The Story of Kala, Balinese Painting E74181

How does a hungry Balinese god search for food?

Bali Painting E74181

Emma Furno © Australian Museum

About the painting. This painting was commissioned by Anthony Forge from Kamasan artist Mangku Mura in 1973. The content combines a traditional narrative with reference to a then current social situation in the Gelgel ritual area to which Kamasan belongs. In doing so it presents the version of the story that is uncommon and original in its conception. The story is conveyed through several episodes or scenes composed in four horizontal bands from left to right. The first scene is in the bottom left corner. The following scenes are to the right. The next band, above, starts from the left again and successive scenes follow this pattern, to the last episode in the top right corner.
 

The story: In the first scene (bottom left corner), the God Siwa is engaged in a romantic affair with Giri Putri, but it is midday and an inappropriate time for love-making so the result of their union falls into the sea and is swallowed by a monstrous fish. The fish later regurgitates a small boy and presents him to Bruna, God of the Sea. The boy lives with Bruna, eating fish and growing strong but terrifying in appearance. In the third scene the boy, accompanied by the servants Dalem and Sangut, asks Bruna about his parents and then sets out to find them.
 

Siwa meets his son and gives him the name Kala (scene five, in the second band). Kala is very hungry and asks his father what he can eat as the food provided for the gods is only the scent of flowers and holy water. He needs a more substantial meal. Siwa tells Kala that he may eat the children of Begawan Wraspati because they are anak buncing (male and female twins) who were born at an inauspicious time. Scene six shows the twins taking leave of their parents, while Kala attempts to catch them (scene seven).


In scene eight the twins hide among the audience of a wayang kulit (shadow puppet) performance, which is taking place at a crossroads at midnight. Kala is fascinated by the performance and stops to watch, enabling the twins to creep away. At the end of the performance Kala cannot find the twins. He tries to eat the offerings set before the dalang (puppeteer) but is told he is not allowed to touch them. In scene nine he gives up looking for the twins and tells the dalang that people born at an inauspicious time can, in future, be protected from harm by staging a wayang kulit performance.


In scene ten, Kala returns to Siwa and asks for food again. Siwa tells him to go to a crossroads at midday and that his food, in the form of a riddle, will have seven eyes, eight legs, six arms and one tail. Scene eleven (top left) shows Kala waiting at the crossroads. At midday Siwa and his wife arrive on a horse – the three of them providing the answer to the riddle. Kala guesses the answer and is about to attack, but by the time he has explained the answer to Siwa, midday has passed, and so he has missed his chance. Kala, still hungry, begs to know what he can eat. Siwa tells him to wait until the last day of the month kasanga (the end of the year), when huge offerings will be made at the crossroads, with all sorts of food that he may eat. The last scene (top right) shows Kala about to swoop down on the offerings that are being dedicated specifically to him, as part of the cleansing that takes place every year on the day before Nyepi, the Balinese New Year. As long as the offerings are good enough, the Balinese people need not fear that Kala will continue to seek humans as food.


About the story. The Story of Kala is known in many versions in Bali, but most do not feature the anak buncing (male and female twins) as Kala’s potential prey. The birth of opposite sex twins to low caste parents is considered dangerous and makes the village impure. About the time Mangku Mura painted this picture, the Gelgel ritual area of which Kamasan is a part, had had a spate of such twins, obstructing the ritual life of community. This may explain why the anak buncing appeared in Mangku Mura’s version of this story.
 


Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager
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