Bali & Java

Did she get a good deal?

Q:  I bought this very cool mask in Ubud, Bali at an Antique shop. I believe it is depicting the deity Barong, a protective spirit. I’m not really sure how to tell how old it is or of it’s authenticity, but it sure is neat even if it’s just a low grade decorative piece!

It’s about 9″ x 8″ with a depth of about 3.5-4″. It’s covered in some dirt and I’m not 100% sure how to best clean it without damage. Do you have any suggestions? It’s painted/stained with some red and gold tones and is definitely made of wood, but I’m not sure which kind. We didn’t pay too much for is, maybe around $20.

A:  Your mask of the well-known Rangda is indeed cool. It is carefully carved and has been beautifully antiqued to make it look old. It’s worth more than you paid, so don’t try to clean it. Here is extra reading from Floating Leaf, an eco luxury retreat in Bali.

Rangda is a very important figure in Balinese mythology and healing traditions. She is the dramatic manifestation of the Goddess of the underworld, Durga, and is the demon queen of the Leyaks. Leyaks are ghost like figures in Bali that appear as humans during the day, but at night their head and entrails break free from their body and fly around cemeteries and villages.

An important thing to remember about Balinese religion and mysticism is that no god or demon is all good or all bad. In fact, the words demon and witch are a poor translation in English. Of course that is hard to tell from the description above. Can there be a good which whose head and entrails fly around and haunt villagers? Well, she also eats children and leads an army of evil witches that are forever in battle against the forces of ‘good’ represented by Barong.

Rangda is the female embodiment of divine negative energy. As much of the artwork in Bali, the Rangda mask is layered with symbolism. The large protruding eyes represent anger, cruelty and self-centeredness. The long white boar-like fangs remind us she is a merciless wild beast. And her long blood-red tongue of fire represents her eternal insatiable hunger.  B

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