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From the Mountains to the Sea

Like all old Balinese realms, Tabanan has a mountain-to-the-sea axis - an ordering of the physical landscape that mirrors the ordering of the cosmos, with major points marked by temples. Each former Balinese kingdom thus has six major temples, the so-called sad kahyangan, consecrated to the six most significant features of the landscape - the forest, the mountains, the sea, the lakes, the earth and the rice fields. In a similar way, there are six cardinal temples for the whole of Bali. Two of these six are to be found in Tabanan: the seaside sanctuary of Tanah Lot and the ancestral shrine of Pura Luhur high up on Mt Batukau.

Temple in the sea

Tanah LotAbout 20 km west of Denpasar on the main highway, one arrives at the town of Kediri, where a large sign at the main intersection announces a turn-off to the southwest toward Pura Tanah Lot - the famous seaside temple to the south. Tanah means earth and lot means south or sea (usually written lod) thus something like 'Temple of the Earth the Sea" is intended. It is actually constructed atop a large, jagged outcropping of rock just off the coast. It is accessible only during low tide. The temple itself is quite modest, consisting of two shrines with tiered roofs (7 and 3), a few small buildings and two pavilions.

Poisonous, black sea snakes live between the rocks and in caves along the coast. They guard the temple, but give the site a reputation of being "dangerous." Nevertheless many Balinese love to sit on the beach or on a bluff overlooking the temple in the la afternoon, watching the tides change and enjoying the silhouettes of the temple meru against the brilliant setting sun.

Like so many other temples in Bali, Tanah Lot is connected with the famous brahman priest, Danghyang Nirartha, who wandered from Java to Bali in the 16th century. On one of his journeys he decided to sleep in the beautiful spot, and then afterwards advised the Balinese to erect a temple here. As mentioned above, this is one of the sad kahyangan or six most holy temples for all of Bali as well as for Tabanan district.

On the way back to the Kediri intersection, stop in at the village of Pejaten, famous for its pottery. These range from traditional roofing tiles, now painted in bright reds and greens, to replicas of glazed Chinese ceramics. The latter are the result of an initiative taken by Dutch potters during the 1980s. Already in the 1970s a Chinese painter from Tabanan, the, late Kay It, introduced the production of terracotta tiles decorated with figures of gods, goddesses and wayang heroes in relief These were mainly used for interior decoration of restaurants and shops in the tourist areas of South Bali.

Tabanan Town

Tabanan TownTo the west on the main highway, one soon enters the medium sized, bustling town of Tabanan. Though it appears rather nondescript and has not much of a reputation among tourists, the arts are actually well represented here. The town already had skilled woodcarvers at the end of the 19th century, and there were and still are many good juru basa, or bards who recite fragments of classic Poems (kakawin) at festive occasions and during contests of the Bebasan recital clubs.

Bali's most famous dancer, the late I Ketut Marya (pronounced, and frequently written as Mario) is also connected with Tabanan. He was born at the end of the 19th century and died in 1968. Although he was actually born in Denpasar, he was raised in Tabanan under Anak Agung Ngurah Made Kaleran of the Puri Kaleran palace.

Marya performed as one of the dancers representing the (female) pupils of the witch, Calonarang, with a music club called the Gong Pangkung, which was founded in 1900 and became quite famous. The Gong Pangkung, named after a village quarter in Tabanan, also possessed a set of tingklik instruments, bamboo replicas of a gamelan orchestra.

Marya and his three fellow dancers experimented widely with this orchestra. They traveled and gave gandrung (transvestite) performances. They also refined the fast and lively kebyar musical style that had been invented in north Bali around 1900. Marya developed a number of new dances for the ensemble. The two most famous are the Trompong Dance, in which the performer crouches and plays the trompong (a row of 10 bronze kettledrums) while dancing, and the Kebyar Duduk (sitting kebyar), in which he crouches and sinuously flirts with a drummer or another musician while dancing.

In the late 1920s and 1930s, these dances were already well known to tourists. Walter Spies made superb photos of them for the book Dance and Drama in Bali which he produced with Beryl de Zoete in 1935-36. Marya was also a teacher of many dancers who would later become famous, in particular I Gusti Ngurah Raka from Batuan. He was a very strict mentor and only accepted the very best pupils. Although he taught them the same dances, he assigned each pupil slightly different movements, to enable him or her to have something characteristic. To remember this dancer and teacher who made Tabanan so famous, the Gedong Marya Theater was erected in Tabanan in 1974.

There is also a museum in Tabanan. This is the Subak Museum, which contains tools and implements connected with rice field irrigation and agriculture in Bali. It lies just outside of the town on the right-hand side of the main road to Denpasar.

