, while Arjuna is the epitome of Ksatria (noble) refinement, restraint and elegance.
Size: Each pair is 48 x 83 cm.

Kober (Flag) - Garuda.
Comments[1]: Kamasan work; probably beginning of 20th Century. The paintings are on both sides of a thin European cloth. This is Garuda, the eagle who occurs in the Adiparwa. Though an eagle, he is conceived by the Balinese as having an essentially human body. He is a being of immense power that is allied to the good side. He becomes a vehicle of Vishnu. He is a successful defier of gods. In this depiction, there are few wind and cloud motifs, which is unusual for a painting the subject of which is Garuda.

All the above flags are in The Forge Collection of "The Australian Museum" Sydney, NSW.

[1] A. Forge, Balinese Traditional Paintings, The Australian Museum, Sydney (1978).
[2] The Australian Museum, Sydney, NSW.

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