Klunkung, Long live the King

Klunkung, Long live the King



Last Sunday, the people of Klungkung hailed their new king.

Hundreds of people dressed in traditional costume flocked the courtyard of Klungkung palace as the court’s high priest Ida Pedanda Gede Putra Tembau of Aan crowned Tjokorda Gde Agung Semaraputra as the new King of Klungkung.

The elderly priest also bestowed a new name on the king: Ida Dalem Semaraputra.

Kings, princes and princesses from all over Bali and across the country, including members of the Nusantara Keraton Friendship Forum (FSKN), an umbrella organization cum lobby group for the country’s royalty, attended the coronation ceremony, which involved elaborate Balinese Hindu rituals and majestic sacred dances.

In feudal Bali, kings always treated the kings of Klungkung with deference and respect.

Klungkung’s military power was perhaps not as terrifying as that wielded by Mengwi or Karangasem. Its diplomatic cunningness and political calculation might not have been as sharp as that repeatedly demonstrated by the kings of the Manggis dynasty in neighboring Gianyar.

Yet the kings of Bali never failed to treat the kings of Klungkung as equals, and always sought their wisdom and advice when other kings were locked in disputes.

The prince of Karangasem and his suicidal warriors were the actual forces that conquered the neighboring island of Lombok. But the victory was humbly dedicated to the King of Klungkung, the sovereign of Bali and Lombok. And there was nothing that could unite the fragmented royalties of ancient Bali better than a legion of rebellious warriors advancing toward the Klungkung palace.


Devoted people: Followers carry the new king of Klungkung Ida Dalem Semaraputra on a wooden sedan.

The brutal, yet tragic rebellion of Pande Bhasa and the victorious, albeit temporary, uprising of Gusti Agung Maruti, are a testament to this unity. Kings from various kingdoms in the island sent their fiercest warriors to defend the honor of the Klungkung’s crown.

This deferential attitude and loyalty toward Klungkung might have something to do with members of the Klungkung royalty being direct descendants from the Javanese ruler installed as the island’s king by the Majapahit empire’s legendary prime minister Gajah Mada, following his military conquest of the island in 14th century.

Members of this house, thus, directly related to Majapahit and its members, are perceived as the purest blood of the island’s royalty. Only the Kings of Klungkung can use the title “Dalem” while the others must be satisfied with “Tjokorda” or “Anak Agung”.

Young scholar Sugi Lanus said the coronation of the new “Dalem” reflected the strengthening of ethnic identitity, a phenomenon more evident in the last decade.

“We are seeing a growing tendency to reinforce traditional values, local wisdom, and cultural heritage to preserve or strengthen ethnic identity in its relation to the national identity or even the global identity,” he said.

“I called this phenomenon ‘reclaiming regalia’, an effort to reclaim past glory and at the same time a symbolic mutiny from the republic. When the number of kings keeps increasing across the archipelago, it must say something about the state of our integration as a nation and a unitary republic,” he stressed.


A touch of divinity: High priest Ida Pedanda Gede Putra Tembau of Aan places consecrated rice on the forehead of the king during the coronation ritual.

After the establishment of the republic in 1945, most royal houses in Bali decided not to crown any kings to lead the houses. The decision was partly political — to keep up with the modern and egalitarian spirit of the new state, and partly financial — it was difficult to maintain a lavish lifestyle, a personal harem and an oversized entourage when the support from colonial government ceased to exist, and political activists screamed for land reform.

Ida I Dewa Agung Gede Oka Geg, who was crowned in July 1929 by the Dutch and officially titled Zelfbesturder Landschap Van Klungkung, was the last colonial-era king of Klungkung.

Thing started to change in the last 10 years. Politician Anak Agung Ngurah Manik Pemecutan was crowned as the King of Pemecutan, one of three royal houses — Pemecutan, Denpasar and Kesiman — in Denpasar. In 2005, Tjokorda Ngurah Mayun Samirana was installed as the King of Denpasar. And in 2008, IGN Rupawan was crowned as the King of Tabanan.

The most surprising coronation took place in early 2010 when a former model and boy band singer turned politician and religious activist Arya Wekarna was crowned by one of his fans — a self-proclaimed mystic — as the King of Majapahit in Bali.

“It was ludicrous, a man crowned as a king, with no territory, no subjects and no history, a kingdom-less king indeed. The only thing he has is audacity beyond common courtesy,” social columnist Aridus commented.

Noted thinker and writer Aryantha Soetama offered a lighter take on the singer’s coronation.

“They don’t have anything better to do so one day they decided ‘well, I am going to be a king’. After all, you don’t need a license to be a king, there are no legal requirements whatsoever a person must fill to be a king. They can’t run a party because of the costs involved, they can’t be politicians because of the many legal requirements standing in their way. So, they simply become kings because it’s easy.”

King-ship in modern Bali, according to Aryantha, is about looking great without the greatness itself.

With this in mind, there is a huge probability that more and more kings will be crowned in the future.

Soon Bali will also be known as the Island of a Thousand Kings and Zero Kingdom.

— Photos by Agung Parameswara

Hundreds of people dressed in traditional costume flocked the courtyard of Klungkung palace as the court’s high priest Ida Pedanda Gede Putra Tembau of Aan crowned Tjokorda Gde Agung Semaraputra as the new King of Klungkung.

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