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This long ider-ider, reads from right to left, depicting scenes from the first day of fighting in the Great War between the Pandawas and Korawas. The war is the culmination of the epic Bharatayudha, which retells the classic Mahabharata story in the Old Javanese kakawin verses, with specific Javanese and Balinese flavour. The painting follows many details of the written Bharatayudha version.
The first scene shows the conference held at the Pandawas’ camp, before they set off for battle. To the left of the tree is Krisna (an incarnation of god Wisnu), friend and advisor to Arjuna. With Pandawa allies behind him, Krisna is reporting the failure of the peace mission. The Pandawa brothers stand listening, on the right, with the kneeling servant, Twalen. The main characters, from the left to right, include Dharmawangsa (also called Yudistira) the eldest; Arjuna, Bima and the twins, Nakula and Sadewa. The other servant Merdah kneels behind them.
The second scene shows the long procession of the Pandawas to the battlefield. It is led (on the right) by Bima on foot with a soldier. Then come the servants Twalen and Merdah and the God Indra (Arjuna’s father) in his nimbus. On the leading chariot is Arjuna, then Nakula and Sadewa on the following chariot. The third chariot carries the sons of Wirata: Sweta (commander of the Pandawa army), Sangka and Utara. They are followed by Srikandi and Drestadyumna each in their chariots. Drupadi (wife of the five Pandawa brothers) is carried on a litter. Her principal husband Dharmawangsa, follows on an elephant and carries a lontar (palm-leaf) manuscript. Finally, Krisna rides in a chariot with a lightning flame above.
The third scene depicts a massive battle. It is difficult to distinguish the individual characters from the unnamed soldiers, but some general conventions can be used as a guide. The heroes always use bows and arrows or clubs, not swords or spears. They are always attacked and killed by heroes of the other side, with the same kinds of weapons. Heroes are usually painted in the foreground. The progress of this battle takes place from left to right: King Wirata’s two younger sons are killed at the outset - Sangka by Drona and Utara by Salia. Their brother Sweta furiously attacks Drona and Salia with a club and they flee. The Pandawa servant Twalen threatens the Korawa servant Dalem. Sweta (now with a bow) kills Kertawama (Salia’s son). Merdah uses his dagger (kris) to attack the Korawa servant Sangut, who is attacking him from the rear. Sweta shoots two more Korawas and then leaps from his chariot and with a club attacks Korawa’s commander Bisma. Bisma’s chariot collapses and he is at first dismayed, but a voice from heaven says that Sweta will die at his hands, and he turns and shoots an arrow killing Sweta. Dursasana, another Korawa, is between them, dancing for joy.
In the fourth scene, King Wirata and his queen farewell their three dead sons. Behind him are the wives of the three heroes. The downward pointing hand under the chin is an expression of deep sorrow. In front of them Twalen also displays sorrow, while Merdah makes advances to a servant woman.
The fifth scene shows the three brothers being cremated at night. Four soldiers throw fuel on the fire. The bird depicted symbolises a liberated soul ascending to heaven.
The last, little scene, is interpreted as Irawan, a son of Arjuna, asking his mother Ulupi (a serpent, who, in the form of a woman, is one of Arjuna’s wives) for permission to go to join the fight, although he knows he will be killed. This final scene indicates the continuing nature of the larger story of the Great War.
An ider-ider painting in Bali is designed to be hung under the eaves of a pavilion in a palace temple. It is wrapped around the outside of the pavilion and the story is normally presented in a series of scenes running from left to right. Scenes may be presented in the reverse order when the painting is used for rituals associated with death, or when hung in a Pura Dalem, death temple.
Kakawin are the narrative poems in the Old Javanese language. Bharatayudha is one of such poems, retelling the major Hindu epic Mahabharata in the specific flavour of Javanese and Balinese culture, tracing its origin to the 12th century.
The nimbus is the conventional depiction of deities in Balinese paintings.