2014-04-19 Ubud celebrates royal wedding

2014-04-19 Ubud celebrates royal wedding


by Ni Komang Erviani on 2014-04-19

Role play: Tjokorda Gde Dharma Sukawati and his bride Gusti Ayu Mahadewi perform the roles of a farmer and a vendor during the mekalan-kalan ritual, part of the pewiwahan royal ceremony on Friday at Puri Agung Ubud Palace in Gianyar. The role-playing enactment symbolizes their commitment to sustain their new family. (BD/Anggara Mahendra)Role play: Tjokorda Gde Dharma Sukawati and his bride Gusti Ayu Mahadewi perform the roles of a farmer and a vendor during the mekalan-kalan ritual, part of the pewiwahan royal ceremony on Friday at Puri Agung Ubud Palace in Gianyar. The role-playing enactment symbolizes their commitment to sustain their new family. (BD/Anggara Mahendra)

Ubud, the little town in Gianyar famous for being a cultural mecca, was abuzz Friday as the influential royal family organized a lavish double wedding ceremony for two of its young princes.

Tourists and locals flocked to Puri Agung Ubud Palace from the early hours of the morning. The former wished to catch a glimpse of the ceremony while the latter brought gifts for the aristocratic family, who have succeeded in transforming their feudal legacy into an influential part of the island’s contemporary political and business landscape.

The bridegrooms both come from illustrious bloodlines. Tjokorda Gde Agung Ichiro Sukawati is the son of Tjokorda Gde Putra Sukawati, a prominent businessman and the current penglingsir (elder) of the royal family, while Tjokorda Gde Dharma Sukawati is the son of Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardana Sukawati, the former regent of Gianyar and the current chairman of the Indonesian Hotels and Restaurants Association (PHRI) Bali chapter.

Ichiro married Cokorda Istri Julyana Dewi and Dharma tied the knot with Gusti Ayu Mahadewi. Both brides also hailed from noble families.

Locals from various banjar (traditional neighborhood associations) and desa pekraman (customary villages) around Ubud took turns over the last few days to help the royal family prepare for the weddings.

Puri Agung Ubud, a top tourist attraction known for its elaborately-carved rustic gates as well as classical Balinese dance performances, was sumptuously decorated with fresh flowers and coconut leaves. Dozens of bouquets sent by relatives and business associates lined up the palace’s outer wall.

The ceremony, which lasted for the whole day, started in the morning with the mekalan-kalan ritual and ended with widi-widana.

“The mekalan-kalan ritual marks the bride and bridegroom’s transition from brahmacari to grhasta and their official entrance into family life,” Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardana Sukawati said.

In Hindu teaching, brahmacari is the phase of life when a devotee is expected to commit his or herself to the pursuit of knowledge while grhasta is when building a family is the devotee’s main obligation. The two last phases are wanaprasta, when the devotee should pursue a spiritual path and biksuka is when the devotee renounces all worldly attachments.

Mekalan-kalan also aims at presenting the bride and bridegroom before the butha saksi, the first witness, which comprise the universe, the natural forces and the unseen creatures. In the widi-widana ritual, the bride and bridegroom are brought before the dewa saksi, the third witness comprises the gods and ancestral spirits. The second witness is manusa saksi, comprising all relatives and guests at the ceremony.

During the mekalan-kalan ritual, the couples underwent a series of purification rites before participating in a enactment — which saw the grooms carrying a coconut and some fruit and vegetables on a stick as a symbol of their commitment to his future family, while the brides lightly hit them with a broom, signifying their roles as motivators. The peak of the ritual took place when the grooms used a kris to pierce a rectangular sheet of woven leaves held by the bride, a symbolic act of consummating the marriage.

The mekalan-kalan ceremony was witnessed by many high priests and temple priests from across Bali. It was also witnessed by the grooms’ parents, but not the brides’ parents.

The event continued with the widi-widana ceremony in the evening. The ritual was held in the Bale Agung open pavilion and officiated by two high priests.

“The widi-widana ritual seeks blessing from the God,” Cok Ace said.

After the widi-widana ritual, the brides and groom were taken on open wooden palanquins in a parade from the palace to Merajan Agung, the royal family ancestral temple.

The ceremony was attended by scores of dignitaries, including Deputy Bali Governor Ketut Sudikerta and Buleleng Regent Putu Agus Suradnyana. Golkar Party chairman Aburizal Bakrie was seen arriving at the palace’s gate at around 6 p.m.

The mapejati ritual, which is when the grooms pray at the brides’ family temple, will be held on Saturday and Sunday.

The last ritual, megat jalan, will be held on Monday. After the completion of megat jalan, the couples will be allowed to travel outside the palace compound.

On Saturday, Mapejati will be held in Puri Anyar, the royal family house of Cokorda Istri Julyana Dewi and the next day it will be at Puri Kedisan, the royal family house of Gusti Ayu Mahadewi.

