Symbolic Animals in the Land between the Waters: Markers of Place and Transition
By Robert Wessing, Leiden University
Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 65, 2006: 205–239
This paper analyzes the use of symbolic animals in Indonesia and Southeast Asia generally as markers of place or state of being, and aids in transition between states of being. It shows that especially naga and Garuda, both subsets of a larger category of naga, respectively define the categories upperworld and underworld as the male and female extremes of a water continuum. These are linked by the rainbow, which is also a member of the naga category. Together these symbolic animals make up the axis mundi, as can be seen in both the symbolic mountain of the Javanese shadow theatre and the Balinese cremation tower. Within the arc of water created by these three elements lies the earth, which has emerged from, and can be seen to be part of the underworld. The emergence of the earth as well as states and crops from the underworld is made possible by the movement of buffalo or its equivalents, which also aid in the transition of human beings from the prenatal state, through life and into death.

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