Because of the many tourists who took a wood carving home as a souvenir, Balinese statues have ended up all over the world. I bought this beautiful bird from a French dealer and collector of Asian art. It depicts a blekok (Indonesian heron) catching a snake. The heron and the snake are engaged in a dangerous fight. The bird tries to pull the writhing snake out of its hole. If the snake manages to wriggle out of the bird’s grasp, the tables are turned and the snake can kill the heron with just one bite.
The statue was made in the early 1930s by a skilled woodcarver. The elegant and realistic design is characteristic of the Balinese Art Deco style at the time. The stylized interplay of curved lines in the heron’s neck, wings and the snake’s body also bears strong resemblance to Western Art Nouveau sculpture.
In Hinduism and Buddhism, the heron also has a symbolic meaning. Concentrating on its prey, a heron stands still for a long time in the same spot, thus embodying patience, balance and silence. Three properties that are also important in meditation. The heron also appears in the Indonesian animal fables of the Tantri Kamandaka, such as the story of the wicked heron and the clever crab. This popular folktale goes like this…
Once upon a time there was a heron who was lazy and didn’t feel like catching fish every day. So to get his food easily, he devised a ruse. He went to a pond and told the fish and crabs that lived there that he had heard that nearby fishermen wanted to drain the pond. The fish and crabs panicked, but the heron said he knew what to do: ‘There’s another pond ahead. If you want I can take you there.’ They liked that and every day a few fish climbed on the heron’s back. But instead of taking them to the other pond, he landed on a rock and ate the fish there. One day one of the crabs wanted to be taken to the other pond and also climbed on the heron’s back. As they flew over the rock, the crab saw the bones of the eaten fish and realized what the heron had been up to all along. Furious, he clamped his claws around the heron’s neck and pinched him to death. The crab crawled back to the pond and told what had happened. The other fish and crabs thanked him for saving their lives.
Moral of the story: don’t be guided by greed, or you may end up badly.
Pictures by Bertrand Teychené, Galerie du Mont Céleste