Ubud, Royal Cremation Held For Tjokorda Istri Sri Tjandrawati

Ubud, Royal Cremation Held For Tjokorda Istri Sri Tjandrawati


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UBUD, BALI, INDONESIA – NOVEMBER 01: Balinese dancers perform the classical Gambuh dance during the Royal cremation ceremony on November 1, 2013 in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. Tjokorda Istri Sri Tjandrawati is the late wife of Tjokorda Gde Putra Sukawati, head of Ubud’s ruling family, who died at Mount Elizabeth Hospital on October 14, 2013 in Singapore at the age of 59. More than 100 people have been employed to build a 25 meter high tower which is used to carry the body of the deceased to the cemetery. The cremation ceremony is an important rite which is held for deceased members of the Puri Agung Ubud royal family to show respect to families and the local community. Balinese believe cremation is a purification ceremony that returns Panca Maha Butha (five elements in the universe that formed life) and is also believed to release the body’s spirit so that they may reincarnate. (Photo by Agung Parameswara/Getty Images)

Ubud, a deceased member of the Ubud royal family will be cremated before the cremation ceremony Tuesday July 15, 2008

Ubud, a deceased member of the Ubud royal family will be cremated Tuesday July 15, 2008


A Royal Farewell in Bali

Last Tuesday, on the island of Bali, the head of the royal family of Ubud named Agung Suyasa was laid to rest in a rare, spectacular Royal Funeral – the largest in decades. Suyasa, two other members the royal family, and 68 commoners were cremated in a large Hindu ceremony – their bodies having been previously preserved, awaiting cremation, which is traditionally believed to free their souls for future reincarnation. (13 photos total)

Balinese men prepare a giant bull sarcophagus in which a deceased member of the Ubud royal family will be cremated before the cremation ceremony Tuesday July 15, 2008 in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. Balinese royalty and dozens of other prominent Balinese from Ubud were cremated Tuesday in a rare and elaborate ceremony for deceased royals. (AP Photo/Ed Wray)

Balinese men prepare to lift a giant bull in which a deceased member of the Ubud royal family will be cremated during the funeral procession Tuesday July 15, 2008, in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Ed Wray)

Thousands of people join the procession prior to the Balinese royals cremation ceremony in Ubud, Bali on July 15, 2008. The remains of two Balinese royals were cremated before some 250,000 loyal subjects after being carried through this hillside town in huge spinning pyres representing the universe. (BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images)

Balinese dancers perform during a procession of Pelebon or The Royal Cremation Ceremony in Ubud, on the Indonesian island of Bali, July 13, 2008. The bodies head of Ubud Royal family Tjokorda Gde Agung Suyasa, his nephew Tjokorda Raka, his aunt Desak Raka, and 68 Ubud villagers will be cremated on July 15. The cremation ceremony is a ritual, believed by locals, to send the dead to their next lives. (REUTERS/Beawiharta)

People carry the black bull sarcophagus and a tower prior to the Balinese royals cremation ceremony in Ubud, Bali ilsand on July 15, 2008. (BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images)

Men play “sulings”, traditional music instruments, during the procession of Pelebon or The Royal Cremation Ceremony in Ubud, on the Indonesian island of Bali, July 14, 2008. (REUTERS/Beawiharta)

People welcome and watch the black bull sarcophagus en route to the Balinese royals cremation ceremony in Ubud, Bali on July 15, 2008. (BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images)

People carry a bull sarcophagus during a procession of Pelebon or The Royal Cremation Ceremony in Ubud, on the Indonesian island of Bali, July 13, 2008. (REUTERS/Beawiharta)

Balinese men walk away after setting alight a giant bull in which a deceased member of the Ubud royal family is cremated in during the funeral ceremony Tuesday July 15, 2008, in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. Balinese royalty and dozens of other prominent Balinese from Ubud were cremated Tuesday in a rare and elaborate ceremony for deceased royals.(AP Photo/Ed Wray)

A bull sarcophagus in which a member of the Ubud royal family was cremated burns during the funeral ceremony Tuesday July 15, 2008 in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Ed Wray)

Black bull sarcophagi are set alight during the cremation of two Balinese royals in Ubud, Bali island on July 15, 2008. (BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images)

A black bull sarcophagus is set alight during the cremation of two Balinese royals in Ubud on Bali island on July 15, 2008. (BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images)

A Balinese man attends a cremation fire as the last bit of a mythical dragon known as a Naga is burning during a ceremony for a deceased member of the Ubud royal family on Tuesday July 15, 2008 in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Ed Wray)

Ubud, Princely Practice

Ubud, Princely Practice

An estimated fifteen thousand people flocked to Ubud on July 15th to witness the cremation ceremony of three members of the Ubud royal family and 68 members of the community. This majestic ‘Palebon’ ceremony required almost three months of preparation. Among the royals to be cremated was Tjokorda Gde Agung Suyasa, former head of the Ubud royal family and Ubud’s ‘Bendesa’-chief advisor on matters of tradition, religion and Balinese culture—for more than three decades. The much loved and respected prince was the grandson of the last King of Ubud, Tjokorda Gede Sukawati, who reigned from 1880 until 1917. BY RACHEL GREAVES

Now that Tjokorda Gde Agung Suyasa’s soul has been liberated, does this mean there will be some changes in the royal household? Who better to answer this question than Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa, who oversaw the cremation in his role as guardian of this ancient yet symbolic royal family.

