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For Arts Sake! – Visiting Bali #7

By: Dr Stan Florek, Category: Science, Date: 03 Nov 2011

Heaven and hell

Kerta Gosa: Hall of Justice with peintings

Stan Florek © Stan Florek

But, as you know, good news often comes together with bad.

To learn what awaits us after death I go to Kerta Gosa - Hall of Justice - in the centre of the town of Semarapura, Klungkung. It is a part of the former Semarapura palace, home to the highest ruler of Bali. The ceilings of two pavilions in Kerta Gosa are richly decorated with traditional style paintings made by artists from the nearby village of Kamasan.

With my head turned up I carefully examine the paintings. This is bad news, I think. The Balinese hell is as bad as the Christian one. I even suspect a conspiracy between the demons of these two distinct departments of torment. There is fire, boiling in large vats, chopping limbs and all manner of torture inflicted on humans by hideous, hellish characters, without mercy or respite.

This reminds me of paintings from the Australian Museum collection. One depicting a story where Bima, one of Pandawa brothers, visits hell; witnesses people boiling in a cow-headed cauldron; walking a ‘slippery pole’ over fire, being savaged by hideous beasts, impaled, hanged and stabbed.

The other painting - ‘Swarga’- shows Yama, the God of the Underworld, in charge of torment inflicted on unfortunate humans. Here pigs are roasting humans on spits; other people are gored by wild animals; an adultress has her private parts mutilated; a childless women has a gigantic insect attached to her breast and birds with steel blades for their beaks, are attacking dead souls. More about this painting.   

I must confess, hell does not appeal to me one little bit. I turn my mind to heaven. But where to find it? And how to get there?

And now I remember a story of Arjuna. He was one of the Pandawas’ brothers, an unrivalled archer. Once, Arjuna was meditating on the mountain Indrakila. But the gods had another plan for him. They wanted his help in a fight with a dangerous demon. First they wanted to test his resolve. So, they sent seven of the most beautiful nymphs, led by Tillottama and Suprabha, to distract him from his meditation. Arjuna passed the test, resisted temptation and eventually defeated the demon.

As a reward for his heroic deeds, he was given seven months in heaven, in blissful union with beautiful Suprabha and her six companion nymphs. More about this painting.   

To my knowledge the Christian heaven never promised such lavish and sensual rewards for good deeds. So, I can only conclude that the Balinese haven is vastly more alluring.

 

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