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Old 28th March 2021, 09:25 PM   #1
Albert
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Post Exceptional new book on keris hilts and keris

I just posted a review in the Keris Swap Forum of the newly published book:

Heroes, Gods and Guardians. Hilts and Keris of Indonesia. Huntington Miller Collection.

Written by Bruce W. Carpenter
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Old 28th March 2021, 10:54 PM   #2
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Post removed.

Second thoughts are sometimes worth acting upon.
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Old 29th March 2021, 09:00 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Albert
I just posted a review in the Keris Swap Forum of the newly published book:

Heroes, Gods and Guardians. Hilts and Keris of Indonesia. Huntington Miller Collection.

Written by Bruce W. Carpenter
Thank you Albert, I already ordered it and I am looking forward to receive it and share my comments!
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Old 29th March 2021, 03:50 PM   #4
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Since there seems there might be some confusion Albert, your review of this book and further discussion of its contents is quite welcome here in the keris forum as long as there are no links about where to purchase this book or other commercial discussions. The post you placed in the Swap Forum does not seem to have any commercial information other than the expected cost of this book and i see no reason why that review should not have been place here so that it could be discussed. Again, as long as there is no commercial element to your post it is welcome here in the regular Keris Forum.
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Old 29th March 2021, 08:29 PM   #5
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Post Which forum

I placed it in the Swap Forum because in the review the website of the publisher is mentioned.
I think everyone who is interested can find the review anyway.
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Old 29th March 2021, 10:27 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Albert
I placed it in the Swap Forum because in the review the website of the publisher is mentioned.
I think everyone who is interested can find the review anyway.
Fair enough Albert. But what other members cannot do in the Swap is to engage in discussion about the book since members cannot post discussions in Swap.
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Old 29th March 2021, 11:18 PM   #7
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O.k. I post the review also here:

___________________________________________

Book review by Albert van Zonneveld

Title: Heroes, Gods and Guardians. Hilts and Keris of Indonesia. Huntington Miller Collection.

Author: Bruce W. Carpenter
Photographer: Charla Thompson

Publisher: C. Zwartenkot Art Books - Leiden & Talisman Publishing - Singapore, 2021

ISBN-978-905-45-0024-7
Format: 29 x 22.5 cm
Cloth bound with jacket
Pages: 164
Illustrations: 130 colour photographs and 12 text illustrations
Language: English
Price: € 45.00

The Huntington Miller Collection of keris and keris hilts is incredible. Not because of the number, but because of the unparalleled quality. It is amazing that so many keris and keris hilts of this superb quality are brought together in one collection.
Bruce W. Carpenter guarantees an elaborate text. Informative and with a lot of background meaning. The accompanying texts to the images not only describe the objects as we see them, but also give an explanation of the depicted figures, heroes, gods and guardians, and their role in the mythical world.
Charla Thompsom's photography is sublime. Each object is photographed from multiple sides and not only gives a beautiful picture of the details, but also show their powerful appearance.

In the book, fifty-nine hilts and seven full keris come into the limelight. They originate from Java, Madura, Sumatra, Borneo, Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Sulawesi dating from the 15th-16th century to the 19th-early 20th century.

Contents
- Word from the Collectors
- Dance of the Keris
- Highlights
- Gallery
- Java
- Bali & Lombok
- Sumatra, Sulawesi & Borneo
- Royal Keris
- Bibliography and Image Credits

Heroes, Gods and Guardians is a cultural and artistic voyage that delights the eye and stimulates the mind.
It is not just another book on keris hilts, but indeed an indispensable book for those interested in Indonesian culture in general, as well as for collectors and aficionados of the keris in particular. Highly recommended!
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Old 1st April 2021, 10:25 AM   #8
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Hello dear members,
I received the book and carefully reviewed it and I submit my comments hereafter:
The hilts collection is rather small but of exceptional quality, equivalent to the one shown by Vanna Ghiringhelli in her book: "Kris hilts, masterpieces of South-East Asian art". The pictures are absolutely wonderful also.
The text and descriptions are detailed and interesting as expected from the author who is a renowned specialist of Indonesian culture. I have minor comments about the identification or origin of few hilts as indicated hereafter , but this is not a big deal.
I was particularly interested by the very old ivory hilt shown on pages 46 and 47 (attributed to East Java, 16th century or earlier) as I own a very similar wooden piece (see pics). The author indicates that the figure holds its left hand in abhaya mudra but although it is not clear from the pic, it may actually hold a cut arm as seen on my own pic, so depicting a raksasa (ogre).

