Awaiting Hanuman
Awaiting Hanuman

Awaiting Hanuman, a mask in progress. The making of the mask of Hanuman and our love of a cherished symbol of devotion. A conversation with Kadek Sudiasa, a traditional dancer and mask maker.
The Living Masks of Bali Chapter 10. Article by,

Awaiting Hanuman.. A Mask in Progress

Awaiting Hanuman.. spending time with Kadek Sudiasa last year made it possible for us to continue our series ‘The Living Masks of Bali’. It has been some time since we have had an addition to our collection of masks in Sawidji. During our conversations about our love of masks and their history, we agree it is time to bring home another to Sawidji.

I was happy to let Kadek decide, on what felt right, and which mask we would welcome into our collection. I am excited either way. However, I was pleasantly surprised when he suggested the mask of Hanuman. For myself, Hanuman (which is only one of the many names by which he is known) holds a special significance throughout my life since childhood.

A Conversation with a Mask Maker

At the time, we made no formal arrangements, and certainly, there was no rush. Yet, I received the news around Christmas that inspiration had taken hold and the Hanuman mask had been born. Last week, after the holiday commitments have settled, we had our first opportunity to visit Kadek in his home to see the progress of the Mask of Hanuman. The rest here shares our conversation that day.

The Wisdom of Imperfections

This is the third Hanuman I have made.. the first one I made was not so good.. because I learned from a photograph. I had no teacher. The result is that the proportions were no good, and many things about it were lacking. So I learned from what was not good. I found through my mistakes what I needed to learn from that first mask that was not good..

That is how I found for myself what we term ‘gulak’.. pattern and bone structure of the mask that is right for the mask of Hanuman. Because this is not just a decorative mask. This is a mask that is created to dance.. 

 “The second one is now in Japan.. a professor who studies and is also a collector of masks, had asked for me to make one. I am happy to say that this second mask is a success. The third one is this one, I have a pattern, and I have found the structure, I enjoy this one so much more because I am not struggling to find the face.. it is more familiar for me and I enjoy the process a lot more. I know what I have to do…

As Kadek was telling us how he started the mask, I recall our conversation where he said to me he had ‘gotten the feeling’ and the urge had come very strong to begin the mask. This is the most important moment for Kadek. The feeling that the mask was ready to be born. He has mentioned that it is in fact in that moment of inspiration that he believes the spirit of the mask manifests itself through the artist. That the inanimate raw piece of wood is at that point imbued with the life of the mask. This is why it is so important for him not to delay when he feels this overpowering feeling and urge to begin the mask.

I have wood.. but I bought a new piece.. one that feels right. I bought two, one for Hanuman and another. I want to make one other mask also but that is Nature.. the other piece cracked.

K Sudiasa

A Symbol of Devotion

The story of Hanuman and its references in texts and rituals is wide and varied throughout several cultures. Hanuman appears in the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata and is considered sacred. You can say quite simply that for Balinese Hindu people, Hanuman represents the ultimate in devotion.

As long as we have spirit, and will, we should be devoted to our principles and virtue. That is the devotion Hanuman stands for. Should you go to whatever temple in Bali, there is bound to be an image of Hanuman somewhere. He is not separate from the spiritual consciousness and thus the collective identity of Balinese culture.

Technical Points

When we met with Kadek this January, he is already well underway in the process of our Hanuman Mask. He informs us that the Hanuman mask is similar in specifications to the mask of Rangda with slight adjustments along the teeth, nose, eyes and lips and chin. From the eyes upwards, the proportions are the same as the mask of Rangda. But the bulging of the eyes is reduced a little.

It was hard for me to learn. I believe it is necessary to share knowledge and skill. Anything I do I share because there is a record of what I do.. from the beginning of any of the processes I share.. the other mask makers are seeing that my method is different. many comments that it is different. well because it is my way.. if they want to know.. they can come to the house and I will teach them what they want to know.. that is important for the survival of the art.. my way is different but the destination and intention are the same.

Kadek Sudiasa

Trade secrets? Will it make you or break you?

In the field of Mask Making, it is not surprising that not many artists would willingly share their knowledge fully. Especially the techniques they have mastered after years of honing their art. However, one thing we appreciate very much from Kadek Sudiasa is his candidness and open sharing from the beginning of his process and throughout, holding nothing back.

