Three-dimensional sculptures in stone and wood, depicting deities and characters from Hindu mythology in human form and with features drawn from real and mythical creatures, appear prominently throughout Bali. Brightly painted wooden figures are created as architectural elements for temples or royal pavilions. Like this pair, many are ferocious demonic beasts intended to ward off danger and keep evil spirits at bay. In contrast to images of refined Hindu deities, heroic figures, royal personages and priests, demonic identities and figures associated with black magic can be readily identified by their conspicuous fangs, bulbous nose with flaring nostrils, menacing claws or talons, and bulging rather than elegantly almond-shaped eyes. Similar ‘rough’ physiognomy is also applied to heroic bold characters in Hindu legend, such as the bird-man Garuda, the mount or vehicle of the great god Vishnu.
These demonic winged creatures—fabulous composites of feline, bird and human characteristics—appear to depict Wilmana, the vehicle of Ravana the demonic ruler of Lanka, who holds captive Sita the wife of Rama in the popular Balinese versions of the Ramayana epic. Following a local variant on the Indian epic, in Balinese imagery it is on his winged mount Wilmana, rather than in a chariot, that the evil Ravana kidnaps the virtuous Sita. And while some versions of Wilmana closely mirror Garuda with feathery tail and bird-like beak, others take a more human form, though always with widespread wings and grotesque head. Many images of Wilmana depict him grasping a blade and the demons’ clasped fists suggest that each figure once held a threatening weapon.
While their brilliant red torsos and the rich blue highlights on their wings are typical of sculpture created for temple and palace in north Bali, it is not clear whether these figures of Wilmana served as demonic guardians like the ferocious winged lions that are conspicuously placed on the roof beams of major pavilions to protect the festivities taking place below.
Robyn Maxwell Senior Curator, Asian Art
in artonview, issue 77, Autumn 2014