Saturday, February 21, 2015

Balinese Painting – Tabing (Part I)

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

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 II, Part III, Part IV.

Today’s post will focus on the tabing, but before we do, we need to discuss the iconography contained in all the above forms of Balinese paintings.

Tabing – Plintangan (35-Day Calendar).
Comments: Kamasan work by Pan Seken (1940s). Very halus work (i.e. highest workmanship) with fine drawing and writing.
Courtesy of reference [1].
Comment: The Balinese calendar was derived from the Saka Calendar of the ancient Hindu tradition. The Saka Calendar - one of two most popular calendars in India – is based on a year with twelve lunar cycles and therefore broadly similar to the Gregorian (current Western) calendar. But the Balinese calendar, locally modified, also incorporates the Pawukon system, when a year (which was believed to be based on a rice growing cycle) had 210 days and 10 different week cycles running simultaneously.

Iconography in Balinese Paintings
General Comments
Balinese paintings are highly stylized and there are sets of conventions about the representation of characters that are rigidly followed. These concern principally the face of the character and the costume, particular the headdress. The limbs and body are freer from restriction and can be used to show action, while the position of the hands and arms often denotes emotion (e.g. grief, anger etc.) in a series of postures that are conventional in form - mudra.

Sketch of Twalen – a Sudra (i.e. a peasant) type.
Courtesy of reference [1].

Animals are usually shown in profile. The trunks of humans, gods and other non-animals are shown full on, with arms and legs turned the same way as the head. Heads are shown in three-quarter view, but raksas (i.e. demon), peluarga (i.e. animal-headed members of Rama’s army supporters) and other mixed animal/human forms have the top of the face in three quarter view but with the mouth and teeth well emphasized, in profile. Trunk and limbs are used to show action, but the most important part of each individual is the face, which reveals fundamental character and moreover, positions the character on the axis of: Refined, Human-Coarse, Animal. The costume and headdress reveal the social status of the individual.

Facial Characteristics
The face is the clue to the character of any individual. The representation of the principal facial feature is subject to a set of conventions that can be translated into sets of graphic elements each with a limited number of variations. The five principal facial features and their range of variants are listed below.

The Eye
(i) The refined male eye – straight at the bottom and curved at the top.

Most refined male eye and face (i).
Courtesy of reference [1].

(ii) The refined female eye – curved at the bottom and nearly straight at the top. This eye is also used for Sikandi (i.e. male) as an indication he had been a female in a previous incarnation.

Queen - refined female eye and face.
Photograph courtesy of reference [1].

(iii) The “demonic” eye – round and bulbous, associated with demonic characters, of the left, and with power of an unrefined but not necessarily evil type.

Monkey peluarga - the demonic eye and face (ii).
Courtesy of reference [1].

(iv) A wavy variant of the female eye, used for many Sudra and peasant types, particularly older ones. It is always depicted on the folklore characters of Twalen (see above) and Morda, who are Sudra and very old. It is also a distinguishing characteristic of Drona, the teacher of both Pandawas and Korawas and an extremely aristocratic and powerful figure. The eye form is therefore somewhat ambiguous, being associated with individuals of both high and low status and of great power and those who are powerless.

The most refined characters have eyebrows, which are a simple fine-line arch above each eye (see most refined male and Queen depicted above). In less refined forms there is a bridge, presumably indicating wrinkles, joining the two eyebrows across the top of the nose (see below and Twalen). In animal-derived forms and demons the eyebrows are bushy, and often have a pair of fangs rising out of them just at the bridge of the nose (see Monkey above and sketch below).

Tough but not a demonic King.
Courtesy of reference [1].

Facial Hair
The upper lip is clean-shaven in refined young men (see below). No loss of refinement is necessarily implied in the simple style of a moustache, which curls down from the upper lip (see below).

Resi (i.e. heavenly priest), Pedanda (i.e. title of a Balinese Brahmana priest) or Begawan (i.e. title for Ksatria who became a high priest) – wearing a ketu (i.e. form of headdress).
Courtesy of reference [1].

However, the larger moustache, which grows from both upper and lower lip, and appears to have wax ends pointing upwards, indicates a coarser character. It is almost always accompanied by bulu (tufts of hair) down the side of the face – an unmistakable sign of coarseness (see tough but not demonic King).

Aristocratic noses are straight and thin with pointed tips and little sign of nostrils. Any bending of the nose, widening of nostrils and rounding of the shape is an indication of lack of refinement, and proceeds in many degrees right down to a pig snout and other totally animal nose.

The last category of facial variation is teeth and lips. Here refinement consists of small teeth with straight edge, in a small mouth with thin lips (see most refined male, above). The opposite is once again based on an animal model; a large protruding mouth with sharp pointed teeth and fangs, thick lips and a wrinkled chin (see monkey peluarga, above). There are many intermediate forms. Twalen, for instance, has a protruding mouth with a knobby chin, but straight edged teeth (see Twalen above). Animals and animal/human mixtures are almost always shown with fangs not only protruding from their mouths, but with supplementary fangs, growing through their cheeks just in front of their ears (see tough but not demonic King).

