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Pan Seken's The Death of Abimanyu
In the 1930s the artist Pan Seken created this tabling (temple painting) of the death of Abimanyu - a scene from the Hindu epic Mahabharata. The painting had been used in the artist's family temple in Kaman, Bali, and it is from there that Anthony Forge acquired it in 1972-73. AM Collection E74174. Image: Stuart Humphreys
© Australian Museum

This is a scene from the Bharatayudha, the great war between the Pandawas and Korawas, two powerful families of the Hindu epic Mahabarata. This epic culminates in a dramatic battle and its resolution.

Abimanyu, the brave son of Arjuna, dies as a hero. In the fervour of the battle, he makes a foray amidst the enemy and successfully saves Dharmawangsa, the eldest Pandawa brother and a key figure in Pandawa’s faction. However, Abimanyu was cut off and surrounded by his adversaries. Attacked by the most experienced and famous warriors of the Korawa side, he dies with one hundred arrows in his body.

In the painting, surrounded by his attackers, Abimanyu is depicted fighting on, even after his bow is severed. Among attackers are famous warriors Drona, with Duryodana(top right); the brothers Sakuni and Sarabasa (middle right); Jayadarata with Karna(top left); Burisrawa and Dussusana (middle right). At Abimanyu’s feet is Laksana Kumara, a son of Duryodana, who dies after being hit by a discus. Across the bottom of the painting are six more Korawa who have been killed by Abimanyu. They are: a minister named Whartbala; Durmasana, Kertasena and Duryodana; another minister named Senjuruh, and also Kertasuta and Sakadurma.

The lengthy text at the upper central part of the painting describes the depicted battle. Above the text the sun is about to be veiled by clouds, while lightning flashes right of the sun. On the left is Dwaja, the thunderbolt of Abimanyu’s grandfather Indra.