Exotiq: What does the title ‘Tjokorda’ mean?

Tjok Raka: It comes from the warrior caste, the second caste; our ancestors were the rulers of the Kingdom of Bali in the 16th century.

Exotiq: Does that mean you’re a prince?

Tjok Raka: Yes, we are all princes now in the royal family.

Exotiq: And the cremation was that of your brother?

Tjok Raka: My half brother.

Exotiq: So why is there no longer a king?

Tjok Raka: Because at the Declaration of Independence, we agreed to be under one umbrella within the Republic of Indonesia. We no longer have legal power, but the palace is still there.

Exotiq: So what was your brother’s role?

Tjok Raka: He was respected for his wisdom, his knowledge, his profession and his compassion, and was therefore trusted to lead our family and many of the villages. Our family’s ancestors were rulers, so the community already had an emotional attachment to the palace and still chose to continue the tradition. Because of this, people would sometimes refer to my brother informally as ‘king’. But who’s going to be ‘king’ now?

Exotiq: Well, that was my next question.

Tjok Raka: (laughing), well, that’s also my question. You see it’s just symbolic; we don’t govern or have a system of power now that we’re part of the Republic.

Exotiq: Surely as a family you have a certain amount of power in Ubud, in the way that Ubud is managed and run?

Tjok Raka: Well, any power that we have is gained through the respect of the people, but we don’t have the right to tell people what to do.

Exotiq: Correct me if I am wrong, but I was told that it was your family that has stopped McDonalds and other fast food chains from coming to Ubud?

Tjok Raka: Yes, that’s because people trust us to come up with the right ideas, and then to take those ideas to the government with the support of the community. If we want to protect or preserve our cultural image, we have to minimise the issues that may destroy that image. So for certain concerns, the heads of the villages will still come to my family and to me for advice.

Exotiq: What is your job?

Tjok Raka: That’s a very hard question to answer. You know, I don’t have a profession but I am a member of parliament in Gianyar for the Golkar party. I am also president of the Bali Heritage Trust, so I have some knowledge and experience in that field. Additionally, we have the Ibah Hotel, and we also have a foundation—Suta Dharma School, which is very popular in Ubud. I am a consultant for the villages in terms of social conflicts and any problems among the community, together with issues such as building a temple or fixing a
barong, that kind of thing. This is what my father and my grandfather did and I have to continue the obligation.

Exotiq: How do you feel about property development in Bali?

Tjok Raka: We have to look at it from all perspectives because sometimes it creates a conflict of interest. Economically, it helps the Balinese, but it has a huge impact environmentally, socially, politically and in terms of infrastructure. The volume of people in cars and on the roads is affecting the daily activities of the people of Bali, and
there is also an impact on the farmers and the subak (water irrigation) system when so many of the rice fields are being transformed into a concrete jungle. The government is still struggling to find the right answer, and soon there has to be a decision about the areas where the development has to be stopped and where it can continue, and about what can be innovated and what has to be preserved, because we don’t have a land factory.

Exotiq: But there is less development here in Ubud than further south?

Tjok Raka: It’s slower here because of the contours of the land; it’s hard to find big flat land in Ubud, which is fortunate. We have great people with great ideas but action is also needed. It has to be a winwin solution and that can only happen with cooperation and mutual respect.

Exotiq: Were you the first in your family to marry a foreigner?

Tjok Raka: No, my uncle, Tjokorda Raka Sukawati, married a lady from Paris. He was the first president of East Indonesia, under the Dutch, for one year in 1949. Then another of my uncles married a Dutch lady, and now many of my nephews are married to Japanese and Australians. It’s not always easy to cross the cultures but at the same time I have learned so much universally by marrying outside of my culture.

Exotiq: How do you feel about so many foreigners coming to Bali and moving in on your island?

Tjok Raka: Our philosophy is to welcome our guests, and it has been this way for many centuries in Bali. This is our etiquette.

Exotiq: Tjok Raka, thank you for your time.

Tjok Raka: My pleasure.

Images by Neal Hornaffer

Badung, Puri Kesiman, Stranger in Paradise: Spellbound Day-Trippers

Badung, Puri Kesiman, Stranger in Paradise: Spellbound Day-Trippers


Rangda flies into trance at the Pengerebongan Festival, Pura Dalem Petilan Kesiman,
19 February 2012.

