Skipping ahead almost a millennium, we come to the founding of the royal house in the greater Ubud area. In the 17th century, a rebellion occurred in the royal house of Gelgel, the then-capital of Bali, which started a surge of many small skirmishes and conflicts between royal houses. Nine kingdoms finally emerged (eight of which are now the established regencies in Bali, with the Mengwi kingdom absorbed into the others when it was defeated in battle in the 1880s).
In the early 1700s, the Dewa Agung Jambe (king) of Klungkung sent his son, the Dewa Agung Anom Wijayasunu, to Sukawati (called Timbul at the time) to found a palace there and establish a centre of power and beauty. Many artists and artisans from Klungkung and Mengwi came to build the palace in Sukawati, which was one of the finest in the land. Once their job was over, the artists did not want to go home and they remained there.
In the late 1700s, Puri Sukawati sent two of its retainers to the Ubud area as administrators to secure the area. Gusti Lanang Dauh formed the community of Padang Tegal (where Hanoman, Sugriwa and Jembawan streets now are) and the younger cousin Gusti Made Taman went further north to Taman (north of the main road in Ubud and east of the market). A fierce rivalry existed between them and fighting broke out between the two villages. In order to pacify the Tjokorde Ngurah Tabanan to Peliatan and Tjokorde Tangkeban to Sambahan, Ubud (a village north of the market and puri) to establish palaces and authority.
The younger brother of Dewa Agung Gede, king of Sukawati, I Dewa Agung, reigned in Peliatan from 1775-1800. It was here that he established a puri in Peliatan in order to guard against incursions from Mengwi and to expand the power base, again bringing with him an enclave of artists as well as people from every caste. His half-brother Tjokorde Batuan also built a puri in Peliatan. The kingdom of Peliatan ranged from Tegalalang to Mas and included Ubud village. Batuan’s older brother, Tjokorde Made Kandel, was sent to Mengwi to become sovereign there. The oldest son Tjokorde Putu kandel, went in search of holy water (tirthayatra).
Tjokorde Made kandel (who had ‘disappeared’) wanted to see the battlefield. The Pe;oatan troops numbered only 16, whereas Mengwi had thousands. Tjokorde Putu Kandel stepped onto the battlefield brandishing the keris Ki Betara Batukaru (said to have such magical powers that the enemy would flee) and the Mengwi army did indeed flee. Tjokorde made Kandel was not pleased with this and went to see why his soldiers had retreated. He got quite a shock when he realized that the Peliatan army was not being led by his uncle, Tjokorde Putu Kandel! They embraced and all was well. In fact, people fro Mengwi came to Ubud to help populate the area. All of this took place in the village now known as Tanggayuda (place of battle) around 1800.
From 1850-1880, the grandson of Tjokorde Putu Kandel, Tjokorde Rai Batur, became king and this is when Ubud began to really prosper. Batur was more inclined to steep himself in spiritual rather than military matters. The next sovereign was the pious Tjokorde Gede Sukawati (1880-1917). Rice was in abundance and the economy was booming. At this time a number of sacred in various temples around Ubud.
In the mid-19th century, the new Dewa Agung (king) of Klungkung began and anti-Dutch campaign. Mengwi was defeated at this time and its land divided up between the victors. The punggawa (district leader) of Negara near Sukawati aligned himself with Klungkung and wanted to take over Sukawati, which extended throughout all of Western Gianyar, including Peliatan and Ubud.
The next ruler was a spiritual leader but, by default, became a great military man as well. By mustering forces from Peliatan, Ubud and Tegalalang, the Tjokorde Gede Sukawati, in 1890, was able to defeat Negara and occupy itslands all the way from Ketewel to Taro. The Tjokorde had a special keris, which, by simply piercing the earth would make the enemy run away. He also had a special power called bau siu whereby the enemy thinks it’s seeing many more soldiers than are actually there. Many more political intrigues and battles took place with the Dutch helping to fuel conflicts among the rivals.
Tourism and the First Westerners
The 1930’s saw the first real development of tourism on the island of Bali. Much of this was centre dint he Ubud area due to the entrepreneurial savvy of Tjokorde Gede Agung Sukawati. Tjokorde Gede Agung was born in 1910. At an early age he moved in with an uncle in Puri Belaluan in Denpasar, across the street from the Bali Hotel. At age fifteen, he stopped school and began his work as a ‘guide’ by approaching the guests at the nearby hotel and picked up English and Dutch languages. At the age of seventeen, he married (his first wife of eleven!) and moved back to Ubud where he established a small guest house in the Puri Saren Agung (now run by his son Tjokorde Gede Putra Sukawati). In that same year, 1972, his older brother Tjokorde Raka Sukawati from Puri Kantor across the street invited the composer-painter Walter Spies to come to Ubud to live, where he did for the next eleven years. Spies, along with other resident foreigners, such as Willem Hofker and Rudolf Bonnet, both painters, began to entertain celebrities from far and wide, including Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, Barbara Hutton, H.G. Wells and Vicki Baum, who in turn told their friends about Ubud. The Tjokorde Agung was instrumental in developing tourism in Ubud as he made very visitor feel like family.
When the Balinese talking about magic, they mean actually something completely different. The power of magic is still revered to in Bali, where more than 90 percent of the population accept magic as a part of daily life.
In the ‘70s, backpackers and researches alike flocked to Ubud. The serene atmosphere was conductive for painters and one could study music and dance with some of the greats. It only took a brief fifteen years before Ubud changed from a sleepy, dirt road village of the past into the bustling tourist town it is today. Yet still Ubud remains a draw for artists, dancers, musicians, students and anthropologists of all stripes.
Even in the 21st century, Balinese firmly believe in the power of the unseen world. There is a tiny tree with six branches on it that lives inside a box within the Pura Batukura temple in Ubud. This tree sprouts kepeng of Chinese coins on it which reflect the economic tenor of the times. The last time the box was opened, there were four coins in it. In the 1960s, during the economic crisis, there were just three. Tjokorde Gede Oka Sukawati stated that perhaps at the end of the 19th century, during his grandfather’s time, that there might have been six.
Another barometer of sorts for Ubud is a celulak mask, which is used in the tale of the black magic dance-drama, the Calonarang. This mask was given to a Western couple back in the 1960’s as a wedding gift. It traveled around the world with them, bringing nightmares to those in close proximity. The woman recipient was said to unhitch herself off walls and float around her house. Finally she has came to rest in Puri Saren and if you are out around one in the morning, you will see her lurking in front of the Puri. A paranormal told Ubudians that she has come here to protect the people of Ubud. There are numerous stories like these.
Why is it that the Ubud area has such a rich artistic tradition? Some will tell you it is the beauty of the land, but there are places far more breathtaking than Ubud on the island. Others will tell you it is due to the spiritual energy created by the confluence of the river waters at Campuhan. Whatever it is, Rsi Markandeya was the first to discover what visitors have been coming back to for centuries.
Addapted from material prepared for the book ‘Ubud is a Mood’ by Rucina Ballinger
Historic Ubud - Bali