This fine early Balinese shrine hanging was created in Kamasan, a cultural centre in south Bali connected historically with the royal court of Gelgel. There this style of painting developed, including the two-dimensional portrayal of figurative subject matter now associated largely with flat leather wayang puppets. Kamasan style still remains the preferred genre for narrative hangings in Bali’s Hindu temples and shrines. As is common with rare nineteenth-century examples, the identity of the artist is not recorded.
Painted hangings of this size and format are known as langse, used as curtains or screens around the offering platforms of Balinese temples. Like many such banners it depicts an episode from the Balinese version of the Mahabharata, the great Hindu epic which narrates the antagonism and final war between the Pandawa brothers and their Korawa relatives. Entitled Arjuna Wiwaha the popular legend was composed by the Javanese court poet Mpu Kanwa in 1035. It illustrates the ascetism and marriage of Arjuna, the most prominent and popular of the Pandawa brothers throughout Bali and Java.
In finely drawn yet superbly animated detail, the scenes on the viewer’s left centre on Arjuna’s mountaintop meditation at a time when the gods are being threatened by powerful demons. With Arjuna’s help, the demons-—one disguised as a great boar—are ultimately defeated in the battles depicted on the right-hand side of the painting. Arjuna is rewarded with seven months in Indra’s heaven where he marries the seven nymphs who are shown on the left in various amorous scenes trying to tempt him out of his ascetic trance. The figures are carefully developed, and range from the great gods and Pandawa noblemen with their comically rendered servants, to flirtatious nymphs, an aggressive Garuda bird and a wonderfully striped boar.
Robyn Maxwell Senior Curator, Asian Art
in artonview, issue 77, Autumn 2014