Indonesia’s Mysterious Moon of Pejeng

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By M. Renee Simao

The Moon of Pejeng in Bali

The Moon of Pejeng, an exceptional kettle drum unlike any other, sits high in the temple grounds, guarding the village of Pejeng in Bali, Indonesia. Well cared for by the villagers, it has its own little house built up on stilts. Although it really isn’t a moon, it is as fantastic as any member of our universe. For the Moon of Pejeng is the largest kettledrum cast in a single piece in the entire world.

Bronze Kettle Drum

The bronze-era Moon of Pejeng is just a short drive from Ubud in the heartland of Bali

The 2000-year-old bronze drum is 73.5 in (186.5 cm) high. The diameter of the mantle is 43 in (110 cm) and that of the tympanum is 63 in (160 centimeters). Its presence on the island of Bali is still one of science’s unsolved mysteries.

The Mythology Surrounding the Moon of Pejeng

According to Indonesian folklore, the moon was transported across the evening sky by a celestial chariot with wheels that shone as brightly as the moon itself. One night a wheel came loose and plummeted to Earth, landing in a tree in the village of Pejeng. Its glow illuminated all of the surrounding area. This was very irritating to a thief who saw that the light interfered with his nocturnal pursuits. So he climbed the tree and urinated on the wheel, extinguishing its light.

Immediately the wheel exploded, killing the thief. Then it fell to the ground. There is a break in the base as a result of the fall. The people of Pejeng found it and enshrined it in a high pavilion in the Penetran Sasih Temple, thereby keeping it safe from profane eyes and hands.

Kettle Drum Manufacturing During the Bronze Age

On the more practical side of things (but surely less romantic), scientists are attempting to decide if the drum was cast in Indonesia or imported from North Vietnam. Kettle drums were manufactured in North Vietnam during the Bronze Age using two methods. Some were cast in stone molds which could be used and re-used. Others were made by the lost wax method. In this method, the mold melts when it is removed so it can only be used one time. Had lost wax casting been employed, the mold would have been destroyed. This would make it difficult to identify the origin.

Relief Sketch of the Pejeng Kettle Drum

Many believe that the Indonesian bronze makers learned the art from the North Vietnamese and the Moon of Pejeng was actually constructed in Indonesia. The evidence to support this theory rests partially on the discovery of parts of a stone mold in the village of Manuaba near Pejeng. It appears, from studying the fragments, that the mold was designed to construct a drum similar to Pejeng. But, according to Prof. T. P. Galesten this mold was for a smaller drum than Pejeng. Prof. Galesten also states that a close observation of the drum surface indicates molds were not used in its construction

Further, the ornamentation of the Pejeng drum is different from the Vietnamese drums. The Dong Son drums were always decorated with geometric patterns, as well as figures, often of people engaged in rice cultivation; but the Moon of Pejeng has a heart-shaped face on the mantle. The face has huge, round eyes with distended earlobes, adorned with unusually large earrings and a leaf shaped ornament worn behind the ear. This is distinctly Indonesian and not found in Vietnam.

In spite of the evidence, some scientists, including Prof. Galesten, believe it is impossible to determine the origin of the drum but  he does say it is “one of the most magnificent masterpieces ever created by man.” And Prof. Kemper calls it, “in many ways the most intriguing of all members of the Southeast Asian kettle drum families.”

Video of a full moon ceremony at the Pejeng Temple

We may never know from whence the moon of Pejeng originated, but its size, design, and durability has allowed it to survive 2,000 years of conjecture, imperialism, and reverence. Frankly, it might best be left a mystery; for it’s much too tempting to imagine as the wheel of an ancient celestial chariot which – one bright night – drew the ire of a common thief… who subsequently peed on its intricate design.

Further Research

One comment on “Indonesia’s Mysterious Moon of Pejeng

  1. Cheap Bali Flights on said:

    Very thorough description of the mysterious moon. I appreciate how much effort you must have gone to in researching the topic and collecting all the various media to support your article.

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