Bali Sacred Painting

November 9, 2016

“Selamat pagi semuanya semoga damai dan berbahagia!”

We are visited today at Jiwa Damai Retreat Center by a local priest. His name is Made Swaba, but asks to be called Mr. Mangku. His opening greeting is in Balinese. In English that roughly translates to, “Good morning everyone may you have peace and happiness.”

Mr. Mangku will show us sacred painting today. We’re told this is a first. According to Mr. Mangku, “Belajar lukisan sakral ini unstuck pertama kali di ajarkan di Bali.” The translation in English: “Learn this sacred painting for the first time taught in Bali.”

Despite the Balinese jungle heat, Mr. Mangku wears a blue sport jacket. He looks calm, collected and cool as they come. I am honored and excited to watch his art demonstration! So are some of the other guests and workers at our Jiwa Damai Retreat Center. We gather in our shorts, tank tops and t-shirts, barefoot in the outdoor dining area and awaiting the unveiling of this sacred art, maybe a bit underdressed for such a special occasion…but before commencing Mr. Mangku  says prayers and lights incense as an offering.


Mr. Mangku returns to where our art lesson will take place. He starts to explain in Balinese what he will be teaching us this afternoon. The translation: “The painting  you will do tells of one manifestation of the Gods, of the God Ganesha as the Savior God. Lord Ganesha is the son of the Lord Shiva and the Goddess Parvati.” I’m thinking there must be a mistake in the translation, the “painting you will do” part, because I’m prepared to watch a historic moment unfold…and of course not really be doing any painting myself.

As usual, I am incorrect. Mr. Mangku gives each of us a blank framed canvas and motions that it’s time for us to copy an outline of Lord Ganesha…and get going!

“Adapun senjata yang di pegang menandakan kekuatan sebagian dari 8 arah mata angin.” Mr. Mangku tells us the weapons Lord Shiva holds signify strength in eight different directions. I’m more than a little concerned that I can’t do this following the detail he describes. I certainly don’t want to create something that comes off as disrespectful. I look around the tables. The other students, unlike me, are diving into the exercise confidently.


Mr. Mangku quietly circles around the students, peering over shoulders and making almost inaudible comments. I’m not doing that good. I’m feeling a little warm and slightly dizzy in the afternoon jungle heat. I think that when he makes his way to me Mr. Mangku might be upset. I’m wondering if I can bow out gracefully before we get in too deep? He stops at Bernardo, my co-yoga instructor at Jiwa Damai from Brazil, and praises his work. Mr. Mangku detects a remarkable yoga influence and asks Bernardo if he has been to India. “Yes, I have studied in India,” Bernardo replies. I feel a trickle of sweat down my back. I’ve never even been to India! Next, Mr. Mangku, beaming, holds up Bernardo’s work for all of us to see and admire. It’s alright.

“Mari kita saling mengisi karena saya masih sama sarna belajar.” Mr. Mangku looks at the artwork being created by the women in our group. He is very pleased. Translation: “Let us co-exist as I am still at the same learning.” The women all talk about their artistic endeavors back in Australia and the U.S. – other types of drawing and painting they like to do. The last time I painted was, I don’t know, when I did the side of the garage. I’m so out of my league.


Here comes the moment of truth. Mr. Mangku hovers over my “art” and stares at it. It’s like he’s not sure what it is? I open my dry mouth to squeak out an apology, but before I can speak Mr. Mangku shows me a pattern to try. I do it under his watchful eye. “Yes,” he says. When I conclude he takes my pen and adds a few more designs, including some very awesome words in Balinese. Mr. Mangku makes it look good, just like my teacher used to do for me in 3rd grade.


We are done now. There are smiles all around. I proudly show my Lord Ganesha to anyone at Jiwa Damai who is kind enough to look at it. Mr. Mangku explains that the function of this painting is to guard people. This is the Balinese Savior God. Therefore, it should be hung in the home.

So that is where my Lord Ganesha painting is – my home in New Hampshire!



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