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Keris holder in the form of a demon

Place of Origin: Bali, Indonesia

Date: 19th-20th Century

Height: 510mm

Reference: 514

Status: Available

Full Description:

A polychromed wooden keris holder in unusually well-preserved condition carved from a single piece of wood. The red-skinned seated figure, probably a character from one of the Hindu epics, has a fiendish expression but is missing the characteristics a demon might possess.1 The figure’s red eyes are bulging but his exposed top row of teeth are distinctly human, not devilish. He also bears forehead markings one might associate with a Hindu tilak - a religious forehead marking. One can clearly see two horizontal bow-shaped lines painted in gold and black and a third eye in gold. His unflattering body shape suggests he was not a hero in any epic, but his chest is nonetheless adorned in gold paint. His lower body is wrapped in a traditional Balinese way, and the pattern shown is reminiscent of Balinese prada or perada, which is a technique of using gold leaf dust to decorate the fabric.2 These luxurious cloths are worn at Balinese festivals and religious ceremonies.

The figure sits on an integral base, carved to resemble an intertwined unknown material. His arms are bent and hollowed, creating bottomless cups for two keris to be placed. The tips of the scabbard were designed to rest on his bent legs. His head is perhaps the most unique feature of this keris. He appears to have been given real hair. Whether it is human or animal is yet unknown and remains a topic of future interest. The science to determine if there is any human DNA in hair is not readily available unless the strand still possesses its root, which is not the case in this instance.

Overall, the piece is in remarkably well-preserved condition. The only notable exception is a crack, potentially caused by old age, although there are natural faults present in many keris holders in private and public collections.

A similar seated demon keris holder is in the Metropolitan Museum. It was gifted by the well-known arms and armor (?) collector, George Cameron Stone.3


Erik Farrow, San Francisco

Thomas Murray, San Francisco

Thomas L. Cooper Ph. D. Author of multiple books on Balinese-Javanese culture


1My thanks to Siddhartha Jha for his observations on the identification of the character.

2My thanks to Lesley S Pullen for her observations on the textile.



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