View in your House

Barong Ket Mask by Muka
I Wayan Muka

Set as Primary Image

Edit Media

Wooden painted mask, lion-like monster in a crown features with large exaggerated eyes and nose, garish mouth with clacking jaw.

This mask was made by one the most famous master craftsman in Bali, I Wayan Muka. This man, based near Ubud, can show do the dances that these masks were originally meant to be part of. This is not simple an art object; this kind of mask is really part of the traditional culture of performance art in Bali.

The Barong is a dragon-like figure that is featured in theatrical performances done during temple festivals. The Barong’s dance is carried out as a form of protection for the village, cleansing it of dangerous influences, and maintaining or returning it to prized cosmological order and balance. At the most important annual festival on Bali, Galungan, which celebrates the creation of the world by the supreme being and the victory of good over evil, Barongs receive special offerings.

The Barong and Its Origins

Barong is a holy beast that takes many forms and is thought to possess great magic powers. The usual form is that of the barong ket, the lion, which is featured in the barong dance. In Bali, there are all kind of barongs, including tigers, boars, elephants, deer, dogs, goats and horses. The barong ket is always danced by two men, one in front, furiously clacking the movable jaw, the other supporting the majestic, curving tail. A barong performance is called mapajar, literally “to speak”, referring to the conversation between rangda and barong at the end of the show.

Balinese people believe that when masks are worn, dancers embody the spirits of the gods. Barong mask is literally considered alive, and when the performer puts on such a mask, this power enters his body. The dancer’s identity is temporarily suspended, and he assumes the personality and behavior of the mask. Sometimes the power is so great, he may fall into an uncontrollable trance, where he is unable to stand, and he has to be revived by a priest with holy water and sacred mantras.

The origin of the barong is unclear, but it most likely did not come from Bali. This is because of the fact that the barong mask did not exist in older indigenous Balinese communities and yet is similar to masks from other cultures. The barong mask has common features with the Chinese lion masks. In both Japan and China the similar masks with its body are moved by two men.

The barong might come from the Chinese Tang dynasty from the seventh to tenth century A.D. There are also similarities with demons represented in Tibet and Northern India and Nepal, were Tantric Buddhism is the major religion. A Buddhist sect, Bhairawa that used to exist in Bali in the eleventh century would recognize the intricacies of the barong. There is evidence that Buddhist magic performances were performed in Bali in 96 A.D.

Myths of the barong

The barong creation myth features Hindu gods, which can also be underlying contexts to barong performances. It symbolises the power of barong and rangda, his antagonist, and how their manifestations give villages and individuals prosperity and peace.

The god who created all humans and the Earth sent the deities Siwa and Uma to Earth to inspect what he had created. Uma was delighted with what she saw but soon she lost her balance. A demon king took advantage of this and managed to get control over her. He made her destroy humans by creating diseases. Siwa saw this and went to stop her, but he too lost his equilibrium. Both Uma and Siwa were now under the power of the demon and took the manifestations of the barong and the rangda. The gods Wishnu, Brahma and Iswara saw this and came to help the divine couple. The three gods performed a play about the marriage between Siwa and Uma and thereby the demon King lost his possession of Uma and Siwa. Siwa and Uma realized the unity of the world and harmony and prosperity was restored. When the barong mask is used today in the Galungan festival its main purpose is to fight diseases and ills in the society, to harmonize and rebalance it.

