The Rich Heritage of Balinese Royal Hindu Culture
The name Bali brings to mind the image of a palm-fringed beach with the lulling sound of waves in the background. In reality, Bali is also one of the most culturally rich destinations in the world. Heirs to the Hindu influence in Java, the Balinese are, as stated by Sir Stamford Raffles “the last repository of Javanese Hindu culture.”
Over the years, Bali has been governed by a collection of independent kingdoms, some of which still persist and some have vanished. However, there is single event that shaped the modern history of Bali and paved the way to how we perceive Bali today: the Puputan that ended the Kingdom of Badung (modern day Denpasar). A puputan is a fight until death by ceremonial suicide (with a Balinese dagger) rather than surrender and lose one’s honor.
By the late 19th century, Dutch colonizers had already taken control of the Buleleng Kingdom in northern Bali. They were also planning an assault on other kingdoms in the south where the King of Badung was successfully defending his land against full colonization of the island. In 1904, with the sinking of a Chinese merchant vessel off the coast at Sanur, and its consequent plundering by the Balinese, the Dutch government in Batavia (modern Jakarta) had an incident to justify a full-scale invasion to capture Badung and complete their conquest of Bali.
In 1906 Dutch troops landed on the beach at Sanur and marched towards the palace of the king. Then, a most extraordinary and unforeseen event took place. The king and the royal family, rather than surrendering, decided to uphold their sacred duty and fight to the end. Putting on their best regalia and dressed in white cremation robes, they marched towards the line of rifles and artillery pointing at the palace doors. Nearly 600 people lost their lives in an incident known to this day as the Badung Puputan Massacre.
The Dutch Governor General in Batavia was shocked at the news of this tragic event that consequently compromised the reputation of the colonial empire and forced the Netherlands to change its policies in the East Indies. The Dutch masters remained in charge, but allowed Balinese cultural practices to remain intact and valued. Ironically, it was the puputan events that ensured, in the most dramatic fashion, the preservation of Bali’s unique culture making this island the exotic paradise it is today.
Today in Denpasar center city, Puputan Square is an historic landmark that honors the site of the heroic stand by the royals of Badung against the invading Dutch army. An enormous central monument represents a Balinese family defiantly brandishing their weapons. The square is also an urban green space for locals to gather for lunch break, holiday picnics or views at sunset.
There is also a nearby open market, temple and the Bali Museum, a complex of buildings modeled after the former royal palace and displaying items of art, history and textiles. For those who want to experience more of the history and cultural pride of the Balinese people, Puputan Square is a must see destination.