The lotus flower in Dayak art


The lotus flower decorating the Dayak ceremonial artworks originates from Hindu influences that came into the Island many centuries ago. The first evidence of Hindu in Borneo is provided from Sanskrit inscriptions dating back to the 4th - 5th Century a.D. They record the gifts of a King to Brahmans and give evidence of a Hindu kingdom in the Eastern part of the Island. Later influences came into Borneo around 14th Century, in the era of the Hindu-Javanese kingdom of Majapahit, the most important of several Hindu kingdoms in Java, which power extended over the costal regions of Borneo and other islands of the Indonesian archipelago. Through the repeated contacts with Hindu, sometimes strengthened by kinship, cultural elements were assimilated by different Dayak ethnic groups, among these the lotus flower and its symbolic significances. Two of these groups are the Ngaju of Southern Borneo, which used it probably until 19th Century, and the Tunjung of Eastern Borneo.


Formally, the Dayak lotus is represented by four petals or, in the rarest cases, by a ring of connecting triangles. The former finely decorates different kind of wooden sculpture, such as ceremonial posts, altars, mausoleums, and so on. The latter may be found rarely on ceremonial posts of the Tunjung. The ring of connecting triangles is depicted in high relief around the posts, located under a human or anthropomorphic figure sitting in squatting position on the top: the whole is an exceptional representation of a person or a divinity emerging from a lotus flower. The Dayak lotus flower is related to life. That’s the reason why it is depicted on the great posts used in the most important ceremonies which primary function is to «produce life», as well as on wooden figures and architectural elements used in ritual contexts associated to life and prosperity.