Sometimes Bali holds you in a spell of spiritual enchantment for weeks on end — despite traffic snarls, piles of trolleys and plastic.
Last month was one such month.
I got to witness four ceremonies of such intense beauty that everything else — my battles to the death with Indian clients, male menopause and the constant humidity and noise — seemed irrelevant.
The balance between dharma (goodness) and adharma (hedonism) may be tipping the scales in Bali’s tourist hubs, but, hey, no medieval god-king system is perfect.

Part of the Poleng Kesiman ritual at Pengerebongan, Pura Dalem Petilan, Kesiman.

What is life without routine and ritual one is reminded, constantly.
At some point ....  read more

Ubud, How ‘Max’ the Aussie surfer-dude became a royal wedding star

Ubud, How ‘Max’ the Aussie surfer-dude became a royal wedding star


The royal wedding of Prince Tjok Gus Kerthyasa and television star Happy Salma.

The royal wedding of Prince Tjok Gus Kerthyasa and television star Happy Salma.

Before the eyes of the world were fixated on Westminster Abbey for the wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton, an Australian prince married Indonesia’s most popular television star in front of thousands.

There was no designer gown nor bridesmaid to upstage the show, and no global television audience into the billions. But there were tears, a celebrity bride and a guest list of more than 2500 at the Balinese royal wedding of Prince Tjok Gus Kerthyasa and television star Happy Salma.

Prince Tjok Gus is the son of the head of Bali’s royal family, Prince Tjokorda Raka, and his wife Princess Asri – an Australian kindergarten teacher formerly known as Jane Gillespie.

Prince Tjok Gus Kerthyasa and television star Happy Salma.

But he was better known to his Aussie mates as surfer and avid photographer “Max”.

He grew up in Sydney’s northern suburbs with his brother and sister, but his centuries-old warrior heritage, 300-member family and love of surfing drew him back to Bali as a teenager. 

The 29-year-old, who sports large tattoos on his back and legs, relocated to the family’s palace in Ubud where he embraced the Hindu culture and spent his days surfing the Balinese coastline.

He and his mother now own one of the most popular tea houses in the upmarket region of Seminyak.

It was over high tea last year that Tasmania filmmaker Varcha Sidwell discovered and documented two fairytale stories for her film Bali High Wedding.

“I was introduced to the proprietor, a Balinese princess who was in her 50s, who is also an Aussie,” Sidwell told WAtoday.com.au.

Ms Gillespie now goes by her adopted name, Asri, meaning “perfect”. She married into the Balinese royal family in 1978 after meeting and falling in love with the local children’s theatre director, who just turned out to be a prince.

The 23-year-old kindergarten teacher from Sydney with a degree in child psychology became a princess but before she moved into a palace that had no running water, electricity or a phone, both she and her husband-to-be faced intense scrutiny.

Prince Tjokorda Raka, who is now the head of the royal family, was the youngest son of his father’s 10th wife and was expected to marry within the Balinese royal circle. Their love persisted and so too did the authorities. Asri’s Australian passport was taken from her and she had to be cleared by Interpol before the couple could wed.

“That’s a long-time love story, its destiny,” he said of his relationship with his Anglican wife. 

Bali is now a republic state, but the royal family is seen as custodian of the Hindu faith and is widely respected.

The couple sacrificed the royal lifestyle to raise and educated their three children in Australia, where Prince Tjokorda Raka was forced to undertake jobs as a gardener and a waiter to pay the bills.

The family returned to Bali more than a decade ago once their children became adults, and Prince Tjokorda Raka is now the head of culture and religion in Ubud.

“They now have to consult with me, because I’ve been living in the West that has given me a new perspective in the modern times without losing the essence of our culture,” he said.   

Fast forward 32-years and Bali is a very different and almost decadent place, according to Sidwell.

When she discovered Asri’s son, a laid-back surfer with an Aussie accent, was marrying a local television soap star in a glittering Balinese royal wedding, she had two months to plan, produce and shoot the film. 

“The lovely thing about the Balinese royal family is that they are so unaffected,” she said.

“‘Max’ is just this surfer dude who enjoys life but it also a member of a family that can trace their lineage back 24 generations. I was blown away by the quiet sense of continuity and culture and a complete lack of pomp.” 

Prince Tjok Gus married Salma – a Muslim from Java – in October, 2010, after they met on the surfing beaches in Bali’s south while she was holidaying with friends.

Bali High Wedding chronicles the lead up to the big day, which included all the invitations being delivered via food, not paper, Salma’s stress and tears as she struggled to comprehend the rituals involved with a Balinese royal wedding, and the two lengthy ceremonies.   

More than 2500 people – including high priests, diplomats and Asri’s hairdresser – attended the day-long event, which involved the couple completing their fertility rites of passage.

