Klungkung is one of the smallest districts on Bali, but as a former center of the Gelgel dynasty it is also one of the most important historically. It includes Semarapura city, Goa Lawah and the three Nusa Penida islands.

Bali, Klungkung, Semarapura. The landscape east of Semarapura towards Goa Lawah changes to rice fields and green hills stretching up to Gunung Agung. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Klungkung, Semarapura. The landscape east of Semarapura towards Goa Lawah changes to rice fields and green hills stretching up to Gunung Agung. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

1343 was a particular important year in Balinese history, when the island was conquered by Gajah Mada and the Majapahit empire from East Java.

The mighty Gelgel dynasty, under control of Majapahit and with its seat in Gelgel four km south of today’s Semarapura, had a large influence over the entire island from the 14th to the 17th century.

Bali, Klungkung, Semarapura. If you arrive from Gianyar you will see this big sign, leaving no doubt that you are entering the Klungkung district. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Klungkung, Semarapura. If you arrive from Gianyar you will see this big sign, leaving no doubt that you are entering the Klungkung district. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

When Majapahit’s nobles, soldiers, artists and craftsmen escaped to Bali in 1515 the whole island were flooded by Javanese art and Hindu traditions.

The most powerful of the Gelgel kings was Batu Renggong, who called himself Dalem, also called Dewa Agung (the great God). After taking over the throne in 1550 he launched a military, political and cultural revolution where he conquered all of Bali and sent his troops to West Java, Lombok and Sumbawa. This was a golden age on Bali when dance, drama, music and art flourished. It was also in this period Besakih was built and the first contact with Europeans took place at Kuta in 1597.

Bali, Klungkung, Semarapura. A street named after the great Majapahit general and prime minister Gajah Mada. Many signs here are also written with balinese letters. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Klungkung, Semarapura. A street named after the great Majapahit general and prime minister Gajah Mada. Many signs here are also written with balinese letters. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

The Gelgel dynasty started to loose power in the 17th century, under the rule of Dalem di Made Gelgel lost land (like Lombok and Sumbawa), influence and status. The dynasty was attacked in 1686 by general Gusti Agung Maruti who declared himself as the king. The kings of Badung and Buleleng refused to accept this takeover, and helped de Made’s son Dewa Agung Jambe to kill Maruti and reclaim the throne. Jambe was very superstitious, later he moved the court to Klungkung (Semarapura). He called his new palace Semara Pura, “the palace of the God of love”.

Bali, Klungkung, Goa Lawah. The bat cave. A Shiva temple with shrines guards the entrance. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Klungkung, Goa Lawah. The bat cave. A Shiva temple with shrines guards the entrance. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

The Dutch began their military campaign against Klungkung in 1849. The troops went ashore in Padangbai and marched west to Kusamba. When the queen, Dewa Agung Istri Kanya, heard the enemy was weakened by dysentery she launched a deadly night attack inflicting heavy casualties on the Dutch. The Dutch commander was fatally injured, and peace negotiations ordered the troops back to their ships. They did not return until 60 years later, in 1906 they invaded Denpasar and Tabanan, and in 1908 Dutch warships from Batavia (Jakarta) bombed both Klungkung and Gelgel into submission.

Bali, Klungkung, Semarapura. The Puputan monument, raised in memory of the royal familys collective suicide in 1908. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Klungkung, Semarapura. The Puputan monument, raised in memory of the royal familys collective suicide in 1908. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

King Dewa Agung and 300 of his relatives and followers then chose to commit collective suicide, “puputan”. Dressed in white and only armed with ceremonial knives, keris, they marched against the Dutch rifles. Dewa Agung was killed of the bullets and six of his wives fell over him after having stabbed themselves to death with knives. 108 Balinese died without a single Dutch fatality, today a 28 meter high monument is raised in memory of this incident in the center of Semarapura. Ida Dewa Agung Geg (1896-1965), son of the dead king, survived puputan with a stab in the side and a bullet in the knee. He was exiled to Lombok until 1929, when he was allowed to return with his 40 wives and 100 children.

Bali, Klungkung, Goa Lawah. From the Goa Lawah beach you can see as far as Nusa Penida. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Klungkung, Goa Lawah. From the Goa Lawah beach you can see as far as Nusa Penida. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Klungkung used to be one of Bali’s most productive agricultural regions, but the eruption of Gunung Agung in 1963 destroyed 20 percent of the area and large parts of the population escaped to other islands. The remaining population here today consider themselves to be culturally and socially superior compared to other Balinese, and this is home to the island’s most strict and traditional caste rules.

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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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