of the depths of the history of Bali, Indonesia, comes one
of the fiercest looking figures in any form of Asian art -
Kumbakarna, the Hell King.
Kumbakarna is one of the many rich characters that
play a central role in the great Hindu Ramayana epic.
The primary religion of Bali is a form of Hinduism
that the people of this fascinating island have subtly
modified so that it meshes seamlessly with the indigenous
culture of the island. While
Hindu scholars the world over have recognized Kumbakarna's
role in Hindu mythology, it is in the artwork of Bali that
Kumbakarna has been given a face and an identity.
The Ramayana epic tells the
stories of Prince Rama's battle with the wicked giant
Rahwana. As a
winding tale with many different characters, it is often
performed in two forms of dance with the first called the
Kecak or "Monkey Dance" and the other being a
performed as a ballet, the epic is spread out with a few
performances over a few days to encompass the whole scope of
the story. The
gist of the story is that Rahwana kidnaps and tries to marry
Sita, the wife of Rama.
Kumbakarna is the brother of Rahwana, whom he
attempts to aid in keeping Sita from being rescued.
Despite their ferocity, both he and his brother are
defeated by Rama and his monkey army.
The importance of the Ramayana
to Bali culture cannot be underestimated.
Many of the streets of Bali's capital city of
Denpasar are named after characters in the epic, and most of
Bali's artisans are based in the city. The
figure of Kumbakarna is a favorite figure for these artists.
He is typically represented as having a fierce,
tusked mouth and a long tongue, large, round, black eyes,
and a sun-like flames emerging from the top of his head.
Masks of Kumbakarna's face are
becoming more and more popular throughout the art world, as
collectors search for an imposing figure to place in their
collection. Handcrafted wooden masks are produced by many different
artists, and the subtle differences given by each artist's
interpretation make for interesting comparisons.
One of the best places to find images of Kumbakarna
is at the Museum Bali in Denpasar.
The art center in Abiankas
also features many different pieces of art relating to the
favorite medium for displaying aspects of Kumbakarna is
are several famous paintings depicting Kumbakarna's struggle
against Rama's monkey army, and prints of these paintings
are proving to be popular with people all over the world.
way that Bali has embraced and adapted traditional Hindu
folklore and mythology provides a fascinating example of how
a single religion can be interpreted differently throughout
the world. The
figure of Kumbakarna is an especially interesting (and
fearsome looking) for example.
Finally, many people are discovering the wonder and
grotesqueness that Kumbakarna can bring to their art