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Out 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 ballet.  When 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 Ramayana.  Another favorite medium for displaying aspects of Kumbakarna is painting.  There 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. 

The 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 collection.

 

Bali, the Island Paradise The History of Bali, Indonesia
 
Bali Dot Mask
Carved Wood Mask
Bali Bird Mask
Batik Mask
Hell King Mask
 
 

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