Few minor comments about the ID or origin of some hilts:
. The ivory hilt shown on pages 42 & 43 is more probably originating from Cirebon than East Java and its face was probably reshaped due to damage.
. The ivory hilt shown on pages 78 & 79 should rather be classified in jangellan style from East Java/ Madura.
. The wooden planar hilt shown on page 81 is more probably originating from East Java than Solo, and the black kendit band may be dyed (discolored on the front side).
. Page 86: This hilt with a clearly human face and a trunk may not depict Ganesha but Sri Gajah Waktra according to EAN Van Veeendaal.
. Page 90: The figure may not depict Bayu (grimacing face with fangs, unusual attributes).
. Pages 130 & 131: This beautiful Bugis ivory hilt in takala style is also found in East Sumatra (see pic).
. Pages 132 & 133: This Bugis ivory hilt is not originating from Madura (one of the options mentioned by the author).
. Pages 140 & 141: The beautiful ivory hilt fitted on the royal Minangkabau kris is not typically Minang (see my ivory specimen) but from Sijungjung (near Padang) or from Aceh, see a similar wooden specimen.

In summary, a very valuable book for all the kris hilts afficionados!

PS: I am thankful to the author for mentioning me as a "notable collector from the last decades" but am not sure to deserve this distinction as compared to some other members and collectors whom I know...
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Old 1st April 2021, 12:04 PM   #9
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Jean, I have this book on order, so I cannot really comment on anything yet. I rarely buy newly published books relating to the keris, and when I do buy, it is usually because I either know the writer, or I respect the opinions of other people who have commented on the book.

Bruce Carpenter wrote the text for this book. I do not know Bruce Carpenter, and I am doing my best to fill in some background on him, however, I do already have one opinion, and that is that he is "solid" and that he is "---pretty thorough in his research and his work ---". This opinion came from one of the most highly regarded personages involved in Balinese culture today.

Albert's opinion I have taken at full value.

Accordingly, I am already a little bit prejudiced towards a positive opinion of this book, even though I have not yet seen it.

I do hope I am not going to be disappointed.

I think E.A.N. van Veenendaal was the author of "Pamor Atlas"?

Is this correct?

Do we know upon what authority or personal research he based the naming of the Ganesha-like hilt you mention, as "Sri Gajah Waktra"?

I only know Raja Sri Gajah Waktra as an early Balinese ruler. I cannot recall ever having seen this historic figure portrayed in a Ganesha-like form.
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Old 1st April 2021, 01:10 PM   #10
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Hello Alan
Emile Van Veenendaal wrote the booklet "Pamor Atlas" (2 editions) indeed, and also the booklet "Krisgrepen en scheden uit Bali en Lombok" (also 2 editions) which is the most detailed book about Bali & Lombok hilts which I am aware of. He lived in Lombok for many years and was a friend of the famous collector Alwi Moerad (see pic)
Regards
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Old 1st April 2021, 08:50 PM   #11
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Thank you for that background Jean.
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Old 1st April 2021, 09:24 PM   #12
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Hi Jean. Is that the traditional manner in which keris are worn in Lombak? It seems a bit odd and awkward for such large keris.
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Old 2nd April 2021, 08:31 AM   #13
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Hi David,
I frankly don't know but I guess that it should be one of the traditional manners, may be for better showing the kris (and more convenient than the traditional Balinese manner behind the shoulder!).
PS: See attached pic, the text means: "It can also be inserted on the front"
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Old 2nd April 2021, 08:48 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David
Hi Jean. Is that the traditional manner in which keris are worn in Lombak? It seems a bit odd and awkward for such large keris.
It seems so David, see below pics when you google search using keyword “busana adat sasak”:

Picture with information text mentioned selepan (weapon) not necessarily Keris.
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Old 2nd April 2021, 01:38 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey

Do we know upon what authority or personal research he based the naming of the Ganesha-like hilt you mention, as "Sri Gajah Waktra"?

