Saturday, September 26, 2015

Balinese Paintings - Tabing (Part III)

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Art inspired by a particular religious background has featured on this blog spot. For your convenience I have listed some posts on this topic below:
Islamic Art
Historical Israeli Batik Artworks
19th to 20th Century Australian Christian Embroidery

The Balinese are of Hindu faith and so many of their art cloths reflect on Hindu themes.

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 IV.

Today’s post is the third post on tabings. Tabings are roughly square and are put against the wood back of the raised bed, which is the centre 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 within the traditional style.

Tabing – Sumantasantaka
Size: 185 x 132 cm.
Courtesy of Tropenmuseum.
Comment: Date painted ca.1900.

A couple, with iconography similar to Arjuna and Suprabha (but this may be from the Sumanasantaka) depicting the wedding and then a battle scene.

Before we discuss the stories that are the subject of tabings we need to understand how the Balinese view the divisions between “left” and “right”.

The Balinese Divisions Between “Left” and “Right”[1]
The division between left and right is commonly conceived in human societies between bad (or uncivilized) and good (or civilized). For example, chopsticks are non-handed implements and yet throughout Asia, using chopsticks in your left hand to cook or to eat would be considered “uncouth” or uncivilized. Similarly in all Indonesian societies the division between bad and good is also handed. It is very apparent in the wayang kulit(i.e. shadow puppet play), where the dalang (i.e. puppeteer) taking the puppets out at the beginning of a performance, places the “good” characters on his/her right and the “bad” characters on her/his left. The terms “of the left” and “of the right” are widely used to refer to the nature of characters. The whole cast of puppets is at the start divided into left and right, and the audience automatically knows which are the "good" and "bad" characters that are waiting in the wings, and hence from which side they will enter. The center of the screen is the proper place of the gunungan (i.e. the central tree-on-the-mountain puppet), and it is the place of action; the performers all enter and retire to the appropriate side depending of the nature of the characters. The dalang places the "good" figures on his/her right, but as the audience faces the puppeteer, the "good" characters are viewed on their left, so that except for the dalang, the “good” figures on the puppeteer's “right” are in fact seen by the audience on their “left”.

All of the main characters of the wayang kulit are on display as the puppet master gets ready. From the (audience, puppeteer) viewpoint good characters will appear on the (left, right); evil characters on the (right, left). The fan-like puppet in the middle serves as the chorus of the performance.

All of the main characters of the wayang kulit are on display as the puppet master gets ready. From the (audience, puppeteer) viewpoint good characters will appear on the (left, right).

Painting - detail, Bali, Indonesia, Southeast Asia.
Tabing Temple Painting depicting “Adiparwa - Churning of the Milky Oceans” by Mangku Mura, 1972.
Courtesy of Sydney Museum, Anthony Forge Collection.

This convention is followed in every Kamasan painting, where the "good" side is shown to the spectators on the left. Moreover, in battle the “good” side comes from the spectators left into the center and the “bad” side enters the battle from the spectators right toward the center. This convention applies particularly to mythological paintings as well as in some of the later stories. Nevertheless, there are some paintings that breach the left/right rule, but these are few and far between.

Balinese Paintings – Tabings (Part III)

Tabing – Swarga: Hell Scene.
Size: 150 x 160 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].
Comments[1]: Kamasan work; mid 19th Century. Finest quality work on heavy Balinese cloth.

There are various stories of personages who visit Swarga and witness the torments of the damned, but it has so far proved impossible to identify which particular story this is. At the top right hand corner, humans are shown interacting with two Begawan (i.e. holy people) who are apparently suspended from trees. Below them, a young hero is interviewing a naga king. The rest of the painting is taken up with scenes from Swarga, and there appears to be none of the characters, from the top right hand scene involved in the portrayal of what is going on.

Some of the torments shown in the painting include: a pig is shown roasting a spitted human; an adulterous girl has a saw inserted into her private parts; a woman who has no children has an enormous spider attached to one of her breast; birds with steel blades as their beaks are attacking dead souls etc.

Tabing – Bharatayudda: Death of Abimanyu.
Size: 80 x 104 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].
Comments[1]: Kamasan, Pen Sekenm, 1030s-1940s. Bought from the artist who used it in his family temple. It no doubt also served as a sample of his best work to show prospective customers. Most halus (i.e. fine workmanship) style, with added gold leaf prada.

