Balinese Hindu Portal With Rainforest Landscape

Kathy Hull, designer

This portal is a reconstruction of the entrance to Goa Gajah, also known as the Elephant's Cave, which is located in Indonesia on the island of Bali. An 11th century inscription dedicates the site to Shiva, one of the great gods of Hindu devotion. Since the rediscovery of the site in the early 20th century, much has been accomplished in the restoration of this early Hindu monument. While the actual site is of unadorned volcanic stone, it is possible that at one time the entrance was painted. The color scheme applied here is in keeping with the traditional decoration of Balinese ceremonial masks.

Hinduism was introduced to Bali in the seventh century, and the practice of Shivaist Hinduism continues there today. The cave interior consists of three small rooms or niches, used for private acts of devotion. The two side rooms contain images of Shiva and his son Ganesha -- the elephant headed god whose presence gives this site its name. In the center room there have been found fragments of a statue of Buddha. At one time, the site may have been used as a hermitage for Buddhist monks (Foreman, 119).

The image carved above the cave opening may be a kala, which is a reminder of the impermanence of the world over time. A kala image is frequently found above the doorways of Hindu and Buddhist architecture. This image has also been interpreted as Rangda, the queen of the witches, pictured with tusks and bulging eyes. Rangda is a character from Balinese folklore that represents destructive forces of chaos. After the introduction of Hinduism, Rangda was often considered a manifestation of the warrior goddess Durga, a consort of Shiva.

On a personal and private level, Hindus make offerings daily in family shrines and sacred sites like the Goa Gajah. Large public ceremonies and festivals take place in the open air of the temple courtyard. One such ceremony involves the religious drama of Rangda and the Barong. Masked dancers and ensembles of musicians perform a mock battle between Rangda, as the ruler of chaos and cause of terror, and the Barong, as a force of civilization and order. The masks used in these ceremonies are considered sacred and are cared for with reverence (

The pair of grinning figures placed at the cave entrance provides a protective force against destructive spirits. Most shrines and temples in Bali have a pair of gatekeepers at the entrance. For festive occasions a black and white checked fabric, called poleng, is draped around the waist of these statues. In this traditional pattern, the white squares represent order and the black squares represent chaos. Together they represent dynamic balance of the forces of creation and destruction (Helmi, 48). In this instance, the poleng helps to illustrate that the demonic nature of the guardians is being employed for the good of the temple.

The rainforest mural is teeming with plants and wildlife. A large banyan tree on the right provides habitat for an orangutan, whose name means "man of the woods," and the nocturnal slow loris. A banteng, an ancestor of our domestic cattle, and a proboscis monkey stand on the bank of the river where the Asian elephant and Javan rhinoceros wade in the water. According to a survey made in 1986 there were only 50 Javan rhinos alive in remote areas of Indonesia. Rhinos are hunted illegally for their horn is used medicinally in many parts of Asia. A Sumatran tiger is seen at the top of the waterfall. A smaller related species, the Bali tiger, was hunted to extinction in 1937. Tigers are most often killed out of fear or for trophy pelts (Balouet, 135).

Many birds find their homes in the rainforest. The Rothchild's starling is a striking bird of white plumage that has been captured and sold as a caged songbird. The great pied hornbill has made its nest in a dead tree on the left. As a protective measure, most hornbills seal the opening of their nest cavities with the female and young inside. The male pokes food through a small opening to feed the female and chicks (Forshaw, 210-211).

The Rafflesia arnoldii (near the rhino) is the largest flower in the world, can measure 32 inches across, and can weigh up to 15 pounds. It is a parasite of the liana vine and is pollinated by flies that are attracted to its rotten smell. Harvesting by local people who believe that it has special medicinal properties has contributed to its rarity (Moore, 226-7). The small yellow flowers on the rock cliff represent the many species of orchids that thrive in the rainforest. Orchids are epiphytes, plants that usually anchor on other plants and absorb their nourishment out of the air. Both of these plants are typical of the complex interdependence of rainforest species.

Indonesia spans an area the size of Europe, and 60% of the land is covered with forest. It is home to 10% of the world's rainforest, but only 34% of these forests are undisturbed (A. Newman, 25). The forests of Krakatoa, an island of Indonesia, were completely destroyed during the volcanic eruption of 1883. Climactic conditions have encouraged the growth of a new rainforest habitat on the island. But after 120 years, the largest of the rainforest canopy trees have not been able to reestablish their place in the forest.