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Bali is home to a large population of monkeys and several communities reside in and around popular temple sites. Their interactions with tourists, and sometimes farmers, are notorious and despite their cheeky behaviour the Balinese accept their presence due to their association with the great Hindu epics. The figure of the monkey is one of the most popular icons represented in Balinese art and is often depicted as part of the Ramayana story. Relating the quest by the prince Rama to rescue his wife Sita from the demon king Rawana, Rama relies on the assistance of the great white monkey Hanoman to search for Sita in Langka (modern-day Sri Lanka) and an army of monkey allies to defeat the forces of Rawana after an extensive battle. The role of the monkeys as faithful servants of Rama is depicted and performed in many forms and settings.
This long narrow embroidered cloth was created as a valance to hang around the eaves of a temple or shrine. It was made using an embroidery technique associated with the area of Negara in West Bali and depicts a single battle scene between monkey and demon combatants.
Two monkeys and a servant from Rama’s side are portrayed on the viewer’s right, in combat with three demon generals from Rawana’s side on the left. A tree in the middle of the cloth separates the warring parties. The monkey characters are recognisable with their long tails and claw-like feet, though their upturned hairstyle is characteristic of refined, courtly figures. They use tree branches as clubs. The smaller clown-like figure with a bulbous nose accompanying them is a servant and is armed with a raised spear. The party representing the demon king on the left shares similar characteristics to the monkeys, with the same sharp fangs and round eyes, but with human-like feet and no tails. Their weapons are long swords and clubs. All the figures are dressed in short loin cloths tucked up between their legs and fastened with long sashes.
The names of the key figures are written above them. The monkeys are named as Nila and Sangada (also spelt Anggada). Both are known to be powerful figures - Nila is the son of Antaboga, the king of snakes, and Sangada is the son of Subali, king of the monkey kingdom. This simple scene thus reinforces the theme of loyalty and the crucial interactions between the animal kingdom and humans in maintaining balance on earth.
- Embroidery – forming a pattern on the fabric by applying thread or yarn with a needle, it could include other materials such as beads, quills, and sequins.