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Asian art

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Sita's trial by fire



Mangku Mura


circa 1920 - 1999


Painting has traditionally been regarded as the highest form of artistic expression in Bali, in part due to its importance in sacred ceremonies where paintings were used to demarcate the ritual space. The most popular style of traditional Balinese painting is known as the Kamasan style named after a village in the Klungkung regency of the southeast coast of Bali. The Kamasan style drew its inspiration from the Javanese 'wayang' or leather shadow puppets, hence the style of these paintings are characterised by a flat two-dimensionality with a limited palate of colours, usually red, orange and brown with blue. The painters who work in this style formed themselves into communities or guilds known as sangging which were traditionally employed by the court of the Dewa Agung, nominally the highest king of the Balinese courts. These artists were generally anonymous, however, this work was painted by the artist Mangku Mura who is best known as the artist commissioned by the collector Anthony Forge to paint a number of works which are now held in the collections of the Australian Museum. Mangku Mura was also responsible for the painting and decoration of the Klungkung courthouse (Kerta Gosa) in 1960.

This painting is stylistically and thematically typical of the Kamasan style although this painting, 'Sita's trial by fire' shows the artist's exploration of modern materials. Apparently the artist's daughter had been studying painting at the University in Denpasar and had brought home stretched canvasses, one of which the artist has used as the surface for this painting. The colours, however, are the traditional inks and tempera dyes. This painting depicts the moment at the end of the Ramayana epic where Sita is forced to prove her innocence and chastity by submitting herself to a trial by fire. In this painting Sita is protected by the fire god Agni who turns the flames into a cool pond. This scene is witnessed by the gods Shiva, Indra and Kubera on the demonic Wilmana bird represented at the top left corner of the painting.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, June 2003.


Place where the work was made

Kamasan Bali Indonesia



Media category


Materials used

tempera on primed canvas


74.8 x 92.8 cm

Signature & date

Signed verso in Balinese (untranslated) and English: "MangkuMura. / Br. Siku. / Kamasan. / KlungKung. / Bali...[illeg.]"


Gift of Chris and Evi Reid 2003


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Mangku Mura

Works in the collection