A famous native son

Tabanan also has a modern temple-like memorial, which can be considered a national shrine. It is located in the village of Marga, about 15 km northeast of the town, on the spot where lieutenant-colonel I Gusti Ngurah Rai, commander of the nationalist forces fighting the Dutch, was killed with his 94 men on November 20th, 1946. They fought till the death, and their behavior is commonly compared with that of the ruler of Badung

and his family in 1906, so that the event is also referred to as a Puputan.

The heroic death of Ngurah Rai is commemorated not only in this temple, but also in a poem, the Geguritan Margarana, written a short time afterwards by a fellow nationalist fighter. His name has also been given to the international airport of Bali. The memorial itself contains a stone tower or candi in which a replica of the famous letter containing his refusal to surrender is carved. Placed in rows outside are 94 pointed stone pedestals representing his fellow martyrs.

Rich artistic traditions

Several villages located to the southwest of Tabanan Town are especially rich in dance and art traditions. The village of Krambitan, in particular, is noted for its tektekan performances. This is in fact not a dance, but a procession of men with giant wooden cow bells with huge clappers around their necks and bamboo split drums. They traditionally marched around the village during an epidemic or great drought to chase away the evil spirits and bring fertility to the area.

There are two palaces here, belonging to a branch of the Tabanan royal family. Since 1972, the Puri Anyar has been holding "Palace Nights" for tourists, with a tektekan group from nearby Panarukan and a performance of the dramatic calonarang trance play. One can commission a private performance with dinner by candlelight within the palace precincts, and both palaces are also renting rooms to tourists.

In the nearby village of Tista, just one to the west of Krambitan, special versions the of legong kraton dance, called leko or adat are performed. This is a dramatized version of a classic tale (the Ramayana or Malat ) danced by three young girls - a condong (female attendant) and the two legong (processes). They change roles during the performance, but wear the same costumes. The Tista group was founded in 1989 under the guidance of two old dancers from the, 1920s

Two km south of Krambitan, the village of Panarukan has many good sculptors both brahmans and jaba (sudras) working in wood as well as in soft volcanic paras stone. The village is also known for its tektekan, for the painter Ajin Ida Putu Cegeg from Griya Gede, who was a pioneer in the use modern elements in his works.

Several kms beyond Panarukan, the road ends at a broad, black sand beach by the village of Klatingdukuh. This long, deserted strip of paradise is slated for tourist development within the coming years on account of its fine sand, pounding surf and stunning views down the coast in either direction.

Temple on high

BatukauAt the end of a steep road north of Meliling past Wongaya Gede, about halfway up the slopes of towering, 2278 meter-high Mt Biatukau, perches the Pura Luhur temple all unusual complex of shrines and a pool set amidst lush, tropical forests. The main enclosure lies at the northern end of the complex, with two smaller temples, Pura Dalem and pura Panyaum, to the south. A man-made lake to the east completes the "cosmic" design.

This was the state ancestral temple of the Tabanan court, and each of the shrines represents a different dynastic ancestor. Di Made, ruler of Gelgel between about 1665 and 1686, is represented by a shrine with a 7-tiered roof, and Cokorda Tabanan by one with a 3tiered roof. All of the shrines are very modest, without much ornamentation, which gives a great feeling of unity to the complex.

The nearby pond is fed by the river Aa (pronounced "ehe"). In the center are two pavilions on a little isle, one for the goddess of Lake Tamblingan and one for the Lord of Mt Batukau. The sacred peak thus surrounded by waters can be compared with the mythical Mt Meru where the gods reside, enjoying themselves in floating pavilions.

The area around Batukau is one of great scenic beauty. There is a tiny road leading from Wongaya Gede across steep rice terraces to the village of Jatiluwih. On the road south back to Tabanan, stop in to see the Pura Puseh in Penebel, which possesses an ancient lingga (phallus, symbol of Siwa) with a yoni pedestal in a pavilion west of the entrance to the inner court. These are quite common in Java, but rare in Bali.

Antiquities of Tabanan

Only a few other antiquities have been discovered in Tabanan. One lies in Perean, west of the main road to Bedugul. This stone shrine, discovered here in 1920, consists of a square basement with panels and a temple body with niches on three sides and an entrance on the fourth - a mock-door with a kind of lock carved in stone. Porcelain plates of various sizes were mounted in the temple body on both sides of these niches and the entrance. The temple now has a thatched roof with 7 tiers.

There are remains here also of three small, ancient buildings. The complex is surrounded by a wall with a split gateway. Inscribed stones discovered nearby bear the dates AD. 1339 and 1429. East of Perean, on the other side of the road, are hot water springs, the so called Yeh Gangga. ("Waters of the Ganges').

More to the north along this road, in Candi Kuning, a fine spout carved with the head of an elephant-fish (makara) was discovered. It dates probably from the 14th-15th century.


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