I only know Raja Sri Gajah Waktra as an early Balinese ruler. I cannot recall ever having seen this historic figure portrayed in a Ganesha-like form.
Hello Alan,
Reference to Emile Van Veenendaal's book.
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Old 2nd April 2021, 09:27 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JustYS
It seems so David, see below pics when you google search using keyword “busana adat sasak”:

Picture with information text mentioned selepan (weapon) not necessarily Keris.
I'm not sure what to make of these illustrations JustYS. The top photo of the seated man clearly shows a modern era Madura dress. Was this person presented as someone from Lombok or is he Madurese? If he is from Lombok i do not understand the Maduran keris.
The illustration shows an example of President Jokowi (Joko Widodo) dressed in what is supposed to be traditional Sasak dress. Fair enough since the Sasak people make up about 85% of the Lombok population. About the weapon shown here the caption reads: "Jokowi uses pemaje, a work tool for the Sasak people which is usually used in the "finishing touch" stage of a work or result."
But then i found this information about the pemaje in the book "Sword" by Putra Danayu: "In the implementation of the traditional Sasak ceremony, sometimes the pemaje also appears as an obligatory clothing accessory. It is not like the placement of the keris that is pinned to the back of the waist. Pemaje is often instead in the front of the stomach. Rather slanted tucked into the front belt of traditional clothing."
By the way, President Jokowi is of Javanese decent, born and raised in Surakarta.
So i am not sure that a photo of an gentleman with a Maduro keris stuck into his front or an illustration of the Javanese President of Indonesia (albeit in Sasak dress) with a blade that is not a keris, but rather a pemaje which IS traditionally worn in this position, says about how keris are traditionally worn in Lombok.
I did, however, find a few photos of men in some ceremonial processions in Lombok with keris in this front position, so these images might serve as better evidence of the practice. It does still seem rather awkward to carry such large keris in this manner, but it does seem to be done. Of course i also found some photos of men in procession carrying their keris in the Balinese fashion.
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Old 2nd April 2021, 11:44 PM   #17
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Thank you Jean.

I do not understand Dutch. I have not the slightest inkling of what the text on the photographed page says.

I can see the hilts, and over the last 50+ years of visits to Bali, similar hilts have always been identified to me as variations in representations of Ganesha.

I am not arguing against the true identification being different to the opinions of multiple people in Bali over an extended period, but I would very much like to see some confirmation of Mr. van Veenendaal's opinion, and from an authoritative source.

I do know for a fact that Balinese craftsmen and artists do vary the ways in which they present well known characters.

I know that Ganesha is an extremely popular subject for carvers and other artists in Bali. I also know that figures identified as Ganesha come in a variety of different representations, from a frightening raksasa-like form --- that the carver told me was Ganesha as Gajah Mada, who was seen as terrible in Bali --- to Ganesha as a child in a playful mood.
(Gajah Mada was candified as Ganesha).

I personally have around 50 representations of Ganesha, ranging from a stone statue in my garden, to a tiny fob on my watchchain. Each representation is different.

I doubt that I have ever seen a Balinese representation of Ganesha that would be accepted by a mainline Hindu devotee as a genuine representation of Ganesha.

I have never encountered mention of Raja Sri Gajah Waktra from a Balinese person in reference to a physical representation of Raja Sri Gajah Waktra. I cannot recall seeing in any printed work a physical representation of Raja Sri Gajah Waktra. I only know of this person from reading.

If Mr. van Veenendaal was able to positively identify these "Ganesha variations" as being, in fact, representations of Raja Sri Gajah Waktra, this would be a valuable addition to our knowledge of the Balinese plastic arts, not only for people in Western cultures, but perhaps even for the Balinese people them selves.