Abimanyu, the son of Arjuna, had a hero’s death. While making a foray in which he successfully saved Dharma-wangsa, he was cut off and surrounded by the enemy. He was attacked by all of the most experienced and famous warriors of the Korawa side. When he had finally died he had one hundred arrows in him.

Here he is shown, fighting on, even after his bow had been severed. All around him are his attackers: at the top right is Drona, with Duryodana behind him; and beneath them Sakuni, with his younger brother Sarabasa behind. At the top left, the attackers are Jayadarata with Karna behind; and Burisrawa and Dussusana below. At Abimanyu’s feet, Laksana Kumara, a son of Duryodana, dies, having being hit by a discus. Across the bottom of the painting are six more Korawa who have been killed by Abimanyu – on the right are Kertasuta and Sakadurma, brother of Duryodana, and Senjuruh, one of his ministers; and on the left, two more brothers of Duryodana, Kaertasena and Durmasana, with minister, Whartbala behind.

The lengthy text describes the action. Above the text the sun is about to be veiled by clouds, while to the right lightning flashes, and to the left is Dwaja, the thunderbolt of Abimanyu’s grandfather, Indra.

Tabing – Bharatayuddha: Salia and Aswatama.
Size: 94 x 120 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].
Comments[1]: Eurpoean cloth, painted by Manku Mura in 1972.

Towards the end of the Bharatayuddha, after the death of Karna, Aswatama, the son of Drona (who has already been killed), accuses Salia, who is about to be appointed commander of the Korawa army, of being responsible for some of the recent disasters. Both become furiously angry, and since both derive some aspect of devine power from the god Rudra, take on the pamurtian form (i.e. a nine-headed demonic form), assumed by high gods in states of fury. However, since both derive their power from the same source, they are equal, and so no advantage is to be gained by fighting.

Manku Mura was definitely trying to bring this point out by balancing the two pamurtian figures. Hence he refused to nominate who was Salia and who was Aswatama. The idea of balanced opposition of equal powers is clearly conveyed in this cloth painting.

Tabing – From “Boma’s Death”.
Size: 121 x 135 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].
Comments[1]: This very vigorous fight scene has not yet been positively identified. It appears likely to be part of a battle scene from the “Boma’s Death” story – yet another story involving some of the Bharatayuddha characters – in particular Arjuna, Karna and Krisna. In this story some of these characters are killed, and are only supernaturally brought into life at a later stage, in order to take their parts in the Bharatayuddha battle proper. Tentative descriptions that could be assigned to this painting are: at the bottom two chariots approached each other and the man on the right has successfully shot the hero on the left, who in retaliation has done no more than get an arrow into the charioteer of his opponent. This may be the death of Arjuna, which occurs in the battle in this story. At the top, the old King with droopy eyes may be Basudewa. He kills two opposing Kings with discuses, while to the left at the top, he is himself killed. If indeed this is Basuewa, then the man who kills him must be Karna. In the top right, a knightly character who may be Sambu, Krisna’s son, beheads an enemy. The painting is unusual in that this large obviously “mythological” battle has no servant figures present.

Tabing – Arjuna Wiwaha: Arjuna Metapa (detail).
Size: 74 x 89 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].
Comments[1]: Arjuna is shown being tempted by two nymphs, while one more stands behind him and two more nymphs appear to be leaving, perhaps having given up the task as hopeless. Down below, with Twalen and Morda, are two nymphs who are difficult to distinguish in type from the nymphs tempting Arjuna, - this contrasts with the more usual practice of depicting coarser condong (i.e. female servant the counterpart of Twalen and Morda) type nymphs tempting the parekan (i.e. the four servants of key importance in Balinese versions of Hindu epics). These nymphs are dancing in a very explicit manner, and getting an equally explicit responses from the objects of their temptation.

Tabing – Arjuna Wiwaha: Arjuna and Indra.
Size: 83 x 99 cm.
Courtesy of reference [1].
Comments[1]: This painting shows Indra with suitable attendants, and female nymphs, perhaps some of those who have previously tempted Arjuna, despatching Arjuna and Suprabha to discover the secret of Detia Kwaca’s powers. Indra and the nymphs are on the right, and Arjuna and Suprabha kneel before him, on either side of the elaborate central tree. Behind Arjuna are two heavenly resi (i.e. priests), of which one nearest the center is Begawan Wraspati (who is, following convention, given the face of Drona). Underneath the resi are shown two male characters, presumably heavenly attendants, possibly those who brought Arjuna from his meditation to Indra’s heaven.

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

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