Bali, isle of heavens

No other place in the world has been so highly praised for its beauty as Bali,  many temples, shrines and beautiful palaces.  Even the most remote  corners of the island, the visitor’s eye is engaged by magnificent views of these richly ornamented constructions.  Very much living shrines, they are the sites of both daily observance of the Balinese Hindu rites and more spectacularly religious festivals.

A mask dancer performing in Pura Sadia temple during the Galungan-Kuningan festival, the most important in the Hindu Balinese calendar, celebrating the victory of good over evil.  It is believed that during Galungan spirits descend to bless the earth and ascend back to the heavens on Kuningan day.  Music and dances performed in temples are considered as offerings to the deities.

Bowl of flower petals and holy water are left on temple altars after blessings or purifications rituals.  For the Balinese people, offerings of food , flowers and incense to the gods and the elements, promises a state of equilibrium where man, nature and the divine can co-exist in peace and harmony.

Bali17

IMG_0529                                Rows of fishing boats along the beach of Jimbaran.

Bali33
Carved decorative Balinese door.

Children learn to dance and play musical instrument at a very young age.

scan0093

31Women dressed up in their splendid attire in preparation for a temple festivity.

IMG_1998

Barong a character in Balinese mythology He is the king of leader spirit of the host of good.  Banas Pati raja the good spirit which animates the Barong.  The character of the Barong often accompanied by two monkeys (dancers dressed in monkey costume)

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Indonesia at a glance

Bali Island landscape

 

Arched gracefully between two continents of Asia and Australia is a vast archipelago of 17,000 islands with the musical name of “Nusantara” better known as Indonesia.  The islands were blessed with spectacular natural beauty, including majestic volcanoes falling steeply to crystal clear highlands, lakes forested gorges, rocky highlands and golden beaches.

Indonesia was discovered by Portuguese traders in the early 16th century.  Then the Dutch came, ousted Portuguese.  Because of Indonesia bountiful spices and other commodities, the Dutch established their presence on Java island and gradually to the rest of the islands.  The Dutch colonized Indonesia for 350 year.

Jakarta capital of Indonesia was named Batavia by the Dutch.  There are still many old Dutch buildings in downtown Jakarta close to  China town.   Also a functioning draw bridge similar in Holland heading to “Pasar Ikan” or fish market where there are several Dutch colonial storage buildings.  It is a tourist attraction now.

During the war in Asia, The Dutch surrender the islands to Imperial Japan.  They occupied  the islands for three years.  After their country destruction from the atomic bomb, they surrender to the Dutch.    The Dutch did not colonized the islands any longer.  Indonesia received independent on August 17, 1945,   with President   Soekarno and prime minister Hatta for Indonesian finally became a free country.

The islands having large variety of plants, animal life, both aquatic and terrestrial.  Among its rare species are the Orangutan primate, the Komodo dragon (giant lizard).  Another assets of Indonesia is its people, rich in colorful cultures and traditions inherited from the dawn of civilization.  Indonesians are divides into approximately 300 ethnic groups, speaking about 365 languages and dialects.   By decree from President Soekarno that all Indonesian have only one language to communicate with each other  that is “Bahasa Indonesia”.

Indonesians are well known for their friendliness , politeness and hospitality.

The country motto “Bhineka Tunggal Ika”  unity in Diversity.

 

 

 

 

Photography by Kalpana Kartik and Kamala Saraswathi  Copyright

 

Children of the islands

The children of Sumba
The children of Sumba

Glimpses into the world of children growing up on the islands of Indonesia. Here are some images taken during my trip to the islands of Java, Sumba, Borneo Kalimantan, and Flores. These shots, prior to digital cameras, were taken with my film camera using reversal film and black and white negatives. My preference was to use Fujichrome and Ilford Delta 400. It was not that easy then, carrying rolls of films and being on the islands making sure not to run out of them. Precise shooting can be helpful but sometimes errors do occur as nothing can be seen at the back of the camera for correction so, no turning back either you hope to capture it right or you lost it and perhaps the best shot too! Snapping was easy but films and post production were costly which include development and duplicating slide originals. Photoshop was just in its infancy. Today in the digital era, it is photojournalism made easy capturing the world through the lens cannot be more fun while blending in with technology recreating surreal and aesthetic images. Meanwhile here are some of my memorable scanned shots to linger on …

Travelling down the Mahakam river deep in the heartland of the jungles of Borneo Kalimantan where I encountered some of the world most inspiring landscapes while meeting the little inhabitants.

On the island of Flores traditional villages nestled in the misty valleys offering some of the most unforgettable visits.

My most wonderful visit to the village of the Baduy people in West Java.

Island Market …

A parallel world vision of a village market on the island of Flores
A parallel world vision of a village market on the island of Flores

Traditional markets abound in the many islands of Indonesia, and discovering some if its unique local flavour can be quite an adventure. On one of my trips to the islands, I came across some wonderful markets on the island of Flores such as those found in the village near the volcanic Kelimutu mountain reputed for its three crater lakes. In the early morning hours, village markets offer fresh local vegetables in season such as chayottes, taro and greens.

