Balinese Expressions is a blog series containing stories from and about Balinese people and culture.
A fall of the last Balinese Kingdom: in painting and words.
Mass ritual suicide - puputan – is how the last independent tiny Kingdom in Bali met the invading Dutch forces on 28 April 1908. It did not stop the invaders from killing, burning and plundering, as well as destroying the Royal Palace in Klungkung. It was the end of Dewa Agung Jambe, the Raja of Klungung with his family and a court of about 200 people - and the end of independence.
This dramatic historical event was witnessed by Mangku Mura’s grandfather, Kaki Rungking. Decades later Mangku Mura turned the narrative of his grandfather into painting, using images and text in Balinese script. This was commissioned in 1984 by the Head of Klunkung District when the planning of the Commemoration of Puputan was under way.
Subsequently Mangku Mura reproduced this image again in a painting commissioned by the American anthropologist, Margaret Wiener (University of North Carolina). The third Puputan painting that he completed in 1995 is kept at the Kamasan home of his daughter - artist and priestly successor - Mangku Muriati.
Muriati, an accomplished Kamasan artist in her own right, painted her version of Puputan Klungkung, closely replicating her father’s painting (of 1995) for the Australian Museum in 2011. Siobhan Campbell and Stan Florek, who commissioned Muriati’s painting, were lucky and privileged to observe the artist at work.
But the painting, not surprisingly, has many layers of meaning, which Siobhan Campbell lucidly explained in her thesis. Some characters and scenes allude to the Hindu epic Mahabharata, giving Puputan mythological and sacred dimensions.
Kaki Rungking is depicted only once but is present in the narrative – not merely as a witness but a protagonist. Importantly he kills a high-ranking Dutch officer, which makes him an active participant and strengthens the family links with the actual invasion of Klungkung and its mythologised image.
Furthermore, the grandfather’s presence at the scene is justified, although not explicitly - because of his connection to the Royal Palace (his sister was the unofficial wife of Dewa Agung). This ‘reading’ of the painting requires a detailed knowledge of family genealogy and its context, but it is a vital illumination of Mangku Mura’s (and his family) connection with invasion, Klungkung Royals and his role in Kamasan art.
Siobhan Campbell, Collecting Balinese Art: The Forge Collection of the Balinese Paintings at the Australian Museum in Sydney, Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sydney 2013
Puputan means the ‘finishing’ or ‘the end’ in Balinese and it refers to ritual suicide or surrender. Puputan in Klungkung is regarded as a heroic act of resistance to colonial regime. Similar, and probably better known, was the act of resistance which took place when the Dutch invaded Denpasar in 1906.