In sticking with tradition, the royal couple carried offerings as they walked around a circle as Prince Tjok Gus mockingly whipped his new bride. Salma, who wore a three kilogram archaic gold headdress, then sat on a coconut while Kerthyasa was paraded around with the family sword.

Today, almost a year on, the royal newlyweds are continuing with their lives in Bali.

Salma is still working as an actress and represented Indonesia at this year’s Cannes Film Festival but Sidwell predicts the announcement of the 25th generation of the family is imminent.

Ubud, Bali High Wedding (2011)

Ubud, Bali High Wedding (2011)


For most mothers, organising a lavish wedding is stressful enough, but what if you are also an Australian-born Balinese Royal Princess expected to supervise complex Hindu traditions stretching back centuries?

Princess Jero Asri Kerthyasa (formerly “Plain Jane” Gillespie from Sydney) is at the centre of Royal Wedding preparations for her son, twenty-nine year old Prince Tjok Gus. The bride-to-be is Happy Salma, adored Indonesian TV ‘soapie’ star. The traditional wedding rituals she’s taking part in at the Royal Palace of Ubud are a whole new world for Happy, a Muslim from Java.


Supervising proceedings at the palace is the head of the Royal House of Kerthyasa, Asri’s husband, Prince Tjokorda Raka. As the youngest son of his father’s tenth wife, the Prince was expected to marry within the Balinese Royal Family. Prince Tjokorda Raka refused to bow to family pressure and in 1978 made an Australian commoner, Jane Gillespie, a Balinese Princess. Prince_Tjokorda_Raka

It’s now thirty-two years on and while Ubud is still the cultural heart of Bali, it’s no longer a sleepy rural village. As hundreds of villagers donate their labour and prepare traditional offerings, this wedding promises to be a lavish event.

As the Royal Family prepare for the Big Day it becomes clear that for this Balinese Royal House ‘balancing cultures’ is a fine art. The groom, like his royal brother and sister, grew up largely in the northern suburbs of Sydney, and he’s as comfortable in the Palace as ‘Prince Tjok Gus’, as he is being just ‘Max’ with his mates down south on Bali’s surf coast.

After Balinese mystics are called in to prevent rainstorms, the wedding day dawns. The Royal Family assemble in their ceremonial regalia, while Princess Asri takes her new daughter-in-law under her wing. 


Before thousands of guests, in two elaborate ceremonies lasting from dawn to dusk, a Javanese actress weds her Indo-Aussie Prince and becomes a Balinese Princess. Set against the backdrop of Bali’s high society, this Royal Wedding is a heady mix of love and fairytales across cultural divides.

Production Company:
Roar Film Pty Ltd

Steve Thomas, Kath Symmons, Craig Dow Sainter
Suite 340, Salamanca Arts Centre
77 Salamanca Place, Hobart,
Tasmania, Australia 7000
P + 61 3 6224 5222
F + 62 3 6224 5511

Director’s Statement

As a filmmaker with over twenty years experience in telling real life stories, I am often on the lookout for good documentary subjects. This ‘fairytale’ is the result of a chance meeting, when I was not even looking to find a story. On holiday with an Australian friend who is living in Bali, we went to the ‘must visit’ tea house Biku, in the popular outhern coast tourist zone. Having been to Bali over twenty years ago, I was stunned by the pace of modern
development everywhere. Over high tea I was introduced to the proprietor, a Balinese princess in her fifties, who is also an Aussie. Princess Asri has herself experienced Bali’s dramatic changes; we began to talk about her life on this magical island.

This charismatic Australian woman married a Balinese prince 32 years ago in a very different Bali. I found Princess Asri’s story utterly compelling. When I discovered that her son, Prince Tjok Gus (a laid back surfer with an Aussie accent) was soon to marry a celebrity Indonesian TV soap star in a glittering Balinese Royal Wedding, I was hooked. After returning to Australia, I pitched the idea of Bali High Wedding at ABC TV: the story of Princess Asri, and her extraordinary Balinese-Aussie royal family, told amidst the unfolding drama of a lavish and very traditional Balinese royal wedding. It was current, full of fairytale and romance, and profoundly cross-cultural in ways that would prove to be surprising.

crew1In the already stressful build up to an epic royal wedding, Princess Asri agreed to provide us with complete ‘behind the scenes’ access to everything and everyone. This was unheard-of access to all royal wedding preparations, involving hundreds of villagers, traditional ceremonies and private family occasions, culminating in ‘The Big Day’ at Ubud’s Royal Palace. As the complex preparations unfolded we were planning to follow Princess Asri and her husband Prince Tjokorda Raka (the Head of the large Royal Family), as well as the groom, Prince Tjok Gus and his celebrity bride, Happy Salma. It was a privileged entrée into the little-known world of Royal Balinese Hinduism as it smacks up against the 21st century cross-cultural and religious divide.

