The Semiotics of Gunung Kawi: Materializing Affiliation at Ancient and Modern Balinese Temples



Comprehending pure symbols generally requires arbitrary culture-specific knowledge. Messages communicated by means of signs with nonsymbolic dimensions, such as indexical symbols and indexical icons, should thus be of particular interest to archaeologists. I demonstrate how site design and communal ritual function as multiplex sign production to materialize religious and social statements at ethnographic Balinese Hindu temples. I apply the semiotic tools thus developed to Gunung Kawi, where nine nearly identical candi (temple building) facades were carved into cliffs beside a Balinese river around the 11th century C.E. Scale-based indices show the importance attached to the meanings of the candis, and their similarity and mutual proximity suggest that alliance (as well as inequality) was important to the builders’ construction of power. This interpretation, initially built by examining indexical and iconic meanings, is buttressed by examination of inscriptions and by comparisons to earlier Javanese and (again) later Balinese temples.