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The Realm of Balinese
Traditional & Classical Art-forms
A Quick Look at the History
The history of Gelgel is described in some detail in the traditional chronicles (babad), in particular the 18th-century work Babad Dalem. According to these texts, the conquest of Bali by the Hindu Javanese kingdom of Majapahit was followed by the installation of a vassal dynasty in Samprangan in the present-day regency Gianyar, close to the old royal centre Bedulu. This installation took place in the age of the outstanding Majapahit minister Gajah Mada (d. 1364).
The first Samprangan ruler Sri Aji Kresna Kepakisan sired three sons. The eldest, Dalem Samprangan, succeeded to the rulership but turned out to be a vain and incompetent ruler. His youngest brother, Dalem Ketut, founded a new royal seat in Gelgel while Samprangan lapsed in obscurity. He later visited Majapahit and received powerful heirlooms (pusaka) from the king Hayam Wuruk. After a while the Majapahit kingdom fell into chaos and vanished, which left Dalem Ketut and his Balinese kingdom as the heirs of its Hindu-Javanese culture.
The Golden Age
What is surely known from external sources is that Gelgel was a powerful polity in the 16th century. The son of Dewa Ketut, Dalem Baturenggong, presumably reigned in the mid 16th century. He received at his court a Brahmin sage called Nirartha who fled from chaotic conditions on Java. A fruitful patron-priest relation was forged between the ruler and Nirartha, who carried out an extensive literary activity. In the time of Dalem Baturenggong, Lombok, West Sumbawa and Blambangan (easternmost Java) are said to have come under Gelgel’s suzerainty.
After his death, his son, Dalem Bekung, led a troubled reign marked by two serious rebellions by court aristocrats (traditionally dated in 1558 and 1578), and a severe military defeat against the Javanese kingdom of Pasuruan. His brother and successor, Dalem Seganing, on the contrary was a successful king whose long reign was relatively free from internal troubles. An indigenous list of dates places his death at 1623, although some historians have placed it later.
The son of Dalem Seganing, Dalem Di Made, dispatched a new and equally unsuccessful expedition against Java, which was defeated by the king of Mataram. At his old age he lost power to his foremost minister (patih), Anglurah Agung (Gusti Agung Maruti). Certain indigenous texts place his death at 1642, but historians have also proposed 1651 or c. 1665 as the true date of decease.
Dutch and Portuguese sources confirm the existence of a powerful kingdom in the 16th and 17th centuries, to which the neighbouring areas Lombok, West Sumbawa and Balambangan stood in a tributary or loosely subordinate relation. At the side of the king (dalem) stood senior ministers belonging to the Agung and Ler families, and a hereditary line of Brahmana preceptors.
The Gelgel kingdom was threatened by the sea-oriented Makassar kingdom in c. 1619, which deprived it of its interests in Sumbawa and at least parts of Lombok. With Mataram, fighting took place over the possession of Blambangan in 1635-1647; in the end Gelgel gained the upper hand.
The Dutch appeared on the island for the first time in 1597 and entered friendly relations with the Gelgel ruler. Subsequent relations between the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the kings of Gelgel were usually good, although attempts at concrete political cooperation were hardly fruitful. The Portuguese in Malacca dispatched an abortive missionary expedition to the king in 1635. European sources describe Bali at this time as a densely populated island with more than 300,000 people and a florissant agricultural production. By the early 17th century it was linked to the economic networks of the Southeast Asian Archipelago through traders from the Pasisir area on Java’s north coast. These traders exchanged pepper from the western part of the archipelago for cotton cloth produced on Bali, which was then brought to eastern Indonesia and the Philippines.
Fragmentation and Fall
According to both indigenous and Dutch sources, internal fighting broke out in 1651 after the decease of a Gelgel ruler, and the internecine trouble continued in the next decades. The royal minister, Anglurah Agung, set himself up as ruler of Gelgel from at least 1665 but encountered opposition from various corners.
Finally, in 1686, Anglurah Agung fell in battle against the nobleman Batulepang. After this event, a scion of the old royal line called Dewa Agung Jambe established himself as the new upper ruler, with his seat in Klungkung (Semarapura).
The Klungkung kingdom would last until the 20th century. However, the new kingdom was unable to gather the elite groups on Bali like Gelgel had done.
The rulers (Dewa Agung) of Klungkung continued to hold the position as paramount kings, but in fact the island was split up into several minor kingdoms (Karangasem, Sukawati, Buleleng, Tabanan, Badung, etc.). This situation of political fragmentation continued until the Dutch colonial conquest between 1849 and 1908.