Another myth includes actual historical facts. When the Balinese King Erlangga became King in Java in the eleventh century, Erlangga’s Mother and Father ruled Bali and he ruled Java. The Father thought one day that the Mother was performing black magic and so she was exiled to the forest. When her husband later on died she became a widow, became vicious, and started to destroy Erlanggda’s kingdom creating epidemics and illnesses. She took the form of rangda. An old monk then took on the form of barong and fought her until she was destroyed. From this point on barong and rangda became enemies and the barong furthermore became the humans’ protector. There is also another version of the tale where Erlangga himself became barong to fight with his mother, Rangda, the demon queen and mother of all spirit guarders in the mythological traditions of Bali.
Height:  15     Width:  12     Depth:     
Mas, Bali, Indonesia
Mas, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Technique: Hand-carved and painted wood. Wood: Pulai Tree (Alstonia Scholaris). The wood of this common tropical tree is fine-grained, light, and durable for carving masks, and cream-colored, which makes it simple to paint them. Most Balinese masters use Pulai wood as it is believed that the gods tend to enter this type of wood quicker due to the mystical attraction between them. Pulai trees can be easily found in the center of every village or temple. Colors: golden, terracotta, green, red, black, white, and yellow. The artist, I Wayan Muka, says that if the quality of the mask is good, the aura will appear. Creation of sacred masks like this one, masks with power, spirit and soul, requires strict guidelines. In Balinese culture carving such a mask is also regarded as a part of the ritual, and ceremonies are the most important aspect of the creation process of barong masks. The first step is to choose the right time to start carving the wood. It has to be either on a New or Full Moon. Balinese culture venerates nature, it is believed that every living thing in nature is regarded with respect, and it is considered wrong to kill any part of living nature without getting permission. Therefore, on the chosen day, the village priest and mask carver go to the Pulai tree and give offerings to the gods of the place where the sacred tree grows (usually a temple, graveyard, or crossroad), and to the spirit of Lord of the Forest who is said to reside in sacred trees. The mask maker only chops a small amount of wood out of the tree. If two barong masks are carved out of a single Pulai tree, then these masks are considered brothers. Once the wood is cut, it is taken to the temple of the village, where it will eventually reside in case of sacred masks. The wood must be allowed to dry out for several months, as green wet wood is said endanger the health of the carver. Another auspicious day is chosen and two offerings are prepared when the carver begins to carve the sacred wood. The one of the offering is dedicated to the Sun God, as a witness of the work, and the other for Taksu, the god of talents and inspiration, asking a blessing for success. Holy water is sprinkled to purify the wood, the carver, and his carving instruments and the carving process begins. The carver first shapes the raw wood with a hand axe, using quick, rough strokes. The wood is always oriented as it was in the tree. That is, the top of the mask must be the part of the wood that was the farthest from the ground. When the outline of the face and its features begin to appear, the forms are further refined by a flat and smooth chisels. Using a knife to create detail, the carver searches out obscure and stubborn areas, especially the eyes and nasal-labial folds. The back of the mask is cut out with curved knife, and concave areas are shaped to accommodate the facial planes of the wearer. The surface of the mask is smoothed with a flat knife than with different grades of sandpaper. The next step is painting. For a sacred mask, only traditional paints, made of organic materials are used, and prescribed painting procedure is long and complex. 150 layers of paint have to be painted on the mask to achieve the desired result. For a base traditional paints made from ground, calcified pig jaw or deer horn are used. Color comes from various sources: yellow from clay, black from carbon, gold from gold leaf, and red from kincu imported from China. Other colors are made by mixing these basic pigments. Only the front of the mask is painted. Craftsmen also use boar’s teeth as a material source during the crafting process of the barong mask. A gold leaf is often adhered to the mask. When the mask is finished, it is given a purification ceremony to rid it from uncleanliness accumulated in the process of creation. The ceremony consists of three steps: prayascita and melaspas, which purify the mask from indignities suffered during the creative process, and ngatep, a process of unification of the mask with the body (costume). During the most important ceremony, the Pasupati (investing magical power), a deity is invited to enter and reside in the mask. The ritual is performed twice, in the inner courtyard of the temple and at midnight in the cemetery. During the rituals a spirit enters the mask, and after that the priest falls into a state of trance, he wears the mask, dancing and running around the grave yard. Those who are watching surround and capture the priest, and present an offering to release him from trance. After this the priest wraps the mask in white cloth and places it in the temple, and the mask serves as the protector of the village as long as rituals are followed to appease the spirit. For non-sacred barong masks, the mask maker works at home or in his shop. Even not sacred masks are handled with care and respect. They are never stored in low places where someone might step on them. Instead of being hung on the wall as decorations, they are usually kept wrapped inside a box or a cloth bag. Masks that are not given proper treatment, respect, and regular offerings are commonly reported to bring their owner imbalance, trouble, sickness, and uneasy feelings. Even an ordinary mask can become a sacred object if it has been in the possession of the owner for a long time, and if the owner has made regular offering to it out of respect, because each mask is believed to be the dwelling place of the spirit.
wood carving