Thus, an authoritative verification of the forms that Mr. van Veenendaal identifies as Raja Sri Gajah Waktra would seem to me to be something very desirable.

EDIT

I've been thinking about this all day, and I think I might have an answer, I'm away from home at the moment and cannot check anything, so I'm just going to float a couple of ideas and perhaps somebody with access to sources can confirm. It would help if I could read the Dutch text of Mr. van Veenendaals, but I cannot, so I'm guessing.

In the text of Mr. van Veenendaal he refers to "Sri Gajah Waktra". The name in this form refers to an archaic Balinese ruler so, correctly it is "Raja Sri Gajah Waktra", who was known by other names as well. The "Gajah Waktra" part is a title.

However, if we drop the "Sri" and give the name as "Gajahwaktra" then we are talking about a character from the Sutasoma kakawin who tries to eat Prince Sutasoma.

I probably should mention also that some people believe that the Sutasoma Gajahwaktra is in fact an incarnation of Rudra who of course is an incarnation of Siwa who is the father of Ganesha.Thus Gajahwaktra is actually a representation of Ganesha.

There is another story too that I only half recall and want to check, where Ganesha breaks his tusk and then gets named as Gajahwaktra or Ratkatundra(?). So in fact, Ganesha and Gajahwaktra are the same in this story. I'm pretty sure that this story is a Balinese story.

So, depending on the way the name is presented, and depending on the context these demonic representations of Ganesha might legitimately be named as "Gajahwaktra" --- but I have never encountered this usage.

What we might have in the van Veendendaal text is a confusion in identities --- but perhaps the rest of the Dutch text negates that idea.

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Old 3rd April 2021, 09:07 AM   #18
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Hello Alan,
I do not understand Dutch as well but am able to translate few words or short sentences if required.
Emile attributes several names for this type of hilt showing a human face with a trunk but no tusks (especially Maya Denawa), which he distinguishes from Ganesha who has a clear elephant elephant head, which makes sense to me but I cannot tell whether he is correct or not. Hovewer I am sure that he carefully checked his words before publishing them. I will try to contact him and let you know if I get his reply.
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Old 15th April 2021, 06:51 AM   #19
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I have received my copy of this book.

The book itself is a quality production, the photographs are excellent, the hilts that have been photographed are a bit of a mixed bag, varying from gold hilts that exhibit archaic style to wooden hilts that give the appearance of having been carved by an owner, not a professional carver.

All in all, this is nice collection of hilts, the best are as good, or possibly better than anything I have. I do not think it is an exceptional collection, it is a good representative collection, and it would have been very expensive to put together.

I have browsed the text and have identified a number of things that I need to look very closely at. This is not something I can do quickly. I prefer to reserve comment on the text.

But the book itself is quality, and the hilts that are presented in this book are well worth the price of the book, simply because you are unlikely to see the better hilts included in the collection anywhere else.
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Old 19th April 2021, 12:31 PM   #20
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[QUOTE=A. G. Maisey]

I do not understand Dutch. I have not the slightest inkling of what the text on the photographed page says. I did add some breaks in the text to increase legibility

EDIT

Hello Alan and Jean. As I speak Dutch, below the translation of the original text. The prose is not that good, but I thought it better to stick to the original Dutch as closely as possible.

Sri Gajah Waktra was king of the Kingdom of Bedahulu in the 13th century. Gajah Waktra looks very similar to Ganesha, but has a more human face.

According to accounts, Maya Denawa was an arrogant demon king, who possessed great magical power and considered himself to be above the gods. He destroyed the gods’ temples. His subjects were no longer permitted to perform ceremonies or to visit the Besakih Temple. Under pain of death, they were forced to worship him.

Under leadership of the god Indra, the gods marshalled a heavenly army and came to earth to punish Maya Denawa. Maya Denawa, however, poisened the drinking water and thus killed many soldiers. However, the soldiers were brought back to life by Indra by shooting a magical arrow into the ground, so that a holy well was created (the well of life and prosperity, the Tirto Empul at Tampaksiring).

