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Noor Borbieva

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There have been multiple attempts to explain the origin and role of Rangda, a monstrous figure of Balinese myth and performance. Seen in dances as locked in eternal combat with her arch- enemy the Barong and as the Queen of witches, Rangda is often considered the embodiment of evil and fear. However, she is also associated with Durga, one aspect of the Hindu Goddess, Devi, and is seen as a mother figure and wronged widow. Her fearsome, destructive aspects have led her to be misrepresented in scholarship and in her public image. I argue this arises from a misunderstanding of both Hindu religion and gender roles. Bateson and Mead (1942) describe Rangda’s role in the Barong dance and her maternal archetype, but they say little about her religious significance. Instead, she is almost always called theWitch in their description, emphasizing her evil nature. Belo (1949) connected Rangda to Durga, but did not attempt to reconcile her evil character with the destructive but good figure of Durga. More recent scholarship by Stephen (2001) has found a connection between Rangda and Uma, a loving and creative aspect of Devi that is a counterpart to Durga. Some versions of Rangda’s story, do not identify her as Durga, but depict her as a widow scorned and seeking revenge through the goddess’s power. I draw on these sources and others to offer a retelling of the Balinese conception of Rangda. I present the findings of my study within the religious context and the gender framework of Hinduism, in particular its Balinese iteration. I argue that the basic interpretation of Rangda as evil is incorrect and based on a faulty interpretation that fails to take into account the religion and gender structures surrounding her. Specifically, Hinduism does not have a strict dichotomy of good and evil. Beings, including deities, will have different aspects in their incarnations. My poster will show that Rangda has four exclusively female roles that form two pairs of related identities: goddess and mother; witch and widow. These are reconciled when viewed through Hinduism’s concepts of gender and womanhood. Rangda is almost always described as some kind of mother, fierce or loving like her goddess counterparts. She is also remembered as a widow, since her name means “widow” in Old Javanese, and her characterization reflects Hindu attitudes toward widowhood. In Bali, widows are associated with witchcraft, These associations must be considered before passing judgment on Rangda, as such consideration will reveal that she is not an evil figure, but a figure of multiple contradictory identities and significances.


Anthropology | History

The Misunderstood Mother: Rangda in the Context of Hinduism and Hindu Gender Roles