Gianyar, the richest district on Bali

Traditionally Gianyar has been the richest district on Bali, today about half the population here works in the tourist industry. Gianyar city is the administrative center of the district, while Ubud is the cultural capital and has the largest population.

Bali, Gianyar. Some of the many large statues in this area. Close to the center of Gianyar city. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Gianyar. Some of the many large statues in this area. Close to the center of Gianyar city. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Gianyar city is located about 23 km from Denpasar, and is a junction for north and east bound traffic. Around Bedulu, between the Petanu and Pakrisan rivers, is a 10 km long belt of land known as “the land between the rivers”.

Bali, Gianyar, Gunung Kawi. An 11th century temple complex close to Tampaksiring. The eastern part of Gunung Kawi. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Gianyar, Gunung Kawi. An 11th century temple complex close to Tampaksiring. The eastern part of Gunung Kawi. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

This is home to some of Bali’s most sacred sites like Gunung Kawi, Tirta Empul, Goa Gajah and Yeh Pulu. All these monuments indicate that Gianyar was a mighty kingdom already one thousand years ago. However some Balinese, who do not have any knowledge of the pre-Hindu time, still believe that the old monuments were carved by the mythical giant Kebo Iwo.

Bali, Gianyar. The huge baby monument where the roads to Ubud and Gianyar splits. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Gianyar. The huge baby monument where the roads to Ubud and Gianyar splits. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

According to legends large battles have taken place in this district between the gods and the evil king Mayadanawa of Bedulu. The details are written in the Balinese epic “Usana Bali” poem, originating from the 16th century. Tirta Empul was created by the god Indra in order to wake up dead warriors. The blood of the dead became the Petanu river (Petanu meaning “the cursed”), and for more than 1.000 years the water from the river was not used for drinking, bathing or irrigation of rice fields. A special ceremony in 1928 ended this curse, and the god’s victory over evil is celebrated every year during the Galungan festival.

Bali, Gianyar, Tirtha Empul. Pura Tirtha Empul temple close to Tampaksiring. The holy water pours into a pool. The water is said to have magical powers, and all the water for cremations on Bali is taken from this spring. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Gianyar, Tirtha Empul. Pura Tirtha Empul temple close to Tampaksiring. The holy water pours into a pool. The water is said to have magical powers, and all the water for cremations on Bali is taken from this spring. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

For a period prior to the 18th century the Gianyar district was split between the Klungkung, Mengwi, Badung and Bangli kingdoms. At the end of the 18th century, after a defeat for the armies of Karangasem (see Amlapura), the king of Klungkung lost much of his influenc. The ruler of Gianyar city took advantage of this, and by war and deceit he became the ruler of a new large kingdom which also included neighboring states. He took the name Dewa Manggis (“sweet God”) after the village in Klungkung where he was born.

Bali, Gianyar. Administration building, Balinese style. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Gianyar. Administration building, Balinese style. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Several wars followed between Dewa Manggis and his sons on one side and the other kingdoms on Bali. When facing defeat for the allied kingdoms of Klungkung, Badung and Bangli in 1880 they turned to the Dutch for assistance. The Dutch however was too busy with the war in Aceh, and Dewa Manggis and his family were taken prisoners. Two of the sons escaped from Klungkung in 1889 and reestablished their kingdom.

Bali, Gianyar, Ubud. Rice paddies close to Ubud. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Gianyar, Ubud. Rice paddies close to Ubud. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

The Dutch colonial army finally arrived to protect Gianyar the next year, which practically meant a total annexation of Gianyar. In return Gianyar was spared when the Dutch fought to take control of the remaining southern Bali. The last king of Gianyar, Agung Ngurah Agung (1892-1960), ruled from 1912 till 1943, when the Japanese sent him in exile to Lombok. His son Anak Agung was an accomplished linguist who after the war served the Indonesian government as interior minister and later as ambassador to Belgium and France. From 1962 to 1966 he was put in jail by president Sukarno, under Suharto’s rule he became ambassador in Austria.

Bali, Gianyar, Ubud. On the market in Ubud you can by everything from souvenirs to fruit and vegetables. (Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Gianyar, Ubud. On the market in Ubud you can by everything from souvenirs to fruit and vegetables. (Bjorn Grotting)

Even if Gianyar is only seven percent of Bali’s land area it is the most important region for cultural tourism, mainly because of Ubud and the big tourist attractions located in the district. About half of the population is involved in tourism, the other half mainly in agriculture. This is a center for a variety of crafts, like weaving of ikat (“endek” in Balinese), woodcarving and stone carving (see also Mas, Ubud, Batubulan and Tampaksiring).

Bali, Gianyar. Administration building in Gianyar city. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Gianyar. Administration building in Gianyar city. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

In Gianyar city you can see the old palace, Puri Gianyar, which was saved due to Gianyar’s cooperation with the Dutch. It was destroyed during an earthquake in 1917 when Gunung Agung had a major eruption, and restored around 1920. This is one of the best maintained palaces on Bali. Descendants from the royal family still live inside, foreigners are normally not allowed to enter. The city has many shops were you can buy different crafts produced in the region. There are few hotels here, most visitors only stay here during a day visit.

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Bjørn Grøtting

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Photographer based in Norway. See a collection of my best photos in the portfolio. Licensing of images is done through Photoshelter or alamy.
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