Calon Arang Balinese Paintings

Calon Arang is a story that is very well known to the people of Bali. In my painting I have imagined the two main protagonists, the priest (symbol of good) and Rangda (symbol of evil), in a village setting. It is the moment when the priest is protecting himself from Rangda with a sacred keris, and he waves it in the air, challenging her to come and fight him. Rangda accepts the challenge, and the battle begins.

Dewi Tjahjati sees Calon Arang as a village child, small and innocent, who grew into a beautiful and charming maiden. She was a faithful and wise mother to her family. But once she became a widow and faced old age slowly she became more a symbol to be feared than a person. Dewi has painted her as the child, the maiden, and also as a crone who is frighteningly evil. Could this be the truth? She wishes society to decide on Calon Arang and leaves her face blank in this painting for viewers to make up their own minds about her.

In reading the story of Calon Arang, Ni Putu Eni Astiarini was inspired as an artist to paint the part of the story which most moved her…the story of the limitless love of a mother for her daughter. The widow Calon Arang was willing to sacrifice everything for her only daughter, who nobody was brave enough to approach or wed as Calon Arang was an unsurpassed magician of black powers, a perpetrator of evil deeds. The widow allows her daughter to marry a young noble unaware that he only seeks to marry her daughter in order to find her weakness and destroy her. The devoted mother is willing to sacrifice everything for the happiness of her child, even her soul.

As Rangda means ‘janda’ or widow (Walu/Balu in Balinese) Tjokorda Istri Mas Astiti sees Calon Arang as a divorcee – a woman suffering under the combined constraints of economic and sexual pressures as well as emotional stress. She has painted her with eight other women who share her angst in an atmosphere of wild darkness. As with all other human beings, women under stress seek guidance from God, and it is Dewi Durga to whom these eight desperate women express their emotions, predominantly anger, in order to attain the strength they need to prevail over the men. She wins the war, but for the happiness of her daughter, Calon Arang sacrifices everything, even to her own defeat. She is a symbol of how Indonesian women always put their children’s interest above their own interests.

All the stories of Calon Arang display the misogyny of patriarchy, exposing what little justice is available for women. Men hold on to the power and make all the decisions for the family. As a result of the many misunderstandings between men and women, a theory prevails that the role of the man is to be the main bread-winner, and if the woman works, it is only to supplement his contribution. Women are considered weak, soft, in need of protection, not strict enough, emotional, irrational and only capable of doing domestic chores. In contrast men are regarded as strong and rational, decision-makers and protectors for the fairer sex, who are therefore often treated without respect, tricked, raped and abused. This points to an incredibly unfair gender bias, which requires a change of perception and the deconstruction of gender as it exists now, both socially and individually.

Prabu Erlangga intended his kingdom to be divided into two: one in Java and one in Bali so he sent Mpu Baradah to Bali for the consent of the powerful Mpu Kuturan. However, Sri Mpu Kuturan refused him, as he planned his grandson would rule Bali. Not only did he fail in his mission, Mpu Baradah also encountered great dangers on his journey home. At that time (the Majapahit Kingdom) Bali and its territories was under the power of Java. The king is depicted riding an elephant, being welcomed by his people. It was considered an honour for his queen, the princes and princesses of the royal family to serve their Raja.

I Gusti Ayu Natih Arimini has painted Calon Arang in a meeting with her followers, at the time when she gave them instructions to carry out her evil rituals. In traditional Batuan style, Calon Arang’s disciples and their assistants are surrounded by nature, flowers and watched by the creatures of the underworld. They face the four cardinal directions and Calon Arang takes the central position as she weaves her spells for destruction.

Mirah’s painting tells the story of the treachery of Calon Arang’s daughter, Ratna Manggali, to her mother. This happens on Ratna Manggali’s honeymoon, when she has been seduced by Mpu Kebo Bahula, the student of the priest who had been given the task by Mpu Baradah to separate the mother from her daughter and obtain the secrets of her power. Mirah visualises this in her painting: the young woman is in love, unaware that her love-making is a betrayal of her mother that will result in Calon Arang’s sacred book of magic being stolen and used against her, an act of treachery that will be the cause of her death at the end.

Mpu Bahula seeks Ratna Manggali’s hand in marriage. Her mother, Nyi Nateng Dirah is delighted to receive his proposal to her daughter, and accepts it unconditionally. At the request of Ratna Manggali she also lets Mpu Bahula stay at their home for several days. Mpu Bahula charms Ratna Manggali until she will confide in him about the source of her mother’s magic powers. She shows him her mother’s sacred things in her holy room, and Mpu Bahula steals everything that he considers could have magic powers. Dirah is aware of his treacherous act of stealing her things, is consumed by anger, and wants to take revenge upon him for his betrayal.

In her retelling of the story Toeti Heraty describes Ratna Manggali and Mpu Bahula on their honeymoon. This is the fatal moment when Ratna Manggali entrusts the Lipykarya script to her husband, who passes it on to the priest. She becomes a victim to her vow of honesty to her husband, who she loves. Once she is back again with her mother the flowers fall one by one from her hair, while the crows circle the head of her mother, Calon Arang, signaling her life is nearly over. Yanuar painted this sad ending, with the title of: “Love’s seduction brings endless grief”.

This classical Wayang painting tells the last part of the Calon Arang tale, the war between white and black magic The priest Mpu Baradah, practitioner of white magic, versus the evil Rangda, the widow of Dirah. Magic can also be used for good, but Rangda applies it to evil purpose, so it is considered ‘black’. With this magic her powers are limited to destruction, hurtful action and murder, whereas the ‘white’magic of Mpu Baradah can, as well as destroying, also revive the dead and send their souls to heaven. Nyoman Supini shows Calon Arang as the angry Rangda: flames consume her, pouring out of her eyes, mouth, nose, ears, personifying evil. Fire scorches the plants around her as she endeavours to burn the priest alive. But his white magic protects him: he destroys her, then brings her back to life. Once she repents he guides her to forgiveness before she leaves the world, releasing her to go to heaven.

It is said that Ratna Manggali was an exquisitely beautiful young girl. This daughter of the widow from the village of Dirah, Calon Arang, was sitting dreaming about Prabu Airlangga, the handsome King of Kediri, imagining in her dreams that one day he would seek her hand in marriage. But what could she do, because she was the daughter of Calon Arang – a witch of supernatural powers who practised the darkest black magic, and would stoop to anything to get what she wanted. Beause she had such a frightening mother not one young man had ever been brave enough to approach her.

Gill Marais describes Bali’s contemporary Rangda in ‘Bali Sacred & Secret’, (published by Saritaksu, 2006),
as being associated with death and sickness. She looks beyond the story of a woman wronged, seeing Rangda as a manifestation of the powers within the subconscious and unconscious of the Balinese, represented in a drama of exorcism for both physical and psychic health. She describes the trance that happens when the empowered Rangda mask comes out of the temple: “No sooner does she come through the temple gates than the more sensitive in the audience begin to sway, connecting with a realm of spirit forces. No one can predict when this entrancement will take place.”


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