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Woodcarving Village

The village of Mas lies on the main road, 20 km to the north of Denpasar and 6 km before Ubud, in a hilly countryside covered with rice fields and irrigated year-round by the waters of the Batuan and Sakah rivers.

Today the village appears as a succession of palatial art shops, as Mas has developed into a flourishing center for the woodcarving craft. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine what the village was like before dozens of tourist buses started to drop in everyday. Yet Mas actually played an important role in Balinese history during the 16th century, as it was the place where a great priest from Java, Danghyang Nirartha (also called Dwijendra), had his hermitage (griya).

Descendants of the holy priest

The holy man, known locally as Pedanda Sakti Wau Rauh (literally: "The Newly Arrived High Priest") crossed to Bali from Kadiri in east Java after the fall of the powerful Majapahit kingdom, and was invited to Mas by prince Mas Wilis (Tan Kober). Here the pedanda acquired great fame through his teaching, and gathered many disciples. His son by Mas Wilis daughter is the forebear of one of Bali's four important brahmana clans, which to the present day traces its roots back to the village.

The priest's fame reached the court of Dalem Baturenggong in Gelgel, who, impressed by Danghyang Nirartha's superior wisdom, appointed him the King's counselor and court priest.

Based upon his instructions, many temples were built, especially after his moksa (holy death). His belongings - bajra (holy bell), black shirt, mattress and staff - are now kept in the Mas griya, and the Pura Taman Pule temple was built on the site of the priest's griya.

Realm of the blessed craftsmen

The gods are also said to have bestowed talents on two of Mas houses: the skill of the shadow puppet master to Griya Dauh, and the skill of woodcarving to Griya Danginan. At first, the woodcarvers (sangging) were all brahmanas who worked only on ritual or courtly projects. Their disciples (sisya) learned the craft from them, and woodcarving skills were transmitted from father to son. The traditional wayang style prevailed, featuring religious scenes and characters from Ramayana and Mahabharata epics.

During the 1930s, under the influence of Walter Spies and Pita Maha, a new style of woodcarving developed here. The motifs were more realistic, and inspired by everyday scenes featuring humans and animals. Several of these early works may now be seen in Ubud's Puri Lukisan museum.

During this period, woodcarvings began to be appreciated and purchased by foreigners, but only after 1970 did the real boom take place. The first art shops in Mas were those of Ketut Roja (Siadja & Son), followed by Ida Bagus Nyana and his son Ida Bagus Tilem, and Ida Bagus Taman (Adil Artshop). At first they all produced works of quality in limited quantities, mainly working with locally available woods. A more abstract style was later developed by Purna and Nyana, featuring elongated, curved lines and woods such as ebony and sandalwood. Later oil, in Pujung and Tegallalang, Cokot began to carve roots into demonic figures.

In recent years, many realistic, brightly painted animals and fruit trees (known here as pulasan) have appeared on the market, based on European designs. First created by togog in Pujung, much of the production is flow of questionable quality.

Woodcarving shops

Dozens of woodcarving shops now line the main road. The three mentioned above are the most famous, as well as Tantra and I. B. Anom for topeng masks.

One can see craftsmen at work in small workshops in the galleries. The system is paternalistic; the shop owner gives work to his craftsmen according to their skill, the price is then based on the final product. They work at the gallery or at home. The craft is learned at an early age inside the family; technology is still quite traditional, using various types of axes, chisels and drills made by different local blacksmiths. Prices are very high anyway, especially if you do not come on your own. They can sometimes handle special orders. Nyoman Tekek Manis recently carved a giant Christ that was placed on the Cengkareng Church altar in Jakarta and inaugurated by Pope John Paul II in 1989.

Located 100 in from the road on the east side, Pura Taman Pule does not take its name from the holy pule trees growing behind it, but means "Beautiful Garden"; Danghyang Nirartha is said to have planted a purple flowered tangi tree in it still growing behind an altar in the jaba tengah (middle court) from which a golden bud sprouted, which gave the village its name. At the back of the main temple, a padmasana surrounded by a pond is said to have been the place of his hermitage. People from all over Bali come to pray there, not only brahmanas, but also commoners of the Pasek Bendesa Mas clan, especially on its five-day odalan, falling on Kuningan Day (Saturday).

Dance: shadows of the past

There is a Wayang Wong (Masked) dance troupe in Mas whose origin dates back centuries. It was revived by Walter Spies - its 22 sacred masks are now kept in the temple. Telling stories from the Ramayana, it can be seen performing on Kuningan eve, and Kuningan day, as ritual contributions (ayahan).

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