We arrived in Bali two weeks before the Royal Wedding, with two documentary crews from Tasmania, and hit the ground running. Luckily we had a Unit Manager in Bali who had already found all of us traditional Balinese clothing, suitable to wear at the palace. It was immediately put to use as we found out that anyone visiting the palace on wedding business needed to be wearing formal traditional Balinese outfits, and this apparently included filming. So, carrying our cameras and gear around in the stifling humidity, we at least looked well-dressed.

Preparations and rituals were well and truly underway, as we filmed a whirlwind of formal occasions at the palace in Ubud. Many hundreds of villagers prepared traditional offerings, then made daily processions to the Palace to present their gifts to the Bride and Groom. We filmed wedding parties and Hindu ceremonies at the royal temples and residences. We followed Princess Asri and the groom, travelling up and down from Ubud to their tea house in Seminyak, an hours drive away.

balisteveAs we shot the ‘behind the scenes’ preparations, the mysterious world of Balinese culture and spirituality began to reveal itself to the cameras. In interviews with Princess Asri and her Royal Family, the story of a melding of cultures and classes began to take shape.

Unlike many documentary settings, just about everywhere we filmed looked like a lavish film set, so the challenge was to capture this rich visual feast and to make meaning of it for an Australian audience. There was so much happening, involving so many people, that it was important to follow the main characters and tell their story as we let the drama of the wedding take its course. The generosity and openness of the family was the key to our success. In giving ‘on the spot interviews’ at events and under pressure the family were always gracious and helpful to our two small crews, who were often struggling with the heat and the unfamiliar culture, rituals and languages.

With the Royal Wedding as the narrative spine of the story, it was possible to also tell the story of Princess Asri’s romance 32 years ago, and to build a picture of the family both in Australia and in Bali using family photo albums. We had to make some hard decisions about what to leave out, as the older brother of the groom, Prince Tjok Gde, and his sister the Princess Maya also have fascinating stories. Bali High Wedding became a tantalising glimpse into a world that is full of magical tales.

Ubud, Pelebon, Puri Saren

Ubud, Pelebon, Puri Saren



15th July 2008:
To Puri Saren, ‘Ubud, Bali’s prettiest palace’, for the gargantuan cremation of Ubud’s popular prince, Tjokorda Gede Agung Suyasa, and other family members

The two main lembu parked outside the palace

At 10 a.m., I arrive at the palace after a long walk west from the VIP-B car park, past purple-shirted serfs clustered at the feet of colossal black bull sarcophagi and golden-winged cremation towers.
I traipse through ten or so courtyards like a big pink gorilla in drag in a cake-shop filled with Asian aristocrats (from all corners of the archipelago) and past the well-packed pavilion of rajas, past Poppy Darsono pretending to be the daughter of the late Sunan of Solo (Pakubuwono XII), past Sir Warwick Purser in tan flares; well past Linda Garland, wearing an elegant golden lace kebaya and very dark wine-red, almost brown, songket plus beautiful jewellery (old style Majapahit) plus mauve surgical stockings, ‘yin-yang bling’ earrings (gold-tipped Zen walnuts fashioned by one-armed Timor Leste lesbians from the humanely-culled scrotal sacs of highland Dani tribes-men) and past press gangs and make-up artists and a glittering Naga Banda dragon parked in its pavilion in the Ancak Saji (Javanese: pancak suji) court, finally to find Jero Asri, ‘Australia’s own princess in Bali’, in the north-western courtyard. She is monitoring her daughter Maya’s maquillage for her big moment on the procession’s royal palanquin. An old flame (of mine, not Maya’s) is applying the false eye-lashes.

• • •

On a visit to Ubud two weeks back, fresh from Solo, I was reminded of the difference in Balinese and Javanese palaces at times of ceremonial activity. The Javanese palaces are vast and sedate: courtiers and nobles are everywhere, plotting intrigues in courtyard corners. The ceremonies happen according to a programme with general lounging in the off-limits (to most) royal apartments in between. In Ubud, serfs, tourists, priests and princes intermingle to an extent. Balinese palaces, particularly Puri Saren, Ubud, are alive with ceremonial/social/logistical (offering-making etc.) activity for the weeks that surround the big events! While the cremation atmosphere is hardly ‘festive’, the mood is relaxed and jovial, with lots of comic relief; unlike the rather sombre courtliness of the rituals of Javanese palaces.

• • •
Jero Asri and her daughter, Tjok Sri Maya Kerthyasa

Today Jero Asri is surrounded by her Australian ladies-in-waiting; her friend la Barone Gill Marais, author of ‘Sex in the Puri’, a new film series on Balinese palace life, chats to her first grandson.
After a sumptuous lunch and a few hours of palace people-watching we all file out for one of the greatest shows on earth: an Ubud royal cremation spectacle.

