Brandishing their weapons, baring their fangs, and glaring menacingly, these guardians seem to take their job seriously. It is hard, however, not to see them as mock-ferocious. In Southeast Asia (as elsewhere), bouncers and their kin often cannot avoid coming across as slightly ridiculous.
These figures would have flanked the entranceway of a Hindu temple in the kingdom of Majapahit (approx. 1300-1500) centered in East Java. After the fall of Majapahit, much of the rest of Indonesia embraced Islam, and Hindu culture today survives primarily on the island of Bali.
An excavation between 1910 and 1915 in the Mojokerto region of eastern Java brought these figures to light. A former Asian Art Museum curator, Kristina Youso, continues the story: "They were subsequently presented as a gift to the then Dutch governor-general of East Java, Mr. van Aalst, by the local Javanese regent. In 1918, when van Aalst retired, he received permission to export the figures. Van Aalst eventually settled, with his collection, in California. Over the past several decades, the door guardians changed hands and were placed on view in various museums before being acquired by the Asian."