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Ancient Court and Bali's Best Dalangs

Conveniently located midway between mountain slopes and the sea on the main road north of Denpasar on the way to Ubud, Sukawati is a modest town of few tourist attractions as such, yet it is rich in cultural traditions and offers much for the interested visitor.

At one time, Sukawati stood with Mungkung as one of the two great negara or kingdoms of Bali. From Tegallalang to Ubud to Singapadu, topeng mask dancers still interpreted the history of the old realm of Sukawati before rapt audiences. Here the arts have remained vital, thanks to royal patronage and commissions from other parts of the island.

'My heart's delight'

Early in the 18th century the Sukawati region, formerly known as Timbul, came under the influence of an evil sorcerer, Ki Balian Batur. His enemies all became violently ill due to his powerful black magig. Seeking to pacify Timbul, the raja of Mengui Angelurah Agung, sought help from I Dewa, Agung Anom - son of the raja of Klungkung. Together they defeated the sorcerer with magic weapons brought from the court of Klungkung. Ki Balian Batur is still remembered today in the name of the nearby village of Rangkan, which means "place of the evil man." As a token of his gratitude, the raja' invited I Dewa Agung Anom to build a palace and live there.

I Dewa Agung Anom dreamed of creating an ideal kingdom based on the example of
Majapahit in East Java. From klungkung he brought attractive men and women who were talented in the arts and representive of the important lineages. Once in Timbul, they built the Pura Penataran Agung as a centrl shrine and the Puri Goro Gak as a residence for I Dewa Agung Anom and his family.

Lavishly embellished with carvings, the beauty of the great Pura was enhanced through the addition of fabulous gardens and pools. Every night, the sensuous sounds of the gamelan were heard wafting from an enormous bale pavilion covered wit gold leaf. The marvels of Timbul invariably caused visitors to exclaim "sukahatine" which means my heart's delight" and gradually the town became known as Sukawati.

Popularly known as Dalem Sukawati the first raja, I Dewa Agung Anom, enjoyed a long reign. Eventually wearying of political life, he retired to meditate in Petemon, near Bedulu. Meanwhile his sons grew fond of gambling and broke up a magic kris belong to the palace to be made into spurs for fighting cocks. Dalem Sukawati, despairing of his sons' inability to rule, declared that upon his death whichever son would dare to take the deceased Dalem's tongue into his mounth would inherit the kingdom.

Following the Dalem's death, his corpse became so swollen and repulsive that his soils were unwilling to perform the odious chore. This fell to a relative, the raja of Gianyar. Miraculously, when the raja took the hideously protruding tongue into his mouth, the corpse shrank to normal size and emitted a wonderful perfume. This failure of the soils, however, together with the loss of the protective kris, caused the heirs of Dalem Sukawati to be defeated in war by Gianyar, and subsequently the palace was abandoned.

Bali's finest dalangs

Sukawati residents are proud that their town has a complex of temples unrivaled outside of Besakih. The complete sad kahyangan group of six temples for the former Sukawati kingdom are here.

The Pura Penataran Agung temple at the center of Sukawati is a pilgrimage site for all members of the royal houses of the surrounding areas - Tegallalang, Ubud, Peliatan, Batuan, Mas, Negara and Singapadu. Destroyed in an earthquake in 1917, the temple was rebuilt on a smaller scale, which has in no way affected its importance. Next door to the temple is the Pura Kawitan Dalem Sukawati which still boasts panel carvings of Tantri tales besides several unusual statues in the outer courtyard.

The massive candi bentar gate of the Pura Desa on the northeastern corner of the town is a tribute to the continuing excellence of local craftsmen. Also famous throughout Bali are the tukang wadah craftsmen of the great cremation towers required for royal funeral ceremonies, and the tukang prada - makers of gold-painted costumes and umbrellas.

Sukawati is best known, however, for its many shadow-puppet masters or dalang. As many as 20 of these artists and their troupes are available for hire for ceremonial occasions and they travel all over Bali to perform. The Balinese say that the dalang of Sukawati are the best on the island because of many generations of experience.

Two famous dalangs live in Banjar Babakan behind the produce market. I Wayan Wija, known for his unusual wayang tantri, and I Wayan Nartha, may both be contacted to commission a shadow play or a special set of puppets. Anyone in the banjar can direct you to their houses. Another big name dalang in Sukawati is Ganjreng.

A scholar and member of the sangging caste of artisans, I Nyoman Sadia has turned from his family tradition of stone carving to making fine gold jewelry. His house and shop are just off the main road at JI. Sersan Wayan Pugig 5.

The commercial center of town is the Pasar Seni or Art Market. With patience and a sense of humor one can find bargains here on everything from woodcarvings to paintings. Along the main road, shops cater to local needs - such as baskets and ceremonial umbrellas. Directly across the road is an open-air produce market. North of this is the present site of the Puri Agung, where visitors wishing for an in-depth exploration of the town can overnight.

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