Tantri: the Story of High Priest and Bull, Balinese paintings E74211 and E74253

How a craving for stories saved Tantri and brought about a happy ending.

Balinese Painting E74211A

Emma Furno © Australian Museum

About Tantri

The Tantri stories bear some similarities to the 'Thousand and One Nights' tale. A king demands that his minister provide a new female consort every night, who is then killed the following morning. Eventually the minister’s daughter, called Tantri, volunteers herself. She tells the King stories that are always unfinished at dawn, thereby preserving his interest and her own life. Eventually the King marries her. In some Balinese oral versions, it is Tantri’s nurse who knows the stories and prompts her. Some of the most well known of the Tantric stories are animal tales, although they are not exclusively so.
 

Story

Painting E74211: The story begins in Scene Two with a poor Brahmana high priest praying to god Siwa for assistance. Siwa manifests himself as a blue bull. The priest has two servants and decides to go into the timber business, using the bull to carry wood. The bull is obstinate and refuses to move, and the priest, assuming that the bull is sick, instructs his servants to wait by the bull. He then rides on ahead. He instructs them that they should follow him if the bull recovers, and if the bull dies, they should cremate it, because it was a gift from Siwa.

The servants soon become bored with waiting and decide to cremate the bull. They set fire to the cremation wood, but the bull runs away into the forest. Spotting the smoke from a distance, the priest assumes the bull is dead. Then the bull meets some dogs in the forest who want to eat it, but the bull is able to defend himself. The dogs run away to report this to the Lion King Prabu Singa who is the king of the forest.

Painting E74253: The story continues after the Bull has met the Lion King and converted him to vegetarianism, as a superior way to power. The Lion King has ordered his subjects, including the dogs, to follow suit. The dogs try a grass diet but become sick and decide to remedy this situation. The dogs cause dissention between the Bull and the Lion King by telling each of them nasty things that the other has supposedly said. This leads to the fight in Scene Two in which both die. The story ends with the dogs feasting on their carcasses.

Explanation:

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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