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Village of Ancestral Spirits

For over a thousand years Batuan has been a village of artists and craftsmen, old legends and mysterious tales. Batuan's recorded history begins in A-D. 1022, with an inscription that is housed in the main village temple, Pura Desa Batuan. The name "Batuan" or "Baturan" mentioned here prompts villagers to joke about being "tough as stone" or "eating rocks" - as batu means "stone" in Balinese. But it likely refers to an ancient megalithic tradition in which standing stones served as meeting places and ceremonial sites for the worship of ancestral spirits.

Famous families

Batuan's central location in south Bali is the primary reason for its historical importance. Besides the ancient village temple, there is a temple called Pura Gede Mecaling which is said to be on the site of the old palace of the demon king Jero Gede Mecaling, whose name the Balinese are afraid to even utter. He is supposed to have moved from here to the island of Nusa Penida, where he still reside.

In the 1600s the famous family of Gusti Ngurah Batulepang dominated south Bali, living as prime ministers based in Batuan. They remained prime ministers until the early 1700s, when a branch of the Klungkung royal family was established at nearby Sukawati. At that time the chief centers of the kingdom were Sukawati, Batuan, and the nearby sea side village of Ketewel. Batuan still has ritual links with Ketewel that commemorate that era.

The family of Batulepang scattered to the far corners of Bali in subsequent centuries as the result of a priestly curse, but a small temple for Gusti Batulepang remains on the site of his palace. The Buddhist priests or pedanda boda who later made Batuan a great spiritual center built a house, the Griya Ageng on that part of Batulepang's temple where death rituals were once held. They then marshaled powerful Tantric forces here.

Brahman majority

Because Batuan became a center from which Buddhist priests and brahmans spread to main court centers of south Bali, the village has an unusual preponderance of brahmans DeZoete and Spies, in their famous book Dance and Drama in Bali, describe it almost as entirely a brahman village. This is not really true, but much of the village near the main Denpasar to Ubud road is inhabited by the extended family of the Buddhist Griya Ageng and of a smaller number of Siwa-worshipping brahmans who came later to Batuan. The other main high caste family the Dewas, related to the Batua, or extended palace family, who are in turn closely related to the Gianyar royal family. Batuan is unusual in that commoners actually form a minority in the center of the village.

The western area of Batuan, known Negara, was a separate village and court center in the 19th century. It grew so powerful that it revolted against the main house Gianyar in 1884, destroying the kingdom and setting south Bali on a path of inter conflict which opened it up to Dutch conquest. In 1900, when the Dutch took over Gianyar, Negara was incorporated within Batuan Similarly, the adjacent area of Puaya, a famous center for dance and theater ornaments, puppets and other objects made from hide, is regarded as being quite separate.

Dancing ancient tales

The Buddhist brahmans of Batuan, in concert with the famous former king of the village, Anak Agung Gede Oka (1860 - 1947), were responsible for making Batuan the center on Bali for the most courtly and elegant of all Balinese dance forms, the gambuh. In all of Bali only two troupes from Batuan still perform this theatrical presentation of tales of ancient princes and princesses.

The first is led by I Made Jimat, Bali's most celebrated dancer of modern times, whose genius never fails to leave his audiences breathless. The second consists of the extended family of the greatest dancer of the generation before Jimat - the late I Nyoman Kakul - who passed on the skills and techniques of gambuh and of the other important dance forms such as the masked topeng plays and the operatic arja theater. I Ketut Kantor, Kakul's son, now leads the troupe.

In his day Kakul was able to call on the mask-making skills of Dewa Putu Kebes, whose topeng masks were charged with the spiritual forces of kings and heroes from the Balinese past. Since his death, his son Dewa Cita and grandson Dewa Mandra have maintained the combination of immaculate skill and divine inspiration, which made his work so powerful. A pupil of the family, Made Regug of Negara, also upholds the fine carving tradition.

Besides the dances, performed in the central part of the village, Batuan is also famous for its wayang wong, masked performances of stories from the Ramayana. This is exclusively performed in the banjar (hamlet) known as Den Tiis.

The 'Batuan style'

From Den Tiis also came the inspiration for the modern Batuan style of painting. In the 1930s, two brothers, I Ngendon and I Patera, began experimenting painting with ink on paper. The result was powerful black and white images of magic and of Balinese life. The families of these two artists are still influential in the village, and now own the Art shop Dewata on the main road leading to Ubud.

Ngendon and Patra originally studied under a traditional painter living to the east of the palace, but from them. The painting tradition spread back to the main part of the village where it was enthusiastically embraced by a number of their fellow villagers. The present-day generation of artists includes Made Tubuh, Wayan Rajin, Ida Bagus Putu Gede and Made Budi who has become famous through his humorous and insightful depictions of tourists in Bali.

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