Stepping out of the rarefied atmosphere of the puri into the New Year’s Revellers at Luna Park atmosphere on the now closed main road, alive with battalions of funeral float bearers in bright purple, is like “stepping on to a giant tab of acid” (to quote Bill Dawson).

Dignitaries are surveying the amazing scenes form the palace’s corner belvedere: there is the Minister of Tourism, Jero Wacik; the new governor-elect, Major General Made Mangku Pastika; Sukmawati Soekarnoputri (again!); ex-minister Moerdiono (upon whose life a new “The Sopranos—style TV series is to be based); and handsome Gung Bagus from Peliatan, the elder-Puri!

One by one the floats are hoisted up and moved into position. The crowd cheers. Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa is commanding. (“He was particularly close to the deceased,” Wayan Juniartha reports, in a fabulous feature story in today’s Jakarta Post).

Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa and family members in the Semanggen court on the morning of the cremation

Last of all the giant Naga Banda dragon is conveyed out of the palace and into the last slot on the ‘tarmac’ (floats and bull sarcophagi waiting like taxiing jumbos on side ramps). Quietly the crowd parts and old Pedanda Lingsir from Aan, East Bali appears with a full retinue of retainers, gold offerings and a gleaming magic bow and arrow. After some Vedic rituals the high priest ‘fires’ arrows to the four cardinal directions, then up and down, to clear all paths to the after-life.
Finally, after two hour in the crowd outside the palace, gongs starts beating, bleganjur gamelan pounding, and Tjok Raka drops the red flag. We’re off!

“It’s vulgar,” I hear woolite heiress and puri refusenik Carole Muller complain as vigilantes start chopping down trees to clear the path. Spectators are lined ten deep and up the side of the buildings! All the rooftops along the one mile of the processional route are crammed with people.
After 200 metres, the big float stalls, squashing two Chinese Jakartas and three drunk Germans at a roadside ATM.

As the palace seniors frantic—on the float—struggle to free the trapped beliemoth, I race down the mall like a streakier in a fancy dress—”Run Fat Boy Run”, screams the crowd—just in time to catch the first float (bearing the coffin of Tjok Suyasa’s auntie) as it turns up the hill to the cremation ground.

The beleganjur marching band has gone berserk: the relief drummers are dancing in the street, so joyous is the mood (“Ubud is a mood,” screams Leonard Leuras from a nearby massage parlour). This royal family, so beloved by the masses, is sent off with great style.
Gooooo……….!!! (left to right);Tjok Kerthyasa, Tjok Putra Sukawati and
Tjok Alit Dharma Putra on Tjok Suyasa’s badé float

Peliatan, Royal Cremation Ceremony 2010 in Bali

Peliatan,  Royal Cremation Ceremony 2010 in Bali


Click to Enlarge !



A narrow alley is not a dangerous place in Ubud, Bali. It is simply an extension to another hidden paradise from a bigger paradise. A senior backpacker passed the gate of two small homestays, hidden from the bustling street of Monkey Forest.


Traditional costumes come in different colors and patterns. Relatives came from the other side of the village to pay a visit in a preparation of the 9th King’s Royal Cremation in Puri Agung Peliatan, Bali.


Cokorda Alit sat under a gazebo or bale bengong, supervising the preparation for the cremation. He was the closest relative to the deceased King. They were playmates in the yesteryear.


Four masks of different characters came in colors. This highly decorated masks are hand-made and especially crafted for the special occasion like the grand cremation. 


Ladies of the palace waited for the core event of the day, the prayer led by a priest. Series of rituals took place and each rite displayed unique purpose and meaningful process.


Mask dance, or locally known as tari topeng, was a tribute to the deceased. It also played an important role in providing enthusiasm and togetherness amongst the plural community members.


Soon after the holly water was extracted with a serious ritual, the family members went back to the palace, so they can put the holly water inside the embracing dragon. A lady turned around, looking for someone mingled in the crowd.


 Meanwhile, in the Ubud market, sellers were anticipating the big buy from waves of tourist influx. Here, handcrafts and local souvenirs were displayed and appreciated. A Balinese lady was walking down the alley guarded by a dancing statue.


Bali has been dubbed as the Land of Gods. As each house must build its own praying area, the island is also known as the land of a thousand temples.


Wayang Kulit or puppet show was played so that the soul was adequately entertained. The story in the puppet show was read from a traditional scripture made of delicate material like papyrus.


The girl from the royal family sat on a royal sedan casting the most refreshing smile, as her elder family members prayed in a holly water temple in a ngening ceremony, the rite of purity.  


Each place has its own offering in Bali. There are thousands of offerings found from the first step of an airport lounge to the deepest rice field in the village, and here, on the sale of a busy traditional market.