With the royal seat moved, Gelgel itself was turned into a village that was administered by a side-branch of the Dewa Agung dynasty. In about the 1730s, the current Gelgel lord was attacked and killed by three princes of Karangasem, whose father he had murdered. In 1908, during the Dutch intervention in Bali, the local lord attacked a troop of Dutch colonial soldiers, which was the catalyst for the well-known puputan of the Klungkung Palace (18 April 1908) where the royal dynasty and their retainers performed a suicidal attack against well-armed Dutch troops.
The Classical Art of Painting
The Kamasan Style or Lukisan Wayang
Around the city of Gelgel, once home to the Klungkung royal palace, over the course of centuries guilds of skilled craftsmen began to emerge. They specialised in numerous art-forms and techniques, from gold-, brass- and bronze-smithery (the manufacture of gamelan* instruments) to weaving and painting. They also trained as dancers, musicians and puppeteers for the service and the pleasure of the ruling royal households.
The small village of Kamasan (nearly three kilometres from Klungkung) was home to the painters’ guild and its families. Their community was called Banjar Sangging; whilst the smiths were located in Banjar Pande Mas.
Historically, the artists from Kamasan worked principally for the court. “The sangging, specialists in the art of drawing and painting, were in the regular service of the King of Gelgel and Klungkung up to the twentieth century. As palace employees they received plots of land the yield from which belonged to them, but they were not authorised to sell. They had to be available at all times and had to obey the divine Dewa Agung’s summons when there was work to do at the palace...”1
The function of the paintings was essentially religious and educational: to convey ethical principles and examples of virtue through the representation of primarily sacred history.
Originally, the painters were mostly farmers who worked their fields in the mornings and painted during the hottest hours. They often worked in a group to produce paintings which followed a folk-art style.
A change occurred around 1720 when, during the Klungkung period, King Dewa Agung Made commissioned the painter, Sangging Mahendra, to produce a work inspired by wayang (Indonesian shadow puppets). The king ordered the creation of formalised compositions: beautiful, refined and ornamental. The themes and motifs taken from the Majapahit civilisation and culture (the main themes from the most popular Indian epics as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata), mingled with the Balinese decorative taste, gave rise to a unique painting style which soon spread throughout the island. This became known as ‘Kamasan style’ which today is viewed as the most classical form of Balinese painting. The paintings of Puri Kertha Gosa*** in Klungkung are some of the most outstanding examples of Kamasan style.
This unique style is characteristically two-dimensional (only horizontal and vertical). There is no perspective, no horizon to separate the earth and the sky. Like the puppets from the shadow theatre, the characters nearly always have the same dimensions, with only women and children appearing smaller. They follow a fixed artistic canon: “The faces are always drawn in three-quarter profile and the eyes are always visible too, with their shoulders and chest facing the spectator...” Painting by Mangku Mura Muriati
The social status or even the moral stance of each figure depicted (noble: halus/manis or rough: keras/kasar) are clearly determined by the colour used to paint them: the noble characters are white, pinkish-beige and light ochre; the rough and demonic characters are red, dark brown, hairy, with round eyes.
Head covering must be mentioned as one of the characteristic features to give information about the rank and function of the figure portrayed and the direction in which the figure is placed is important too; the tendency to identify the right and left with good and evil. Heroes, aristocrats and princesses, priests and deities are refined with gentle features; the evil creatures instead are represented as bad traits with heavily deformed caricatures, fangs and claws— sometimes hybridised with animals and demons. The gestures are strictly conventional too. The position of the hands indicates question and answer; command and obedience, and were also used to express emotions.
Painting by Mangku Mura Muriati
All materials used in the paintings are natural. White was made from pigs’ skulls, black from soot, red from Chinese cinnabar, yellow from ochre clay, blue from the dye of the indigo tree and brown from red oxide clay. The artists used bamboo brushes and pens, and they painted only on the finest rice-flour starched cotton to produce these magnificent art works.
*Wayang is an Indonesian word for theatre (literally “shadow”). When the term is used to refer to kinds of puppet theatre, sometimes the puppet itself is referred to as wayang, the Javanese word for shadow or imagination that also connotes “spirit”. Performances of shadow puppet theatre are accompanied by gamelan in Java, and by gender wayang in Bali. The first record of a wayang performance is from an inscription dated 930 CE which says “si Galigi mawayang”, or “Sir Galigi played wayang”. From that time till today it seems certain features of traditional puppet theatre have remained. Galigi was an itinerant performer who was requested to perform for a special royal occasion. At that event he performed a story about the hero Bhima from the Mahabharata. Wayang Kulit is a very unique form of theatre employing the principle of light and shadow. The puppets are crafted from buffalo hide and mounted on bamboo sticks. When held up behind a piece of white cloth, with an electric bulb or an oil lamp as the light source, shadows are cast on the screen. Wayang Kulit plays are invariably based on romantic tales, especially adaptations of the classic Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Some of the plays are also based on local happenings (current issues) or other local secular stories. It is up to the conductor or tok dalang to decide his direction. The dalang is the genius behind the entire performance. It is he who sits behind the screen and narrates the story. With a traditional orchestra in the background to provide a resonant melody and its conventional rhythm, the dalang modulates his voice to create suspense thus heightening the drama. Invariably, the play climaxes with the triumph of good over evil.
