Mahabharata: Arjuna Metapa (Arjuna Meditating): Balinese painting E74247
The Temptation of a Warrior
About the painting
This painting depicts a scene related to the great Hindu epic Mahabarata. The Pandawas went into exile for twelve years after they gambled and lost their kingdom to the Korawas. One day during their exile in the forest, Arjuna, one of the central Pandawas’ characters and unrivalled archer, was meditating on the mountain Indrakila. At that time the Kingdom of the Gods was threatened by the powerful demon, Niwatakawaca, who could only be killed by a human being. The gods decided to enlist the help of Arjuna, but first the god Indra wanted to test Arjuna, to see if he was spiritually strong enough to undertake the task. The episode of 'Temptation' is depicted in this painting. Indra sends seven of the most beautiful nymphs, led by Tillottama and Suprabha, to distract him from his meditation.
In the painting Arjuna is flanked and tempted by two nymphs, while the third stands nearby. Two other nymphs appear to be leaving. Lower down, the servants Twalen and Merdah are with two nymphs dancing in a very explicit erotic manner.
The painting has a distinctive style, with pale colours. The trees, flowers, birds, butterflies and caterpillars form elaborate scenery. In the bottom right corner is a human-headed bird, unusual in paintings, except in those depicting the Swarga, the afterlife.
The rest of the story
The nymphs fail to distract Arjuna. So, Indra is delighted and goes out disguised as an old priest. He wants to find out if Arjuna’s desire for power is for selfish reasons, or to help others. They talk and Indra is convinced that Arjuna is meditating to pursue his duty as a warrior and that his only desire is to perform meritorious deeds. Indra reveals himself and Arjuna returns to his meditation. Meanwhile, the demon Niwatakawaca has heard that Arjuna may be recruited by the gods and he sends out a demon called Muka to kill him. Muka turns himself into a wild boar and ravages the mountain, which disturbs Arjuna, who rushes out with his bow and arrows to shoot it. At the same time the god Siwa, disguised as a hunter, appears and shoots at the boar. Arjuna’s arrow and Siwa’s arrow strike the boar at the very same moment and the arrows become one. Inevitably a dispute erupts about who killed the boar. The two engage in a fight and as they wrestle, Arjuna lifts his opponent off the ground. At this stage Siwa reveals himself in godly form and Arjuna pays homage to him. Siwa then presents Arjuna with an arrow called Pasupati.
Then Indra’s messengers arrive to request Arjuna’s help in the struggle against the demon Niwatakawaca. Arjuna flies off to heaven with them. Indra explains about the threat to heaven and gives instructions on how Arjuna and the nymph Suprabha will get to Niwatakawaca’s court to discover the demon’s vulnerable spot. Upon arrival Arjuna hides while Suprabha enters the palace gardens of the demon. Niwatakawaca has long been enchanted by Suprabha and she flatters him into telling her about his powers and he carelessly reveals that his vulnerable spot is on the tip of his tongue. Arjuna overhears this and kicks down the palace gate, distracting Niwatakawaca and enabling the two conspirators to escape.
Soon Niwatakawaca and his army prepare to march against Indra. The two armies meet and after a long battle, Arjuna and Niwatakawaca face each other in fight. The army of the gods is in disarray and Niwatakawaca opens his mouth to insult Arjuna, giving him a valuable chance to take a shot. Soon the demon’s mouth is filled with arrows and he dies.
As a reward for his heroic deeds, Arjuna is given seven months in heaven. He marries Suprabha and her six companions who originally tempted him. After seven months of blissful existence, Arjuna takes leave to return home and be reunited with his brothers.
There are several paintings in the Forge collection depicting the Temptation of Arjuna. This theme and the related episodes have been the popular narrative subjects for Balinese artists.
Different episodes of the same story can be seen in painting E074203. It is an ider-ider attributed to the Kamasan artist Kumpi Karta. Here the story begins with the confrontation between Arjuna and Siwa - disguised as a hunter, over the dying boar, and concludes with Arjuna’s arrival in Indra’s heaven.
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.
The temptation of Arjuna is also depicted in the following paintings in the collection:
E74164; E74165; E74166; E76381; E76382
Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager