The Moon of Pejeng
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The Moon of Pejeng

An exploration into the largest single-cast bronze kettledrum in the world, and the East Asian Bronze Age that surrounded it.

The Moon of Pejeng

Within the Petanu River Valley of Bali, Indonesia lies a sleepy rural village named Pejeng. Placed about 5 kilometers east of Ubud, this village is largely unknown to most westerners, but holds a dear place within Balinese legend, and a very tangible and significant piece of East Asian history.

Lying on the outskirts of Pejeng is Pura Penataran Sasih, a Hindu temple dating back to 1266 AD that served as the state temple of the Pejeng Kingdom in the early 14 th century. Held within the temple is the Moon of Pejeng, the largest single-cast bronze kettle drum in the world. The drum, at 74 inches high and with a 63 inch diameter, is kept on high ground within the temple, overlooking the village within it's own protective structure on stilts, where it is protected and cared for by the local residents.

There are two legends that surround the existence of the Moon of Pejeng , one being that it was once one of 13 moons that, once upon a time, orbited our planet, and the other being that it was the wheel of a chariot that pulled the moon through the sky. In both legends, it fell from the sky, and landed in a tree where it shined blindingly bright and extremely hot until a thief, frustrated with its glow that prevented him from using the darkness to cover his crimes, climbed up the tree and urinated on it. The wheel exploded, killing the thief, and falling to the ground resulting in a crack in its base. From there, legend holds that it was found by the villagers of Pejeng and then moved to Pura Penataran Sasih for protection.

Outside of legend, it is largely accepted that the Moon of Pejeng was built by the Đông Sơn culture of ancient Vietnam around 300 B.C., later being imported to Bali. However, many believe that it was actually constructed in Bali. The true answer seems elusive, as its hourglass shape was common in many kettledrums built during the Bronze Age. Its face motif engravings, that were first described to the western world by Dutch artist W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp, are not the usual Dong Son themes of birds, boats, and daily Vietnamese life, and are more Balinese in nature, as Pejeng drums would usually incorporate human faces. While it is very possible that the drum was brought by Dong Son peoples fleeing the Chinese, some Balinese scholars point to ancient molds used for bronze casting kettledrums that were found in the area to support the assertion that the drum was made near Pejeng. The issue here is, while there may be molds supporting the argument that kettledrums were made in Bali, it does not fully support the assertion that the Moon of Pejeng was made there, as kettledrums were a significant part of the vastly complex rice cultivation culture that existed in the Petanu River Valley during the Bronze Age. To make matters more complicated and ambiguous, the Dong Son culture cast the majority of their kettledrums using the lost-wax method, where the mold melts as the bronze is removed. This means, that even if the drum was cast by the Dong Son culture, there is most likely no mold to make that connection apparent in our minds today.

In any case, the Moon of Pejeng has been with us for at least 2000 years, and while we may never know when or where it came from, it will always serve as a symbol of human history that has outlasted and survived countless dynasties and wars. Perched atop a hill, in a Hindu temple on the outskirts of a small Balinese village, the Moon of Pejeng serves as an ancient guardian for not only the small town of Pejeng, but also the spirit of human imagination and ingenuity.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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