** Gamelan is a musical ensemble from Indonesia, typically from the islands of Bali or Java, featuring a variety of instruments such as metallophones, xylophones, drums and gongs; bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings. Vocalists may also be included. The term refers more to the set of instruments than to the players of those instruments. A gamelan is a set of instruments as a distinct entity, built and tuned to stay together — instruments from different gamelan are generally not interchangeable. The word “gamelan” comes from the Javanese word “gamel”, meaning to strike or hammer, and the suffix “an”, which makes the root a collective noun. Real hammers are not used to play these instruments, as heavy iron hammers would break the delicate instruments.
***The Kerta Gosa: At the end of the 18th century, the Kertha Gosa Pavilion, the hall of justice, was erected in the north-eastern corner of the Klungkung palace compound. Kertha Gosa was considered the supreme court of Bali, and cases on the island which could not be resolved were transferred to this site. Three Brahmana priests presided over the court and were known for their harsh and inhumane sentences. The convicts (as well as visitors today) were able to view the ceiling which depicted different punishments while they were awaiting sentencing.
1. Art and Culture of Bali, Urs Ramseyer
Painting has traditionally been regarded as the highest form of artistic expression in Bali, in part due to its importance in sacred ceremonies where paintings were used to demarcate the ritual space.
The most popular style of traditional Balinese painting is known as the Kamasan style, named after a village in the Klungkung Regency of the southeast coast of Bali.
Born in circa 1920, Mangku Mura was one of the most recognised and representative masters of the classical Kamasan wayang painting style, and the one who most contributed to its fame abroad. Together with Pan Semaris, Mangku Mura directed the reconstruction of the paintings of the Klungkung courthouse: both Kerta Gosa and Taman Gili from 1945 to 1960. These structures are all that remains of the old palace which was destroyed by the Dutch during a fierce battle in 1908.
Scene from the narrative Bima Swarga. 2000.
China ink, acrylic on cotton fabric, 220 x 50 cm.
Traditional Kamasan style.
Painted on the underside of a pavilion roof.
He is the creator of the famous painting Puputan commissioned by the Regent of Klungkung. This painting still hangs in the conference room at the governor’s palace.
Mangku Mura is also best known as the artist commissioned by the collector Anthony Forge to paint a number of works which are now displayed in the collections of the Australian Museum.
The daughter of Mangku Mura, Mangku Ni Mura Nengah Muriati was only seven years old when she began to paint. She recalls “Colouring in my father’s drawings and preparing the colours with him and for him made me understand that painting was much more than just a local handicraft.
My father was a good man, but very demanding, who never grew tired of saying over and over “Muriati! This is not a job, but a mission. You must study, understand and love a story so intimately and deeply so that you can represent it!”
My father painted excerpts of scenes from the Ramayana for temples called ider ider (long, relief paintings) and tabing (paintings that decorate bale (pavilions) found in most Balinese homes) for Balinese families.
In his later years, my father often said to me: “If one day someone commissions you to restore a painting, remember that the scenes of punishment cannot be done without reciting a mantra and when at you ruin mean that the mantra is over: you have to do a panel and a new mantra!” I remembered this when they called me to restore the roof of the parliament in Denpasar. I recited the mantra over and over, and tried to make the ruined panels as close as possible to the spirit of the previous painting and painter and who may have even been my own father.
At 30, following the wish of her father, she became a mangku (a priestess). “I was so young, shy and full of doubts. How could I, an inexperienced woman, teach to the people of my community? My father said “Do not be afraid, with the simplicity that you will use to explain the mysteries and your charisma, everyone will respect you mainly for how you will understand their lives.” After so many years, I am still a bit shy, but my people listen to me and I guess with pleasure.
Mangku Ni Mura Nengah Muriati lives and works in Kamasan, in the family compound in Banjar Siku, where, in addition to telling wonderful stories about the paintings of the Mahabharata or Ramayana and other Hindu sacred texts, she takes care of the family temple.
Her style, perfectly respectful of the purest and most ancient classical tradition, is enlightened by the wisdom of her metaphysical vision.