A RARE BALINESE POLYCHROME WOOD STATUE OF TWALEN
North Bali, Singaraja, late 19th/early 20th century
Standing on a square lotus base, in dancing pose, wearing a traditional cloth and crown.
H. 32 cm
Twalen is the most powerful and mysterious of the four short, squat clown-like figures who serve as advisers and sidekicks of the main princely protagonist of Balinese stories. Known as punakawan, Twalen and his junior sidekick, Merdah, are on the side of the hero of the story, whereas Delem and Sangut, are on the side of the hero’s nemesis.
The roles of punakawan can be compared to the Shakespearean fool because they are wise, often wiser than the prince, despite their antics and uncouth behaviour. Twalen also carries a mystical aura of representing the old pre-Hindu gods. He is much revered in Bali. His Javanese counterpart is known as Semar.
The characteristics – short dwarf-like body, legs and arms, a large head with an animal-like snout, two widely spaced teeth, bare breast, large belly, checkered (kain poleng) sarong, a flower behind his ear – are all standard. The crown he wears indicates royal origins despite his rough exterior.
The statue was probably part of a set of four depicting all four punakawan. Such images were sometimes kept within temples but in the beginning of the 20th century also were produced to sell outside temples, to the Dutch.
We are grateful to Bruce Carpenter for his assistance with this catalogue entry.