At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Sunday, May 24, 2015


Indonesian shadow play performances take place after nightfall, because without dark the lamp will not cast images on the stretched fabric screen. But honoured guests sit on the same side as the puppet master, and are scarce aware of the silhouettes; they see the totemic figures move in full manipulation, brought to light and life by the voice that recites the tale and speaks for all the characters. For several hours, enormous deeds are done, fools make pratfalls, and gallant knights converse with supernatural beings. Armies assemble, landscapes are traversed, and courts intrigue.
Early there is great humour; children need to be entertained.
Later important matters are ellucidated for adults.
And long after that, some lessons.

[Many narratives are derived from the Mahabharata, which is the epic detailing several generations descended from Kuru (the Kaurava), and rivalry among two branches of that clan which caused a great war.
It is a multi-faceted and many layered tale, re-spun in numerous Indic and Indonesian languages. In Java it is brought to life with flat puppets cut from thick hide mounted on sticks, manipulated by a raconteur.]

By then, most of the audience may have drifted off, except for a few who have at last fallen asleep. Sometimes they wake, briefly, at key moments. An educated voice with clear diction dwells upon a passage. They recognize the scene, and comforted, sleep again.
At a different time it allcomes back.

Without the darkness, there can be no light.
If dreams are lacking, reality has no depth.

When I woke this morning I was still dreaming.


As darkness fell, the effect of Gatotkatja's ferocious assault on the Kurawa army grew more telling. With each airborne charge, swathes opened up in the ranks, none of the fighters on the ground could withstand the force that this club-wieding half-daemon unleashed upon them. Finally commanded by Duryodana, the honourable Karna employed the Indrasakti to slay Gatotkatja, Hidimbi and Bima's gallant son, and Krisna was happy. If such a weapon can be used only once, then Ardjuna was safe, and the war would be won by the Pandawa.

The sadness over the death of a beloved kinsman would be ameliorated by the victory of the side for which he fought. In his death throes the shining champion of Pringgandane took out a full brigade of the enemy army; thousands upon thousands of chariots and war elephants, and tens of thousands of footsoldiers and archers. Duryodana's misjudgement kept his entire army from being erased that night, but it was a success that would only last till dawn.

Tomorrow brought more destruction.

The key to Gatotkatja's personality is that he is god-descended on his father's side (Bima), and is half-ogre by maternal parentage (Hidimbi). Consequently that which is good in him has daemonic force, and that which is not good is tempered by his better instincts. Not a conflicted person, but a person of conflict, who is good to have on one's side.

Green-blue of face, with a big nose and a ferocious handlebar moustache. His profile is noble, strong-featured, not brutish.

Karna is, in many ways, his equal. Always loyal and protective of his friends, truthful, ethical, charitable of spirit, and in all ways admirable.
How did he end up on the side of the Kurawa?

During their youth, the Pandawa slighted him out of pride.
Duryodana offered him honest friendship.
No strings attached.

When he perished later on the field of Kuru, it was because his chariot wheel was stuck in the mud. He was, after all, of non-royal status..... and sabotaged by a Brahmin. Only after Ardjuna decapitated him was it revealed that he was actually Ardjuna's older halfbrother.

Indeed, when it's all over, Kunti still has five sons.
But in death his kinship has become known.
There is sadness at the loss.
One brother is gone.

There were five brothers. There were six.
But there are only five of them.

The great war is the strife of kinsmen, and because of their disparate natures conflict is inevitable. There is great goodness and chivalry on each side, as well as pettiness and a meanness of spirit.
What they cannot help doing will make their war inevitable.
And, in truth, one should not hold that against them.
They hold true to how they were made.

It is the gods that fail.

In the corpus of wayang literature there are trunk tales -- the lives and travails of the Pandawa siblings and their cousins on the Kurawa side, as relayed by epics seen through several layers of Insular translation and retelling -- and there are branch narratives, which delay the inevitable great battle between the two sides by showing us what the characters and their friends also did, or entertain us with great adventures that only connect to the tale by sharing the cast.

Most often, the entertaining branches are displayed. They are less weighty, but also less portentous. Wielding a trunk tale takes great control, and demands an important occasion. The people whose lives and deaths are detailed live again in the telling, in light and shadow, between dream and reality.

We do not want them to die. But that was centuries before our time, we can do nothing about it. A talented puppet master brings their shadows back, and they themselves are present in the periphery.

Were Gatotkatja and Karna friends? They were so much alike!

It seems almost inevitable that they must have been.

A good puppet master makes it so.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.



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