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This painting illustrates two scenes from the Smaradahana. The God Siwa is in deep meditation on Mount Meru. But he must be awoken to fight the demon Nilarudraka who is threatening the whole world. Nilarudraka received his extraordinary powers from Siwa who also granted him a wish that nobody but Siwa’s son would be able to defeat him. In the meantime the love god Smara is directed by the other gods to bring Siwa out of meditation. Smara wants to make Siwa lust after his wife Uma so that their marriage can be fulfilled and consecrated.

In the narrow scene across the top of the painting, Smara, in the centre, is firing his flower arrow into the heart of the meditating Siwa. In the right corner, dressed as an ascetic, Siwa has his two guardians Nandiswara and Mahakala beside him. In front of Siwa is his charioteer, carrying a whip.

Smaradahana, Balinese painting E76373
Smaradahana: the burning of the God of Love. Painting from the 1920s in Kamasan, artist unknown; collected by Anthony Forge in Kamasan in 1979. Size: 132 x 166cm. AM Collection E76373. Image: Emma Furno
© Australian Museum

In the larger scene below, Siwa awakens. He is enraged, and appears in the form of a multi-armed and multi-headed monster Pamurtian, accompanied by the two demonic guardians Nandiswara and Mahakala. Angered, Siwa burns the god Smara, who is engulfed by flames at his feet. Behind the burning god are his divine guardians and, below them, three courtiers and the two trusty servant clowns, Twalen and Merdah.

Beyond the two episodes depicted in this painting, the story continues: Smara’s wife Ratih is so overcome with grief at the loss of her husband that she prepares to follow him in death. Ratih travels to the place where Smara has been burnt and throws herself into the flames. Ratihand Smara meet in the flames but cannot unite as they have no human form. Smara enters the heart of Siwa and Ratih enters the heart of Uma. Meanwhile, struck with the flower arrow, Siwa rekindles his passion for Uma and the marriage is soon consecrated. The gods visit the couple in fulfilled union, bringing with them the god Indra’s elephant. The creature frightens Uma, and when a son is born shortly after, he has the head of an elephant. The son, named Gana, confronts the demon Nilarudraka in a battle, killing him and restoring peace to the world.