This rare statue of Arjuna in Buddha pose on a lotus throne is made in 1982 by a woodcarver of the renowned Njana Tilem Gallery in Mas. The original design from master carver Ida Bagus Tilem (1936-1994) is executed by his student A. Suprata. The carving is of a very high quality. Look at the fine details such as the precise posture of Arjuna’s hands holding a frangipani flower and his beautifully decorated Gelung Supit Urang headdress.
Arjuna is the great hero of the Mahabharata epic and also appears in other ancient Hindu texts including the Bhagavata Purana. In the epic, he is the third among the Pandavas, the five sons of king Pandu. In the Mahabharata War, Arjuna was a key warrior from the Pandava side and slew many enemies. Before the beginning of the war, his mentor, Krishna, taught him the knowledge of Bhagavad Gita.
The wood carving refers to the Arjunawiwaha. This old Javanese text from the 11th-century tells the story of Arjuna meditating and performing a severe practice of asceticism on Mount Indrakila. During his meditation he’s tested by the gods who send two of the most beautiful heavenly nymphs (Apsaras) – Supraba and Tilottama – to seduce him (some versions of the story mention seven nymphs). But Arjuna is not budging and firmly continues his meditation. Then the god Indra descends to earth disguised as an old Brahmin. They discuss about religious matters and Arjuna succeeds to answer all Indra’s questions. Indra reveals his true identity and goes back to Svargaloka, the celestial realm of the gods.
Chosen by the gods
Suddenly, a demon in the form of a wild boar comes raging through the woods and Arjuna shoots it with an arrow. But at the same time, an old hunter appears claiming that he also shot the boar. Arjuna and the old hunter are quarreling about who killed the boar. As it turns out the hunter is actually the supreme god Siwa. Arjuna’s arrow and Siwa’s arrow hit the boar at the exact same moment and fused into one arrow, which is called Pasupati.
Arjuna has endured all divine trials and is given the task of killing Niwatakawaca, a mighty demon who threatens Svargaloka and who can only be killed by a human warrior. To do this task, the gods give him powerful weapons including the Pasupati arrow. In the end, Arjuna manages to kill Niwatakawaca with the help of Supraba, who seduces the demon king and steals the secret of his immortality. As a reward the gods allow Arjuna to enjoy the pleasures of Svargaloka in the company of seven celestial nymphs. After seven days (or actually seven months, because in Svargaloka every day lasts a month) he returns to his brothers.
Many thanks to Roland Smeets, author of Understanding Balinese woodcarvings, for granting me permission to display the beautiful pictures from the book on my blog.