Vegetables sellers
Vegetables sellers

Locals are seen dressed in their traditional ikat cloth busy arranging and preparing their home grown products either placed in plastic bowls or neatly arranged on wooden stalls …

Village market
Village market

Other urban markets such as in Maumere East of the island can also make an interesting visit while around town …

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Java Market …

Market scene in Yogyakarta Central Java
Market scene in Yogyakarta Central Java

Markets all over the world are always fun to browse through and especially in Asia these colourful markets can be photogenic. In some of these Javanese traditional markets labyrinth of stalls are filled with mountains of greens and spices.

vegetable seller in a traditional Javanese market
vegetable seller in a traditional Javanese market

More images and ambiance at traditional Javanese markets …

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Jungle Swords …

The Mandau sword of the Dayak tribe of Kalimantan (Borneo)
The Mandau sword of the Dayak tribe of Kalimantan (Borneo)

Headhunters and powerful shamans. Those were the days when first European explorers ventured into the rainforest of Kalimantan and met with indigenous tribesmen skilled in the art of war and hunting. Even if those warring days are over, shamanism is still widely practiced among the Dayak people especially when it comes to healing. For those who are familiar with the tribes from Borneo, would know that the warriors tribe are mostly found among the Kenyah Dayak living along the great Mahakam river in the eastern part of the island. They are excellent blacksmiths producing some of the island’s most beautiful swords known as the Mandau. An exquisite craftsmanship the Mandau is closely linked to headhunting practices. And although the sword for everyday use is simply made, most of the ceremonial Mandau swords are always aesthetically made. The blade is often inlaid with brass and the hilt is carved out of animal bone as well as the wooden scabbard, sculptured with decorative motifs. Even if these Mandau are still made and some are still kept as family heirlooms, nothing is comparable to those produced in the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. And of course these Mandau are also popularly made for tourists, and unless you come across a Dayak wanting to sell his Mandau, you would probably have to content yourself with modern production. Dayak swords have been in the art market for decades, private collectors and galleries specializing in ethnographic objects have plenty to offer. They would probably be your next stop to get a glimpse of the warring world of the Dayak.

A dancing Kenyah Dayak holding his Mandau sword
A dancing Kenyah Dayak holding his Mandau sword

However many of these beautiful carved tribal swords can be seen in museums in mostly brought back by explorers and scientific expedition. Among those I have seen are the collections kept at the Dutch museums of ethnography in Leiden and Amsterdam. In France, some years ago while browsing through the Oceanic section of Musée de l’Homme the former ethnography museum. I came across a fabulous collection of Mandau swords, which a few of them went on display in the World Exhibition of 1878 as well as donations from explorers, collectors and those which had been brought back by the French Mission in Borneo (pictured above). These Mandau sword collection was not on public display and was then kept “hidden” on dusty shelves of the museum storage – getting there was quite an adventure, when you would have to go through a labyrinth of hallways and old storage rooms filled with ethnographic treasures. I was quite lucky then to have this opportunity to venture into these storage rooms, in one of Paris most revered ethnographic museum; this was because I was working on the Indonesian tribal collections for my own research. Today most of the ethnographic artifacts of the Musée de l’Homme, formerly known also as the Palais du Trocadero built for the World Exhibition of 1878, is moved to Musée du Quai Branly. It might not have that wonderful historic ambiance of the Musée de l’Homme, but for sure these precious tribal artifacts are now kept in a much better storage rooms ensuring their preservation …

An Benuaq Dayak holding his sword (mandau)(left) Kenyah Dayak (right)
A Benuaq Dayak holding his Mandau sword and a Kenyah Dayak with his Mandau sword

Gold of Ancient Java …

Ancient Javanese Gold jewelry from the Jakarta National Museum
Ancient Javanese Gold jewelry from the Jakarta National Museum

A unique find has given archaeologists new answers to Java’s mysterious ancient golden past. It was in 1990, when gold treasure was discovered near Yogyakarta in central Java, in the small village of Wonoboyo, just a few kilometres from the renowned temple of Prambanan. Several village workers were digging in a sugar cane field and struck three sealed terracotta jars. Inside the buried containers was a glittering hoard, over 6000 gold and silver coins and more than 1000ceremonial objects, including bowls and jewelry. The discovery created excitement in the archaeological circles: could Wonoboyo be the site of the lost Javanese palace of the ancient Mataram kingdom.

God of Ancient Java at Jakarta National Museum
Ancient Javanese gold at Jakarta National Museum

The palace dated back from the glorious 9th and 10th centuries of central Java’s history, which marked the merging of Hinduism and Buddhism, giving birth to the great temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. But while the ornamental style of the Wonoboyo type resembles the baroque richness of Prambanan art, the pysical evidence of the Wonoboyo site was insufficient to link it to the Mataram palace. Nevertheless, excavations unfold the regal associations and pinpointed the site as an important holy place probably a hermitage. Inscriptions revealed the the owner of the Wonoboyo hoard to have been a king, who is thought; based on a golden alms bowl found among the treasure; retired from the worldly life to become a Hindu priest.

Ancient Javanese Gold collection in Jakarta National Museum
Ancient Javanese Gold collection in Jakarta National Museum

The fabulous treasure of Wonoboyo is one of the many other archaeological gold findings in Java. Other discoveries include those dated from the 14th and 15th centuries of the great Javanese kingdom of Majapahit, mostly gold statues and jewelry such as arm bands, necklaces, bracelets, crowns and earrings. These sumptuous gold objects are on display in the treasure room of the Jakarta National Museum.

Ancient Javanese Gold collection in Jakarta National Museum
Ancient Javanese Gold collection in Jakarta National Museum

This is just a glimpse of an in depth article on Ancient Javanese Gold I wrote for several specialized art magazines …