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Puri Karangasem Historical Society

8 April 2007

Puri Agung Karangasem, home of the royal family of Karangasem, covers three palaces built by the last Raja in the early 20th century: Puri Agung, Taman Ujung, Taman Tirtagannga. Stiff Chilli is helping Puri Karangasem in preserving the history both through video oral history and digitalising all written records.

Great Great Uncle Gede Jelantik

 

“The king’s palace is located at the centre of the city, a huge walled area consisting of grand buildings in numerous separate courtyards. Its inner walls of red brick would have been around 4metres high, towering over everything around with beautiful Chinese porcelain plates set into them. At the main entrances a number mountainous great gates in a kind of pyramid shape topped the walls. These gates were the first of many symbols of the three worlds heaven, earth and hell. Just outside the main gate was an open yard were the king held audiences and staged theatrical performances. Behind the gates the gates were a series of inner courtyards. The nearest to the entrance of these inner courtyards would have been for the kings menagerie :all kinds of beasts from domestic pigs to horses and deer. Other courtyards near that acted as quarters for the royal slaves and concubines, whose modest pavilions typified the dwellings of most Balinese. Further inside, beyond the lush gardens where ponds enclosed high open pavilions ,were the royal quarters with a monumental central building in brick, which was decorated again with porcelain and surrounded by all kinds of statues. Its doors like the doors of the main gates, were beautifully carved woodwork covered in gold. Like the heroic king Rama’s palace in ancient epic the Ramayana, the decorations of the Karangasem Palace were part of its image of wealth and beauty, they were its treasures which “like white teeth, grinning at the inferior beauty of heaven”.

Besides the king,the most important inhabitant of the palace was first wife,whose importance was greater even than the powerful chief minister.Such a queen was deliberately chosen as first wife of the king from among many subsidiary or lesser wives.

Balinese kings needed a large number of wives to ensure that there would be at least one surviving male heir to carry on the dynasty,but also to show that their power extended over the whole kingdom,for the women taken into the court were not only from aristocracy,but were the sisters and daughters of important leaders on all levels of society.At times polygamy was taken to such lengths that one king of south Bali is remembered as having 800 wives.The women chosen as queens were of royal birth,which meant that they brought their own power,wealth and influence to the court,and created special ties between the king and other major families of the state. The inner courtyards behind the gates were closed to all but the king ,his wives and family,the chief ministers of state and the slaves and the ubiquitous bodyguards ,armed with arrows,spears,blowpipes and krisses.In front of the main gate,the open courtyard was sheltered by a huge banyan tree and surrounded by small pavilions,each of which was mounted with cannons decorated with silver.  The presence in the palace of the different elements of the kingdom,and ultimately of the world was important to the maintenance of Karangasem,the centre of the kingdom.In the royal palace there was a great collection of all types of humanity,including albino dwarfs and foreigners,whose strangeness represented the forces of diversity and difference from the norms of Balinese society,forces which the king symbolically harnessed by including their potentially dangerous presence in the centre of his powerful world.  [Not far from the east of the palace was a Moslem community,which is still there and these muslims provided traders for the court as well as interpreters who could speak Malay,the lingua franca of the archipelago. a chief place where the king’s power was reconciled with the will of the gods.  To maintain the relationship between ruler and realm the king had to be seen by and to see the to carry on the dynasty,but also to show that their power extended over the whole kingdom,for the women taken into the court were not only from aristocracy,but were the sisters and daughters of important leaders on all levels of society.At times polygamy was taken to such lengths that one king of south Bali is remembered as having 800 wives.The women chosen as queens were of royal birth,which meant that they brought their own power,wealth and influence to the court,and created special ties between the king and other major families of the state.

The inner courtyards behind the gates were closed to all but the king ,his wives and family,the chief ministers of state and the slaves and the ubiquitous bodyguards ,armed with arrows,spears,blowpipes and krisses.In front of the main gate,the open courtyard was sheltered by a huge banyan tree and surrounded by small pavilions,each of which was mounted with cannons decorated with silver.

The presence in the palace of the different elements of the kingdom,and ultimately of the world was important to the maintenance of Karangasem,the centre of the kingdom.In the royal palace there was a great collection of all types of humanity,including albino dwarfs and foreigners,whose strangeness represented the forces of diversity and difference from the norms of Balinese society,forces which the king symbolically harnessed by including their potentially dangerous presence in the centre of his powerful world.

This was the face-to-face basis of a kingdom where the king and his royal family together with the major lords and all their bodyguards and slaves,The king had to be accessible through audiences in the forcourt of his palace,but he also traveled to different parts of the island making rituals visits to temples,demonstrating that he was a friend of the gods.  Kings in Bali had to control or harness the natural and supernatural elements of the world through all possible symbolic means:through having vast palaces which acted as centres of power,through initiating and preserving laws which came from the gods,and through holding vast rituals in which everyone in the state could be involved.This kind of personal contact and participation involving king and subjects formed an emotional and religious bond between the two that made the state work. [Not far from the east of the palace was a Moslem community,which is still there and these muslims provided traders for the court as well as interpreters who could speak Malay,the lingua franca of the archipelago. a chief place where the king’s power was reconciled with the will of the gods.

To maintain the relationship between ruler and realm the king had to be seen by and to see the people.This was the face-to-face basis of a kingdom where the king and his royal family together with the major lords and all their bodyguards and slaves,The king had to be accessable through audiences in the forcourt of his palace,but he also traveled to different parts of the island making rituals visits to temples,demonstrating that he was a friend of the gods.

Kings in Bali had to control or harness the natural and supernatural elements of the world through all possible symbolic means:through having vast palaces which acted as centres of power,through initiating and preserving laws which came from the gods,and through holding vast rituals in which everyone in the state could be involved.This kind of personal contact and participation involving king and subjects formed an emotional and religious bond between the two that made the state work.

Adrian Vickers

For more information, please email info@purikarangasem.com