Journeys of Desire, Balinese painting E74212

 Prince Panji’s quest for Princess Rangkesari.

Panji at Royal Court, Balinese painting E74212A

Emma Furno © Australian Museum

This ider-ider depicts two episodes at royal court. The exact subject of the painting is not known, but it probably shows scenes from the Panji narrative. Panji stories have their origins in East Java, probably from around the thirteenth century. Scenes from the Panji stories appear on the reliefs of several temples in East Java. Variations of these stories are present in the region, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. The stories revolve around the wanderings of East Javanese prince - Panji - in his quest to marry the Princess Rangesari.

In Bali, narratives describing the journeys of Prince Panji are known as Malat. They are depicted in paintings, performed in the dance-drama gambuh and opera arja. The Panji adventures are also recounted in the form of Kidung poems, written in the Middle Javanese language which prevailed in the era of Majapahit, an empire which extended through a large part of Southeast Asia between the 13th and 15th century.

In the 1970s Professor Anthony Forge found that many younger Kamasan artists were unfamiliar with the details of the Malat narrative but could identify Malat scenes and characters depicted in older paintings.

In the first scene of this painting a senior minister (patih) accompanied by two noble courtiers is presenting the Sudra man to the king. The Sudra man is telling a story, kneeling in a respectful posture before the king. Behind the king is a ‘modest princess’. The paler skinned courtier may be Panji. At each extremity of the scene are grotesque servants holding boxes containing betel nut (sirih) for chewing.

In the second scene, the same minister presents the same Sudra man to two high priests, with many courtiers in the audience. The bald figure behind the senior minister is a junior minister. As in the previous scene, a servant carrying a betel nut box stands on the extreme right.

This second scene is incomplete as the painting has been torn, and the continuation of the story is missing. Although this painting has been attributed to Kamasan, the wind and cloud motifs used to ‘fill’ the space are not typical of the Kamasan style.

Reference:

Vickers, Adrian. (2005). Journeys of Desire: The Balinese Malat in Text and History. Leiden: KITLV.

Explanations:

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 running 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.

There are four castes in Balinese society. The Brahmana is the highest caste which provides the high priests, Pedanda, who make water holy. The Ksatriya is the princely caste from which many of the rulers come. The Wesia, in theory, are traders, but often provide warriors and rulers for the states of Bali. These three castes are collectively known as Tri Wangsa. They include about 5-10 percent of the population. The rest of the people belong to the Sudra caste.


Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager
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