Myths and legends
In this chapter:
Myths and legends in Bali often have a lesson or moral
Balinese myths and legends are filled with animals with human characteristics, spirits, ghosts, magic, and ordinary people overcoming extraordinary situations
Kbo Iwo is a myth about how Bali`s Lake Batur and Mount Batur were formed
Many Balinese myths and legends are retold through dance and drama
The Ramayana (the story of Rama) is a well-known legend and often retold with the use of shadow puppets
Myths and legends
Balinese myths and legends are retold to each new generation so that their lessons and morals are constantly passed on. They are most commonly passed down by parents or grandparents to children through the oral retelling of stories. Different art forms are also a popular way of expressing many of the island's myths and legends. The Balinese people often tell their stories through dance, drama, textile designs, puppetry and music.
Balinese myths and legends are often filled with characters of animals with human characteristics, spirits, ghosts, magic and ordinary people who overcome extraordinary situations. Many stories are important as they teach children ideas about their land, traditions and customs.
Kbo Iwo is the myth which tells how Bali's Lake Batur and Mount Batur were formed (see image 1). It is believed that there was once a giant as tall as a mountain who roamed the island, called Kbo Iwo. He would help the Balinese people build temples and villages, dig ditches and cut terraces out of the hillsides for rice paddies. All he asked for in return for his help was food. His appetite was enormous, however, and there was never enough food to satisfy him. His hunger would sometimes make him angry and he would destroy the things that he helped to build and then eat the villagers.
One year there was a very poor harvest of food and the Balinese people could barely feed themselves, much less a giant. This angered Kbo Iwo so much that he rampaged across the island, killing and destroying everything in sight until all the homes, rice fields and temples were ruined. The people were very angry with Kbo Iwo and gathered together to decide how to stop him. They planned to make friends with the giant again and then kill him.
The people begged Kbo Iwo to help rebuild the temples, homes and rice fields that he had destroyed in his rampage. The giant agreed and worked at replacing everything that he had destroyed. The Balinese people then asked him to build a well, which he started digging. As he dug, the earth piled high next to the well. The pile was as high as a mountain.
After eating, the giant fell asleep in the well. Whilst he was sleeping the people poured huge amounts of lime (a sticky substance) down the well. The lime set around the giant and when he woke up he was unable to escape.
The well then began to fill with water and it soon overflowed to become a lake. Today many believe that the lake is Lake Batur, Bali's largest lake. The pile of earth that Kbo Iwo dug out of the well is believed to be Mount Batur, Bali's third-largest volcanic mountain.
The Ramayana, or The Story of Rama, is one of the most well-known stories in Indonesia. It originates from India but has been modified over the last 2000 years. It is an epic tale known by almost all Balinese people because it has been told so many times. Shadow puppets are used in the most common form of its retelling (Wayang Kulit - see image 2). This performance uses shadow puppets to retell the story over many hours.
The basic storyline of the Ramayana legend is that there was a king who exiled his eldest son, the prince, to the forests of Dandaka for 14 years. The prince, Rama, went without question but his wife, Sita, and one of his brothers, Laksmana, would not leave his side and went into the forest with him.
They began to build a home and because the forest was filled with evil and unknown creatures, the prince created an invisible wall around the house to protect his wife.
A monster king, Rawana, discovered the home and saw Sita and thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He plotted with his brother to kidnap Sita.
Rama and Laksmana, on discovering Sita was gone, began searching for her. The bird Jatayu, king of the birds, had seen what had happened but had been stabbed and was dying. He was able to tell Rama what he had seen before dying.
Rama and Laksmana headed towards the kingdom of the monkeys and their king, Sugriwa, agreed to help them find Sita. Once they reached the coast, there was no way to cross the sea. The monkeys worked for seven days and seven nights to create a causeway (a path over water) using boulders and tree trunks. They crossed immediately and were confronted by an army of giants sent by Rawana. The monkeys, however, defeated the giants.
A number of battles occurred after they defeated the giants. During one battle, Rama sped towards Rawana shooting arrows as he ran. Although his arrows would not kill Rawana, they were able to push him further backwards until he slammed into two boulders and became stuck. The two rocks began to crush him. It was believed the rocks contained the souls of his two daughters whom he had killed. He was imprisoned between these rocks until he died.
Rama ran Rawana's palace where he found Sita alive and unharmed. Rama, Sita and Laksmana returned to the forest to continue their 14 years of exile. On returning to their kingdom, Rama was made rightful king and ruled his people for many years.
Other Balinese myths and legends
The Balinese culture is filled with many myths and legends about all aspects of life from creation to death.
Antaboga (the world serpent) comes from traditional Balinese mythology. It is believed that Antaboga was the only thing to exist at the beginning of time and through meditation it created the turtle Bedwang (the world turtle). It is thought that all other creations came from Bedwang.
According to traditional Balinese mythology, Rangda was a terrifying demon queen. She led an army of evil witches who fought againt Barong, who led the forces of good. The word rangda means widow in Indonesia and many people believe that this myth is based on reality.
There was once a Javanese queen, Manendradatta, who was exiled by her husband, Dharmodayana, for using witchcraft. The queen took revenge and began to kill the kingdom with a plague. She was finally stopped by a holy man and it is believed that Rangda was this queen in some form. The Balinese culture depicts Rangda's struggles with Barong and her son in a popular drama/dance. She is most often depicted as having long and messy hair, claws, fangs, and big eyes.
Setesuyara and Batara Kala
Setesuyara and Batara Kala are both underworld goddesses. They are thought to be the gods of the underworld who rule from a cave. Batara Kala is also known as the creator of the light and the earth.