Other Delineations
There are many axes in the delineation of character: Human/Animal; Power/Impotence; Beauty/Grotesqueness; Refinement/Coarseness; High Status/Low Status; Right/Left. These axes are all independent of each other and any particular character may be shown as being at a set of totally unrelated points on each of the axes. It is only the rare individual such as Rama, who is at the high end of all the scales.

Headdress and Social Status
If the face is the main indicator of the nature of the individual portrayed it is the headdress and hairstyle that indicate social status. Social status has nothing to do with good or evil, left or right. Both these sides are complete with all grades and hierarchies being represented in these delineations.

Bird peluarga. Note: the headdress and bulbous eyes, indicating the low status of an animal compared to the aristocratic Queen.
Courtesy of reference [1].

The male costumes of the mythological period are complex consisting of over twenty different named pieces. They are however, standard, most of the characters wearing the same costume regardless of rank or side. Below are a list of indications of social status.

The most elaborate sort with a high central feature are worn by the most important gods, detia (i.e. class of demons) and raksasa (i.e. demon) but rarely by men.

Raksasa or detia (i.e. terms for classes of demons).
Courtesy of reference [1].

Apart from ruling and fighting, the main other aristocratic occupation is that of the Brahmana priest. The most exalted and powerful priests wear the ketu, which looks like a turban (see Bird peluarga) and is a very distinctive feature. There are also some less holy versions worn by other priests and resi (see above).

Lower Class Headdresses
The lower classes have a number of undistinguished headdresses and often wild and grotesque hairstyles. Here, too, there is little change between the two sets of stories.

Women's Headdresses
Women’s headdresses show less variety and are usually related to men’s, but there is one curious convention. In some cases women’s headdresses are shown “full face”, but the face itself remains in three-quarter view (see Queen above). Other women’s headdresses are shown in three-quarter view like the men’s.

The costumes of the rulers, princes, noblemen and various court functionaries in the post-mythological paintings correspond more or less to what was actually being worn at court in Bali in the last few hundred years. The crown totally disappears, and rajas (i.e. Kings) wear the upswept spiral hairstyle, which is often apparently covered with cloth, colored or patterned. Senior ministers and junior royalty have a similar style, but without cover. The “lobster claw” headdress and its junior variants also vanish and a new style of hair for courtiers and other aristocrats emerges; the hair is swept up and back and tied or ornamented to give an effect not unlike a thick “pony tail”. A new class of courtier also appears – the demang demung - a junior minister, who is shown bald. These differences are so pervasive that a brief glance at the male costumes and headdresses of any painting reveals at once whether it is of mythological or a post-mythological story.

Traditional Balinese Painting: Tabing
Tabing are roughly square and are put against the wood back of the raised bed, which is the center of all Balinese household rituals – forming a backdrop to the offerings laid out on such occasions. They are also used in a similar way in temple pavilions. The form covers not only illustrative scenes, but also various kinds of calendars, which are painted in the traditional style.

Tabing – Tantri (detail of the work).
Size: 46 x 66 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].

Comments[1]: Kamasan, 1972. Four stages in the production of this halus work. The set of paintings was produced by the family of Nyoman Rumiana. His son, Nyoman Tenkub, did the initial drawing in all four versions.

Sketch by Nyoman Tenkub.

Various family members did the coloring.

Detail of work.

Nyoman Rumiana himself did the black line finishing and added the white touches (see below).

Detail of the work.

The scene is the beginning of the Tantri series of stories. The raja, seated on his lion throne under two state umbrellas, is receiving from his minister (kneeling on the other side of the tree) the offer of the minister’s daughter, Tantri. Tantri herself is seen in the lower right, accompanied by an old female servant. Above the two women are two court resi, while below the raja are two courtiers.

Tabing – Begawan Sumitra. (detail).
Size: 125 x 208 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].

Comments[1]: Kamasan, ca. 1860. From the temple Jero Kapal, in Gelgel. Halus work of the finest quality, some fading or flaking.

This painting is a fine example of “mythological” presentation. None of the present artists were able to identify the story or the painter. There is an inscription to the lower right, which states: ”Adiparwa Begawan Sumitra”. There is a character Begawan Sumitra in the story of Sutasoma, but incidents shown in this tabing do not correspond to any versions of Sutasoma that is known.

The story centers on a princess and prince shown kneeling in the front of the begawan at the lower right, and at the left possibly being married by a priest. The prince is attended by sirih-box bearer (note: sirih (i.e. betel-nut and lime mixture chewed by Balinese) and the princess by a condong (i.e. female servant). Begawan Sumitra has a senior wife and two other high-status female attendants in both scenes and a small priest’s servant carrying a lontar box. At the top left is a scene, which stretches right to the center of the picture, in which the prince and princess accompanied by six different wild creatures, attract the anger of the raja, who has Delem and Sangut as attendants and is therefore of the left. In the center the same (?) raja, with Delem and a courtier, accompany the prince and princess on a journey. At the top right, the prince and princess are seen seated on a lion throne, with the raja behind and Delem and Sangut in front. They are attending a ritual performed by a priest, who by his hair style and eyes must have considerable knowledge of black as well as white magic.

