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Home of the Legendary Legong

This small village of 6,300 is often overlooked, though it lies just 2 km southeast of the tourist village of Ubud on the main road. Rich in the arts, and not as full of tourists as Ubud, it is definitely worth a visit particularly if you are interested in dance and music.

'That which is seen'

The Peliatan court actually preceded the Ubud court. Although the dates are unclear, the 17th century Babad Dalem Sukawati (a chronicle of the Sukawati court) recounts an argument between two princes I Dewa Agung Gede and I Dewa Agung Made - that resulted in two separate courts.

The former ran off to Blahbatuh and the latter to Tegallalang taking with him a sacred heirloom, the Segara Ngelayang spear that is now kept in the Peliatan palace. I Dewa Agung Made later moved to Peliatan to be closer to his ancestral home in Sukawati. His children then set up palaces in Ubud, and to this day Ubud royalty still pay homage to their cousins in Peliatan.

Peliatan literally means "that which is seen," and according to some accounts this refers to the fact that Sukawati is within view down the road. Others claim that a former king of Peliatan was given religious instruction here by a priest and was therefore able to "see" the famous temple of Gunung Sari, before it was built. Today, this temple is a favorite with dancers and musicians who come here in search of taksu (inspiration).

Bali's most notable legong

Peliatan is best known for its legong a graceful dance traditionally performed by two pre-pubescent girls in glittering costumes. Indeed, the Balinese dance troupe to travel abroad was legong group from Peliatan that performed at the Paris Exhibition in 1931 under the leader ship of the late Anak Agung Gede Mandera (affectionately known as "Gung Kak") a man who excelled in both music and dance. The group's performances created a sensation; it was then, for example, that French actor Antonin Artaud first witnessed the Balinese barong. Gung Kak's descendants still carry on the tradition a 1989 tour to the United States included many of his family members, as did one to Japan in 1997.

Traditions of dance and music in Bali are passed from teacher to pupil and parent to child. Some teachers become very famous, such as Peliatan's Gusti Biang Sengog. A famous dancer in her prime, she was recorded for posterity in the film Miracle of Bali: Midday Sun teaching young women who have all become prominent dancers today.

If you like, you can witness Peliatan's young stars in action. To see the tiny legongs, travel east from Peliatan to Teges Kanginan - this is one of the few places on Bali where tile dancers are still trained in the traditional manner. One of the remaining repositories of Peliatan style legong is Sang Ayu Ketut Muklin, from the neighboring village of Pejeng. She is of the same age and caliber as Gusti Biang Sengog.

Some of the musicians from the Paris tour are still alive. One is the master drummer and ugal player, I Made Lebah's son, I Wayan Gandra. His electric style of drumming can be heard on Saturday nights at Dalem Puri, wlien the Gunung Sari troupe performs. Also from this area, I Made Grindem, who died in 1989, brought the Peliatan style of gender playing to a high art form in Teges Kanginan. His son, Wayang Lantir, carries on the tradition.

Peliatan today boasts 15 gamelan groups, including: gong kebyar, gong semar pegulingan, gong angklung and joged bumbung. Almost every banjar owns at least one set of instruments and you can hear the haunting sounds of the gamelan in the Peliatan area nearly every night, whether in rehearsal or performance.

In 1987, Peliatan's women's gamelan, Mekar Sari, was begun under the tutelage of Gung Kak. Now the group performs every Sunday night at 7:30 pm in Banjar Teruna. The dancers are all under 12 years old. The Gong Kebyar Gunung Sari also puts on a dazzling show at Pura Dalem Puri in Baniar Tebesaya every Thursday and Saturday at 7 Pm. The more lyrical sounds of the Tirta Sari Semar Pegulingan (with two different legongs) can be heard on Friday night at Banjar Teruna. And every Tuesday at 7:30 pin in Banjar Teges Kawan, the Gong Kebyar Semara Jati presents a variety of fine dances and dance dramas.

The traditional and the modern continue to flourish side-by-side here. Anak Agung Oka Dalem, one of Gung Kak's children, excels in the kebyar styles which Peliatan put on the map 40 years ago. In 1982, he founded Padma Nara Suara (PANAS for short), a dance group that fuses modern choreography and costuming with traditional Balinese dance movements. One could say that PANAS is the Busby Berkeley of Bali.

Carving and painting

Peliatan is also a village of carvers and painters. Everywhere you go you see orchids, fruits, frogs, ducks and birds being fashioned out of wood. These are all of course for tourists. Two of the more exceptional carvers are I Wayan Pasti whose life size horses and dogs will make you do a double-take - and I Nyoman Togog (the original "fruit man"), who received a Presidential award in 1985.

I Ketut Madra of Banjar Kalah is an excellent painter in the traditional wayang style. He is not a businessman by nature and does not have a gallery, but likes to show his work to visitors and accepts special commissions.

To view the classical painting style of the 1930s, visit any one of the following: I Gusti Made Kuanji in Banjar Teruna, I Nyoman Kuta in Banjar Tengah and Ida Bagus Made in Tebesaya. For an overview of Balinese painting, pop into the Agung Rai Museum of Art on the road to Pengosekan from Peliatan. If you see something you like, you can probably look up the artist nearby in his home.

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