Indra then sprinkled the soldiers with the water of life Amarta, which brought the soldiers back to life. Maya Denawa fled and with the help of his magical powers transformed himself into a statue in the shape of an elephant (Gajah Waktra). Indra, however, saw through his guise and killed him with a holy arrow.

The day of his death is celebrated twice a year in Bali as a commemoration of the victory of good over evil, the Galungan feast (or Buda Kliwon Dunggulan on the Bali calendar).
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Old 19th April 2021, 02:40 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bjorn
Sri Gajah Waktra was king of the Kingdom of Bedahulu in the 13th century. Gajah Waktra looks very similar to Ganesha, but has a more human face.
Thanks for the translation Bjorn.
I do realize that making a positive identification of many Balinese figurative hilts can be next to impossible at times, but this part of the description put me in mind of this hilt that i have had for a few year. There is an elephant's trunk, but certainly much more of a human face, including a human nose.
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Old 19th April 2021, 11:08 PM   #22
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Thank you for taking the trouble to do that translation Bjorn.

The translation that you have given is more or less the story of Mayadenawa, but this story can vary from teller to teller in the details. I've heard it and read it many times, and I doubt that it has ever been given in exactly the same way every time. It is a very well known story, I reckon everybody over the age of 8 in Bali has heard it many more times than once.


The essence of the Mayadenawa story is that Mayadenawa was a very unpleasant personality, son of a giant & a goddess. He had magic powers. He was what we would call a "shape shifter", his powers permitted him to change form and become one animal or another, or a tree or rock, or in one story he actually becomes a sweet potato.

Anyway, he became more & more powerful and more & more arrogant. He finished up banning religion & the worship of the Gods. This neglect of obligation caused the prosperity of his kingdom to deteriorate and his people to suffer. A priest, Mpu Kolputih got pretty concerned about this so he meditated and asked the Gods for guidance, he was told to go to India in order to seek help.

After Mpu Kolputih (note:- "mpu" or "empu" is a title of respect, in this context nothing at all to do with a keris maker) returned from India an army of heavenly soldiers appeared in Bali, led by Indra, there was a battle between the Heavenly host led by Indra and Mayadenawa's army, Indra's army was stronger, Mayadenawa's soldiers ran away and left Mayadenawa with only his servant.

Mayadenawa waited until it was dark, then he created poisoned water to kill the Heavenly Host, but Indra threw his staff into the earth and created an antidote water.

After this magic powers battle involving water(important to understand that water is the key to Balinese religious belief and society, as it also was in Majapahit), Indra chased Mayadenawa, and Mayadenawa did a bit of shape shifting and changed himself into a number of different things in an attempt to avoid capture or confrontation:- a bird, a goddess, a vegetable, a leaf, and last of all, a rock. As a rock he was unable to move, and Indra shot him with an arrow and killed him.

The death of Mayadenawa is the story that tells of the victory of good over evil, every 210 days this victory is celebrated in Bali as Galungan.

There is a lot more to this story, lots of detail that I do not remember, I've heard it in various ways & forms, but here I've given only the core. I have heard this story many times, I have read it many times. It is pretty close to the brief version given in your translation. However, there is one very big difference, not in any version of the story that I have heard or read. Mayadenawa did not change himself into the statue of an elephant. He always changes himself into a rock.

Not one single time have I heard nor read that Mayadenawa changed himself into a statue of an elephant.


So the next question is just exactly what does "waktra" mean? Gajah is "elephant", but "waktra"?

I do not know the word. Not surprising because after checking I found out it is Kawi (ie, Sanskrit) word that means:- "--- mouth or snout or face or head ---".

I have good contacts in Bali, some family, more than a few friends, apparently if "gajah waktra" is used colloquially it can mean "big head", in the sense of somebody who has an inflated opinion of himself.

Is it reasonable to accept that Mayadenawa did indeed have a very good opinion of himself?

