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Central Java 19th Century Keris board



This keris board is made of old hand-hewn teak in the form of the gunungan volcano and tree of life from the wayang shadow puppets. It is carved with a tragic scene from the Bharatayuda War of the Indian Mahabharata epic, with the edge of the shadow screen carved across the top.

The two figures appear to be Arjuna on the right, and on the left, rather lower, is Gatotkaca, son of Bima, Arjuna's nephew who gives his life to save his uncle's in the great Bharatayudha war. Here Gatotkaca is depicted saying goodbye to his uncle, Arjuna who has just lost his beloved son, Abimanyu who died with hundreds of wounds all over his body.

Krishna has ordered Gototkaca to attack the rear end of the Kurava army from the air to anger Karna, the champion of the Kurava and half brother of Arjuna. Krishna knows that karma possesses the Kuntawijayandanu spear which will kill whoever it is aimed at but can only be used once and the one victim must not be Arjuna, lest the war would be lost to the Kurava brothers. Gatotkaca knows that Karna possesses Kuntawijayandanu because this weapon was the only weapon sharp enough to cut through his umbilical cord at birth, and the sheath of the spear disappeared and became his navel, but he is in a suicidal mood because of the dreadful death of his cousin and best friend, Abimanyu.

It was nearly dark in the plains of Kurusetra where the two armies face each other and Gatotkaca begins to taunt his uncle Karna and he kills many of the Kurava brothers from the air. When he sees his uncle aim Kuntawijayandanu, he flies behind a cloud. But the spirit of someone he unjustly killed in the past, grabs the spear and thrusts it through the clouds and Gatotkaca crashes dead to the earth, having given his life for the victory of his uncle Arjuna.

The hand hewn wood and the peasant style of carving as well as the story chosen to be depicted, suggests that this keris board was made by a peasant soldier of Diponegoro after the defeat of the Java War in 1830. The reverse side of this panel has been used as a kitchen chopping board.

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