Skulls and heads in textile patterns in East Java in the 13th century
Lesley Pullen (SOAS University of London)
Paper short abstract:
Certain patterns on the textiles carved in bas relief on a group of stone sculptures from late 13th century East Java include tantric iconography of skulls and heads. This paper considers these patterns and attempts to draw conclusions as to why these particular textiles display such motifs. .
Paper long abstract:
Certain patterns on the textiles carved in bas relief on a group of five free standing stone sculptures from East Java and Sumatra, and dated to around the end of the 13th century, display the distinctive tantric iconography of skulls and heads. The last Singasari king Sáng Srí Síwabúda (1268-1292) known as Kṛtanagara, founded his funerary candi at Singosari near Malang which scholars date to circa 1300. Śaivism was generally the religion of state and the populace at this time and Kṛtanagara is known to have embraced Tantric beliefs and practices within Śaivism and Buddhism. There exist three Gaṇeśa sculptures, two from Candi Singosari and one from Karangates, and a standing Durgā Mahiṣāsuramardinī from Candi Singosari, East Java dated to late 13th century, together with a standing Bhairava from Padang Roco, Sumatra dated to early 14th century. These five monumental sculptures share one common decorative element, they all feature textiles carved in relief depicting skulls or heads. Most are represented on a base encircled with skulls, some with snakes as body ornaments, and some with skulls resting on the crescent moon in matted hair. There are no known sculptures either before this period in Java's Hindu-Buddhist history, or indeed following the death of Kṛtanagara, that display such tantric iconography on their textiles. This paper discusses these motifs in the context of expressions of Tantric symbolism, attempts to draw conclusions as to why these particular textiles display such motifs, and speculates on the likely motivation of their patrons.
Symbolism of ancient sculptural art evidenced across the islands of Sumatra, Java, and Bali