Temple deer, Kidang or Menjangan

In the 70s there was an exhibition in Melbourne of ikat and artifacts from Indonesia, among which was an old Bali temple deer.  More than thirty years later that same deer came to us when the original purchaser, getting old and wanting to reduce his collection offered it to us.

As with all things relating to Balinese ceremonies, an outsider looking in find endless explanations that confuse rather than illuminate. Whenever one gets information, it is wise to say that that is for a specific area. You will find that the information may be different in another part of Bali. In some places they are called menjangan, which is derived from the old Javanese word for deer. In other places it is called kidang, which is a close to the modern Indonesian kijang (deer).

In about 1975 we visited Ida Bagus Tilem in his studio in Mas. Tilem was the son of Ida Bagus Nana, the legendary woodcarver of the 30's and although Tilem was a fabulous carver in his own right he also oversaw a studio in which only the best carvers were engaged.  Behind the studio he had an extensive shed in which he stored many old kidang. I asked if we could buy one but he refused us saying, “These represent Balinese culture. If I sell this and it goes overseas that part of our culture will be lost”.

In a recent conversation, I asked an old friend, Nyoman Supirna from Banjar Tinungan in the district of Apuan about the deer. He told me That only special temples called sanggah seluangan have a deer. The deer is symbolic of the descent from Majapahit ancestors with the deer head representing the power of Majapahit.

In our house we have collected deer without realizing all of their cultural resonances, but now, for me the deer is part of our connections with the spirit world of Bali.

You can read more about the origins of this belief in the origin stories at the end of this article.

Kidang in a family Sanggah Seluangan temple

Kidang in a home temple Sangga Seluangan

This is a small Kidang from our collection. (28 cm)

This humble little deer is at least 80 years old an came from a family temple. The head was exposed to the weather giving it its eroded look, while the hindquarters we under shelter.

 This mejangan was made to hang on the wall. 50 cm long with real deer horn.

We bought this deer at least 40 years ago in a little stall in Den Pasar near the Bird Market. It was painted in a crude silver paint. When I got home I decided to strip off the silver back to bare wood, however as the silver came off the original decoration was revealed.

This kijang is  a little primitive. Painted blue. When we found it, it had lost its tail and ears which I have replaced. In our house its function is to sit on our dining table while we eat.

Doorstop Menjangan

This is a small and primitif menjangan which came to us in this very eroded state having been outside in the weather for a long time. In those early days, many Balinese did not regard old things as having value and thought us odd for wanting it.

Origin stories

Ancient Vedic concepts and the Majapahit

In Indian mythology, the constellation of Orion is Mrigasiras or the deer-headed. It is the head of Brahma in the form of a stag, which was struck off by Siva. The story goes like this:

Sandhya, the goddess personified by twilight, was the daughter of Brahma and wife of Siva. When Brahma attempted violence on Sandhya, she changed herself into a deer and fled across the evening sky to escape his evil intentions. Assuming the form of a stag, Brahma pursued her through the sky. When Siva saw this, he shot an arrow, which cut off the head of the stag. Re-assuming his own form, Brahma paid homage to Siva. The arrow remains in the sky in the sixth lunar mansion, called Ardra, and the stag’s head remains as the fifth mansion, Mriga-siras.

Orion, the deer's head as an astronomical calendar

Orion is the constellation that the people of Bali observe for the purpose of correcting their lunar calendar. Farming activities used to be scheduled according to the rising of Orion’s belt. The three very bright stars in the belt of Orion are called bentang kidang. Literally, the word means roe-buck, a small variety of deer.

The first sighting of bentang kidang and bentang kartika on the eastern horizon signified the beginning of the annual farming year. Though the stars may be invisible, the astronomical cycles are unvarying. Usually the bentang kartika appears two weeks earlier than bentang kidang when the sun is in the northern hemisphere. According to the Baduy, at that time, the soil is ‘cold’ (tiis). Conversely, when bentang kidang disappears over the western horizon and for approximately two months cannot be seen, it is inappropriate to plant rice, because the soil is too ‘hot’ (panas), and insects (kungkang) inhabit the ‘present world’, (buana tengah). “The position in the heavens of this kidang constellation regulates the time for cutting forest for yearly paddy clearings.”[21]

This originated from the ancient calendar for agriculture in Java which too was scheduled according to the heliacal rising of Orion's belt.

The various positions of bentang kidang are reflected in the following verses:

When kidang first appears, a chopping knife should be used;

When kidang appears in a position similar to that of the sun at 8.00-10.00 a.m, vegetation should be burned;

When kidang appears overhead or sideways to the west, rice should be planted;

When kidang disappears, insect pests will appear, and rice planting should stop.”

The legend of Empu Kuturan

Mpu Kuteran was a Javanese holy man who came to Bali in the 10th century. He arrived first at Pulau Menjangan (Deer Island) where he was greeted by a deer. This deer guided him to the holy places around Bali and Empu Kuturan established the temples at Uluwatu, Pura Dalem Sakenan, Serangan, and Besakih which are among the holiest in Bali to this day.

The legend of Danghyang Kapakisan

Danghyang Kapakisan, another holy man from Java in the 14th century, fathered a child by a widadari (heavenly nymph). However, she left when the baby was born so a substitute mother, a deer, suckled the child. He grew up and fathered another child from a widadari and this began the lineage of noble households in many places in Bali. 

The Kapakisan established a kingdom initially in Gelgel, later moving to Klungkung.

A person claiming genealogical ties to the Kapakisan kingdom is called a wong Majapahit and the deer is a symbol of this inheritance. The deer headed shrine is a recognition of the ancestry and of the deer 'mother'.

Further reading:

Perceptions of Paradise, Images of Bali in the Arts. Garret Kam. p.114




1 comment

  • Really fascinating… indeed, it can be challenging to research here because cultural/religious elements tend to be extremely local. Well researched and a good read!

    Cat Wheeler

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