Ubud, Appreciating Bali Art Draws Tourists From Beaches

Ubud, Appreciating Bali Art Draws Tourists From Beaches


Tjokorda Gede Putra Sukawat

Tjokorda Gede Putra Sukawat, eldest son of the last king of Ubud, can claim an enduring legacy on behalf of his family’s royal dynasty: a key role in Bali’s art scene, which is increasingly exciting collectors and investors. Photographer: Cedric Arnold/ Bloomberg Markets via Bloomberg

For a royal without a kingdom, the Balinese prince exudes contentment as we sip sweet tea on his palace veranda and talk about his family’s patronage of artists whose works now sell for millions of dollars.

Tjokorda Gede Putra Sukawati, eldest son of the last king of Ubud, never even had the opportunity to succeed his father as ruler of the fiefdom in central Bali.

In 1950, six years before he was born, the pocket-sized realm of emerald-green rice terraces and Hindu temples set against the distant sacred volcano Mount Agung was absorbed, along with the rest of the so-called Island of the Gods, into the fledgling Republic of Indonesia.

Video: Collectors Value Bali-Inspired Art

What Tjokorda Putra can claim on behalf of the Ubud royal dynasty is a more enduring legacy: a key role in an art scene that’s increasingly exciting collectors and investors, Bloomberg Pursuits magazine reports in its Fall 2012 issue.

It’s an aspect of the island that remains unknown to many of the 3 million tourists who flock to it every year to throng the glorious beaches and be pampered in world-renowned spas.

According to London-based real estate firm Knight Frank LLP, more than 90 percent of visitors will cram into the often raucous, traffic-choked beach resorts close to the airport.

For centuries, Bali produced fine painters. They focused solely on religious themes, and their color palette was limited to pigments from locally available natural dyes.

Outstanding Beauty

Beginning in 1927, Tjokorda Putra’s father and uncle began encouraging Western artists to move to Ubud and share their techniques with the local painters in exchange for free accommodation and the opportunity to live and work amid Bali’s outstanding beauty.

The result has been what Jakarta-based investment banker, art consultant and collector Lin Che Wei describes as an explosion of creativity.

Just how explosive is apparent in the scores of art museums and galleries that line the bustling streets of some half-dozen small craft villages in the 50-square-kilometer (19-square-mile) Ubud district.

Here, meticulously detailed traditional paintings of bug- eyed characters from ancient Hindu literature rub shoulders with sublime postimpressionist landscapes and even a contemporary work featuring a Batman-like Western superhero with a Balinese mask.

What these works have in common is a unique fusion of a richly layered, centuries-old Asian culture and avant-garde Western art.

‘Underpriced Assets’

The biggest buzz comes from the soaring prices paid at auction for Ubud-inspired art.

Haunting surrealist depictions of Bali life and legends painted by Walter Spies, a German who spent 12 years in Ubud after being invited there by the royal family in 1927, sell for up to $2.2 million — twice as much as 10 years ago.

What’s more, works by Balinese artists influenced by Spies and Rudolf Bonnet, a Dutch painter also befriended by the royals, are appreciating in value by as much as 30 percent annually, according to Lin, co-founder of art consulting firm Sarasvati.

“Balinese art is one of the best investments I have seen,” says Lin, who has paid as much as $400,000 for a Balinese painting. “It’s still a very inefficient market, with underpriced assets.”

The art business will become more widely known as affluent visitors increasingly base themselves in Ubud (population 70,000), which sits aloof in the hills above the surf and an hour away by car from the nightclub scene.

Ultraexclusive Spa

Discreetly hidden behind luxuriant foliage, big global chains such as InterContinental Hotels Group Plc (IHG) vie for business with the likes of the ultraexclusive Amandari, a replica stone-walled compound where guests such as German collector and former Hong Kong trading company partner Kurt Kyris base themselves in rooms costing from $950 to $4,100 nightly.

“What I love about Balinese art is the variety,” Kyris says. “Traditional or contemporary, the artists have very strong skills.”

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of art-based tourism is Tjokorda Putra himself. He owns three resorts, one of which, Hotel Tjampuhan, is built around the villa that Spies once lived in.

The prince, a stocky, jovial 56-year-old who wears a sarong and an udeng cloth headdress, also oversees one of Ubud’s finest art collections. He retains some trappings of an Eastern potentate by continuing to occupy the palace, a low-slung compound that features traditional open-sided pavilions.

Walled Garden

“I get 1,000 to 2,000 people a day here,” he says, gesturing toward a bustling public section of the palace across a serene, private walled garden that’s studded with frangipani and hibiscus.

Facing Ubud market, Tjorkorda Putra’s residence sits at the heart of Bali’s cultural capital.

By day, visitors gaze at the palace’s intricately carved statues of Hindu gods before stepping across the road to the simple Warung Ibu Oka eatery to lunch on possibly the island’s best suckling pig, a highlight of Bali’s aromatic cuisine.