On this topic, we share a similar view. That one of the things that challenge the growth and sustainability of our traditional arts is the lack of knowledge sharing. In addition, we are also facing hyper-commercialism and lack of interest from the next generation to pursue traditional arts. Unless we passionately share the knowledge we have, and encourage learning through mentoring and guidance, how can it flourish? Would it not naturally be eroded away?

Hanuman is truly special. The Balinese hold Hanuman sacred. There is a wide audience, so as a mask maker we do not dare make this mask lightly. I am always mindful to put the best of myself. I would be afraid that what I pour into the mask from myself may be displeasing to this collective audience who holds Hanuman in very high regard. So for me, carving a Hanuman mask is truly a significant thing.

Kadek Sudiasa

At this point of our catch-up, I was recollecting something we discussed in our previous conversation regarding Topeng Keras. (The Subtleties of Topeng Keras). Is it the mask that gives birth to the dance or the dance that determines the mask? I revisited the topic here as we stood by, a witness to the emerging face of Hanuman in the Pule wood in Kadeks’ hands.

The Mask is what gives birth to the dance. The Hanuman Mask is created for the dance. Telling the story from the Ramayana epic of Hanumans’ role in aiding Rama to rescue his queen Sita from Rhawana.

Uncovering the Mask is to Uncover the Dance

A dancer before the dance will ask himself, prepare himself, how will he dance the dance. There are differences in how the dance is performed. The character that comes out .. the dancer has to make sure that the dance they dance is never separate from the mask.

To dance the dance of Hanuman you need extra energy.. the sound is from low in the chest..not anyone can dance the dance of Hanuman. They have to get the spirit and the energy of the dance and the mask…

Kadek Sudiasa

What I took away with me from this conversation is something that I am certain my words can not do justice to. In describing or relaying. Kadek took the still raw and unpolished mask of Hanuman and for a few seconds demonstrated a small part of Tari Hanuman, only enough for us to understand his gesture and voice. In those few seconds, the reverberation, and the depth of the sound that came through mesmerised me. Demonstrating the difference in depth of power required for Hanuman compared to other dances. That is something a video recording or sound recording will still fall short of seeing and hearing in person.

In Awaiting Hanuman, we eagerly await the arrival of the Mask of Hanuman. Grateful to be able to share some of the mask makers’ thoughts and insights during the making of this wonderful mask. I’ve included some general information on the background of Hanuman below for those who may be unfamiliar and look forward to writing about his profound presence throughout history and across cultures when the mask of Hanuman comes home to Sawidji.

Reference: About Hanuman

Hanuman is a Hindu god and divine companion of Lord Rama. He is one of the main characters in the epic Ramayana, and also mentioned in the Mahabharata & Puranas. He is believed to be a re-incarnation of Lord Shiva, and the son of Lord Vayu, the God of Wind. However, there are ancient texts that mention that the 3 gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – combined to take to the form of Hanuman.

Hanuman is also a popular figure among Buddhists in Central, Southeast, and East Asia, and throughout those areas many temples have been erected for his worship and districts of towns bear his name. He has been identified as the inspiration for the monkey hero of the great Chinese poem Xiyouji (“Journey to the West”). In India Hanuman is revered by the nationalist Hindu organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. ref Hindu Mythology Britannica.

How Hanuman got his powers..

According to Valmiki’s Ramayana, one morning in his childhood, Hanuman mistook the rising red sun for a ripe fruit. Leapt up and ate it. Another account tells us that the God Indra intervened and struck Hanuman with his thunderbolt, where he fell to the earth and died. Hanumans’ father Vayu (the God of Air) upset, he withdrew from the world which caused suffering to living beings. This led Lord Shiva to to resuscitate Hanuman and Vayu to return to the world of living beings.

To compensate Hanuman the God Indra granted him the gift that his body would be as strong as Indras’ Vajra. Other Gods also granted Hanuman gifts. The God Agni gave him invinsibility to fire , God Varuna the invincibility of water and Vayu granted him the gift of being as fast as the wind.These wishes made Hanuman immortal with unique powers and strength.

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