Incidentally, here is a photo of a carving of Ganesha, it was done in the late 1970's, it is Ganesha, it is not Mayadenawa as "Gajah Waktra". Note the nose?
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Last edited by A. G. Maisey; 20th April 2021 at 12:53 AM. Reason: fractured text
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Old 20th April 2021, 11:54 AM   #23
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Thanks for that, Alan. Your keynote telling of the story already made it more vivid - especially with the rock form being the very final shape he took after many dastardly attempts to escape.

Perhaps Veenendaal got the story from someone on Lombok, and one of the varians there does contain the elephant form. Or he wrote down the stories so long after hearing them, that he mixed up elements or simply misremembered.

Plenty of possibilities, but all conjecture.
At any rate, this serves as a good reminder to take these descriptions of hilts with a few grains of salt.

PS: That carving of Ganesha is absolutely gorgeous.
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Old 20th April 2021, 01:31 PM   #24
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I know a little bit more about the roots of the van Veenendaal version than I care to make public Bjorn. I would prefer not to name names, but I have been told that he heard this version from a gentleman who lived in Ubud, a gentleman who was rather well known for embroidered versions of reality.

I think that in general lots of things get distorted over time, the way things might be understood now are not necessarily the way they have always been understood. Time tends to distort perception.

That Ganesha carving was done by a carver who was also a Brahmin priest, by a stroke of luck I was able to deal directly with the carver and with no bargaining at all it was given to me at an unbelievably low price.
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Old 21st April 2021, 05:37 AM   #25
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Alan and Bjorn,

Thank you. I've been following this interesting story as it unfolded. It is fascinating to see just how an historical story/legend/myth can be changed through "creative" recounting that, in turn, can be picked up and amplified within and outside the original culture. This must happen far more often than we realize, which makes it hard to know what the original version may have been.

Just to illustrate within my own family. My great-grandfather settled in NE Victoria and had the job of postman in what was then a sparsely settled part of Australia. One day, while delivering the post, he came across a camp of five men whom he recognized as members of the notorious Kelly Gang. He was upon the camp and among them before he realized who they were. His only chance to escape was to pretend he didn't know who they were, so he kept riding slowly by them, exchanged some pleasantries, bid them "g'day" and kept riding slowly until out of sight. Once he got a mile away from their camp he galloped to the nearest town and raised the alarm. Of course, the gang were gone when the police finally got there. And that's the whole story as told to me by his son (my grandfather).

Fifty years later, one of my great uncles wrote a piece for the local small town newspaper with a more sensational version of the story in which the police arrived as the gang were breaking camp. Supposedly, a gunfight ensued and one of the gang was wounded before they all made their escape. This has become the "official" story in that part of the country, even though family members have tried to debunk it.

This has nothing to do with keris hilts, and sorry to stray off topic. Just another example of how historical stories get changed and sensationalized over time.

Ian.

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Old 21st April 2021, 05:55 AM   #26
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No story is so good that it cannot be improved, Ian.
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Old 23rd April 2021, 03:04 PM   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey
That Ganesha carving was done by a carver who was also a Brahmin priest, by a stroke of luck I was able to deal directly with the carver and with no bargaining at all it was given to me at an unbelievably low price.
Very fortunate indeed, Alan. One might even see it as providence, were one so inclined.
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Old 23rd April 2021, 03:07 PM   #28
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Great example, Ian!

Even mundane events are easily altered. Have several colleagues recount the same work event, and usually smalld details will differ, even when only a few days have passed.
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Old 23rd April 2021, 10:24 PM   #29
A. G. Maisey
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A long time ago, when I used to go to seminars that were supposed to increase knowledge, ability & just general professionalism, I experienced on a couple of occasions an exercise where a story was given to one person, who then passed that story to the person next to him.

The participants were sat in a circle and by the time the story had got back to the originator of that story, it bore very little resemblance to the original story.

On one occasion each person in the circle told a story to the person on his left, by the time each of these stories returned to the original teller it bore no resemblance at all to the original.

I guess I did learn something from this:- do not issue instructions, or comments, or advice or anything, verbally. Put it in writing.

In respect of much of the knowledge or belief that is relevant to our own studies, we are often dealing with verbal traditions. We need to look very hard at some of that "knowledge", but perhaps not quite so hard at belief.
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