Calonarang Story: Balinese painting E74214

Revenge, witchcraft and death

Balinese painting E74214A

Emma Furno © Australian Museum

The Calonarang stories are set during the reign of the East Javanese King Erlangga in the 11th century. The stories are about a woman called Calonarang who was rejected (or widowed) by her husband and exiled to live in the forest. Her beautiful daughter, Ratna Manggali, was married to a prince of king Erlangga’s court. However her mother’s reputation as a witch leads the king to send Ratna Manggali back home. Angry about her fate, Calonarang uses supernatural powers to wreak sickness and destruction on the kingdom.

This painting 'reads' from right to left and begins with a scene in which Ratna Manggali is returned to her mother by a courtier and two attendants of Erlangga’s court. Calonarang is shown as an old woman with supernatural power, but nothing indicates her being evil.

The second scene shows the effect of Calonarang’s anger with King Erlangga’s rejection of her daughter. A whole band of sinister characters are mobilised to spread death and sickness throughout the land. There are female sorcerers Leyak with fire coming from their joints and tongues; monkeys, an owl and a male evil creature with a long tongue and fangs, but no fire. To the right are shown family rituals of farewell to corpses wrapped in cloth. One of the mourners is shown seized with sudden vomiting, perhaps a symbol of cholera. Bodies wrapped in white cloth are carried to the cemetery on biers. One peasant carries a multi-pronged hoe to dig the graves. The cemetery is indicated by bones lying about and by the tree, which has a snake at its roots and from which a male witch is shown frightening a peasant.
 

In the third scene, King Erlangga orders one of his ministers to kill Calonarang. In the following scene four, they are joined by a servant and can be seen drawing their daggers kris, presumably as they approach the house of Calonarang.

The fifth scene has two parts: on the left the Minister and his party attack Calonarang, who is asleep without her headdress and with hair loose, in a pavilion within her house. In the right section Calonarang has transformed herself into the invulnerable witch Rangda. She is shown incinerating the minister, while his followers are dismayed and prepare to flee. Some versions of the story suggest that Calonarang was actually killed while still asleep and only then assumed her magical form and retaliated.

In the final scene, the triumph of Rangda is celebrated by her seven chief assistants. They dance over a corpse, a bier, and other signs of continued death and destruction. Each of these witches has an individual name and the artist has distinguished them by giving them individual physical characteristics. One of them, on the far right, has the pig-snout nose. However, in general they all show the Balinese conception of female witches, with many sharp teeth, tusks growing through their cheeks, long fiery tongues and fire bursting from their heads and joints.

The painting has been cut roughly at the left side, and it is possible that some of the cut off fragments were used to repair small holes and tears in the cloth.

The Calonarang story is also depicted in paintings E074213 and E074260

Explanation:

An ider-ider painting in Bali is designed to be hung under the eaves of a pavilion in a palace temple. It is wrapped around the outside of the pavilion and the story is normally presented in a series of scenes from left to right. Scenes may be presented in the reverse order when the painting is used for rituals associated with death, or when hung in a Pura Dalem, death temple. In this painting scens are in reversed order as deth is one of its subjects.


 


Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager
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