This Art Deco archer, made in the 1930s, is depicted in a characteristic pose; kneeling on one knee he draws his bow, looking over the arrow to his target. The woodcarver has depicted the moment just before the archer releases his arrow. The dynamic posture and concentrated gaze of the archer in combination with the semicircular shape of his bow and the diagonal line of the arrow give the figurine an expressive yet elegant appearance. Notice also the fine details, such as the geometric patterns on the clothing, nicely decorated headdress and well-struck look on the archer’s face.
Archers are a popular motif in Balinese woodcarving because they play an important role in the Mahabharata and other Hindu stories. It is difficult to say which one is depicted here, but since the archer has no divine attributes, it is probably Arjuna or Rama.
Arjuna is one of the five Pandawa brothers from the Mahabharata and is the son of the god Indra. He is known for his unparalleled skill with the bow and arrow and can handle the bow and arrow equally well left-handed and right-handed. He has several ‘sacred’ arrows, each with their own mythical power, many of which he acquired during his mythical quests.
Arjuna’s bow is called Gandiva. This is a sacred bow that he got from the god Varuna. According to the story, Agni, the god of fire, one day wants to devour a complete forest, to regain his power and splendor. This forest was so big that he enlisted the help of Arjuna and Krishna.
Arjuna, known as the greatest archer of all time, agreed to help, but wanted a bow in return that suited his strength and warrior skills. Agni then requested Varuna to bless Arjuna (and Krishna) with the weapons they needed. Varuna gave the Gandiva bow to Arjuna, as well as two quivers which would provide an inexhaustible number of arrows. With these mighty weapons Arjuna could even defeat the gods.
Prince Rama is the seventh avatar of Siwa (a manifestation of Siwa in another form). Besides the story in which Rama breaks Siwa’s bow and thus can marry Sita, he is also known for the story of the shooting of the golden deer.
When his beloved Sita saw a golden deer in the forest, she asked Rama to catch the animal for her, unaware that the golden deer was actually a demon in disguise. Rama was overconfident and did not listen to the warnings of his brother, who did not trust it and said: ‘This deer is too good to be true Rama. It has shiny golden fur and gem-encrusted antlers, it must be a demon!’
Rama chased the golden deer deep into the woods. When he finally saw it standing still, he drew his bow and shot an arrow at the deer and killed it, whereupon it changed back to its true form: the demon Marika. With his last breath, Marika let out a horrific cry of pain and died. He was sent by the demon king Rawana to lure Rama away from Sita, so he could kidnap her. In the end, Rama manages with the help of Hanoman and the monkey army to free Sita, but that’s another story.