Historic Ubud - Bali

"Today the entire world is a museum available to those who have the desire to see. In this museum, Bali is one of the most impressive collections, and while I have seen relatively little of Bali, I am convinced that Ubud is the principal gem of the entire collection. Ubud contains not only the precious mementoes of Bali's glorious past but also the living representations of its impressive present and hopeful future. Some may worry about the change that modern energy and drive will bring to Bali, but I do not. The creative urge of the Balinese, the natural instinct for beauty and contentment, will prevail." - 17 September, 1959, C. McVicker, of Jakarta; in a Puri Saren Agung Ubud guestbook.

These women all seem to be princesses vying for special roles in an ancient Asian pageant. Their finery, however, is part of daily traditional style in tis village

Those words, written almost half century ago, could still be written today. Even though enormous changed have occurred on the island in the past twenty-five years, particularly in the tourist enclaves which include Ubud, there is still a feeling of balance that prevails. Ubud is indeed one of Bali's many gems.

In the beginning Ubud itself was originally a small portion of land centred around Campuhan (meaning 'rivers meeting') and the puta (temple) Gunung Lebah. Yet Ubud, as it is known in the 21st century, spans many villages and is a kecamatan (district), and kelurahan (sub-district), as well as a desa (village).

In the West, history consists of tangible events and things that can be recorded. In Bali, history and life itself consists of the seen or conscious world (sekala) and the invisible or psychic realm (niskala) and Balinese are able to move between there two worlds with easy. One could not exist without the other. Therefore, some of the tales about to be told may seem fantastical to the visitor, but to the Ubudians it is a part of their history. Magic keris (daggers), cannibalistic giants and coin-sprouting trees may serve as allegories but they also stand on their own, as you shall soon see.

A lontar (traditional palm leaf book)

Almost all sources begin Ubud's history with the coming of the great Hindu Indian mystic sage, Rsi Markandya in the 8th century. A lontar (traditional palm leaf book) called the Markandya Purana describes how he spread Hinduism throughout Bali. He had been told to journey east from Mount Raung in Java and to convert the inhabitants of Bali to Hinduism. Bali had a reputation of being filled with dangerous spirits and many travellers never returned. walking through Java, he made his way to Bali with 800 followers. His goal was the holy mountain of Gunung Agung, where Besakih temple stands today. However, his followers succumbed to a cholera epidemic and, in fear for their health and safety, he took those who survived back to Java.

The temple of Pura Gunung Lebah in Campuhan, on the fringes of Ubud.

While in Java, he received a divine revelation that he was to return to Bali and bury panca dhatu (five precious metals which are buried under temples to give them more power) at the place where Besakih temple is today. he returned with four hundred followers. From there, he was drawn to a place in the central part of the island which was pulsing with light and energy: Campuhan, Ubud. Here, where two branches of the Wos River (named Lanang and Wadon, or male and female) meet in a confluence, he settled, meditated and built the temple Pura Gunung Lebah (Low Mountain temple). These two rivers swirl around each other as two naga (dragons or serpents) might do. The naga in the Balinese belief system symbolise all that sustains humanity: shelter, food and housing and, of course, spiritual sustenance. The water in the Western branch of the river is used for holy water in local temple festivals and the water in the Eastern branch is used for cleansing oneself; both physically and metaphysically.

Rsi Markandeya founded many temples along the Wos River. In the most northern part of his journey, he built the first (some claim) Hindu temple on the island: Pura Gunung Raung (later named Pura Agung) in the village of Taro. Just north of here in the village of Puakan (Pa-subak-an) the sage created the unique irrigation system for rice fields called subak and divided up the lands among the small populace at that time. He is also credited with the formation of the banjar (hamlet, subdivision of a village) and desa (village) systems.

The Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Kirana, the relationship of humans with their environment (subakor rice fields), humans with each other (banjar or hamlet) and witht he Supreme Being (desa ot village, represented by the three main village temples) was first established here by Rsi Markandeya. Subsequent sages and priests have developed and expounded upon this but this was the foundation of Balinese Hinduism in its purest form, called appropriately Agama Tirta or 'Religion of Holy Water'.

Campuhan is indeed a special centre of power. People have been meditation here for centuries and bathing in its curative waters which spurt out of pancoran or fountains along the river banks. In 1961, this site was chosen as the place to form a religious body recognized by the Indonesian government and known today as Parisadha Hindu Dharma Indonesia, a symbolic tribute to Rsi Markandeya's founding of Hinduism in Bali over a millennium before.

The name Ubud is derived from the word 'ubad', meaning medicine, and refers to the myriad variety of healing plants found along this riverside and in the surrounding environs.

Historic Ubud - The Royals (continues..)

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