At the bottom is a row of animals reporting to Prabu Singga – king lion. The bottom border, known as tantric does not refer to any particular story, but was a common feature of the finest paintings of the 20th Century. Pig, snake, tiger and dog can easily be identified.

Tabing – Adiparwa: The Churning of the Milky Ocean.
Size: 132 x 160 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].

Comments[1]: Halus style but uses no kincu (i.e. Chinese vermilion), on European cloth. This painting is dated 7th March 1921 and not signed, although is attributed to Pan Alus.

The churning of the milky ocean is being accomplished by Mt. Mandara mounted on the turtle and with the snake – Basuki – that is tied around the mountain. The fish and sea monsters as well as land animals are being scorched by the heat and the three goddesses have emerged, together with a white horse. The goddesses are usually identified as Pertiwi, on the right, is resting amerta (i.e. water of immortality) in its winged goblet to dieta (i.e. term for a class of demons) much to the consternation of the gods. Vishnu, who appears in the right hand in the middle row of the gods, is also shown at the bottom chasing away Bruna (the god of the sea) who wants to stop the process of churning, out of sorrow for his own sea creatures that are suffering from the heat generated.
Courtesy reference [1].

Tabing – Adiparwa: The Churning of the Milky Ocean.
Size: 133 x 149 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].

Comments[1]: Painted in 1972 by Manku Mura – a classical subject done in his most refined style.

In the center Indra sits on top of the mountain, granting rain to cool the overheated detia. Underneath him the three goddesses emerge from the earth together with the white horse. In the center is Gangga, on the right is Pertiwi, giving amerta to the detia, and on the left is Sri, offering gold to the gods. Underneath, Vishnu chases away Bruna, who has tried to interfere with the churning process. On the mountain and in the sea, various fish, animals and monsters burn with the generated heat. To each side at the bottom are the parekan, Twalen and Morda (on the left) Delem and Sangut (on the right). These gods starting from the center are in the top row: Vishnu, Ludra, Dharma, Sangkara and Gana; and in the bottom row: Ishwara, Semara, Agni, Mahadewa and Bruna. Note: The story is shown in totality and so is devoid of any linearity in terms of a time sequence.

Tabing – Asdiparwa: The Dewa and the Detia.
Size: 136 x 149 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].

Comments[1]: The painting continues the story from the churning of the milky ocean up to the discovery of Kala Rauh (god). At the bottom left, Vishnu, seen in a nimbus (a bright cloud surrounding deities), to the left of a tree, transforms himself into the beautiful girl standing just in front of him. Rama, Siwa and other gods look on, and there is a full array of attendants including Twalen and Morda. On the bottom right, the beautiful girl proceeds to the court of the detia, where she is shown holding the amerta in its winged container, having successfully inveigled it out of the detia. The identical structure on the left and right in this bottom section gives visual expression to the equivalence of the detia and dewa (god), as two alternative orders.

The middle strip is occupied by a substantial battle between the gods and detia. The gods having drunk the amerta are at some advantage. From left to right, the gods in nimbus are Kubera, Sambu, Brahma and Vishnu. Underneath Brahma, Twalen threatens Delem, while just besides Vishnu, Morda smites Sangut. One or two of the gods’ supporters seem to be losing, but basically the battle is very much in their favor.

On the top row at the extreme right Delem brings news of an amerta distribution by the gods, to Kala Rauh, the last surviving detia (shown in his detia form on the extreme right). He transforms himself into a more god-like form, shown just in front of him, and proceeds to the distribution. On the extreme top left he is shown receiving amerta from Vishnu, while Indra looks on. No god or goddess of the moon is shown as drawing attention to the interloper in this version. In the middle scene, Vishnu throws his discus and the head of Kala Rauh, reverting to its detia form, soars into the sky, and the body falls lifeless, while Delem and Sangut flee. Behind Vishnu is Brahma, and on the other side are Indra and Sangkara.

Tabling – Adiparwa: Kala Rauh.
Size: 130 x 138 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].

Comments[1]: European cloth, painted by Nyoman Dogol in ca. 1930.

This is another Adiparwa painting, and like most of them very static and highly hierarchically organized. On each side are 24 gods in three rows with, at the bottom, a row of attendants. Each god has its name written in the nimbus above the head – an indication of the literary nature of this particular painting.

Vishnu, from the left, has just hurled his discus at Kala Rauh, whose body is shown in the center of the painting with the discus severing his neck. Above the tree fly his still living hands and head. Vishu’s attention has been drawn to the interloper by the moon god (shown immediately behind Vishnu). In this version the moon is given male eyes, and in the written name above, a male designation. The maleness of the moon is in accord with the literary tradition. However, the moon is usually thought of by the Balinese as being female, and in paintings and carvings of Kala Rauh swallowing the moon – the cause of eclipses – the moon is shown as unequivocally female. In the center of the bottom are Twalen and Delem, registering distress and about to retreat.

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

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