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This story comes from the great Hindu epic, Mahabharata. The first part, Adiparwa, contains stories of the origin of the world and the first human kingdoms. In Bali, all these stories were taken from original Hindu text. They were modified, some elaborated, others omitted. Moreover, the stories depicted in paintings by Balinese artists often relate to the oral versions, fused with local mythologies and characters, and departing from both the original and also from Balinese written versions.
The story recounts an important, ’literally earthshaking’ event - the gods churning the ocean using magnificent Mt Mandara placed on the turtle as a mixer, while the snake Basuki is tied around the mountain as a rope that they pull. This is done in order to obtain amerta, an elixir of immortality. When the water becomes milky and hot, fish, sea creatures, monsters and some land animals begin to burn. So, the sea god Bruna, depicted in bottom right, comes to complain about this interference. God Vishnu, depicted in bottom left, chases him away. But demons, detia also get overheated and the god Indra, who sits on the mountain’s top, brings rain to cool them down. The churning is successful. A superb white horse and three goddesses are coming out at the foot of the mountain. One of the goddesses, Pertiwi, on the right, is presenting amerta in its winged goblet to the detia to the dismay of the gods.
Anthony Forge considered these paintings as typical Balinese representation of Adiparwa stories, with highly hierarchical and orderly structure. In addition they represent different episodes of the narrative in one image, without any consideration for time sequence. Thus Vishnu and Bruna are shown, with many other gods, pulling on the rope, but Bruna is also depicted protesting against the procedure out of concern for the sea creatures, while Vishnu, depicted again, is driving him away. The result of churning, the horse and the three goddesses, and the presentation of amerta to detiaare also in the picture. And Vishnu, depicted yet again, shows his displeasure. Furthermore, Vishnu is accompanied by his servants Twalen and Morda while Bruna is accompanied by his servants Delem and Sangut, in the bottom row.
Anthony Forge: Balinese Traditional Paintings. Published: Australian Museum 1978