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Historically, the Balinese village of Ubud can trace its roots
to as far back as the 8th century. It is documented on ancient
palm leaf scripts that a revered holy man from India by the
name of Rsi Markaneya embarked on a spiritual journey across
Java and eventually came to the island of Bali to spread the
teachings of Hinduism.
It was on his travels that he received a
divine revelation that in Bali he was to bury five precious
metals on a mountain slope where the mother temple of Besakih
now stands today. Along with a group of followers, Rsi Markaneya
was magnetically attracted to a destination located in the
central foothills of the island that radiated light and energy.
This place was Campuhan in Ubud at a junction in the Wos River
and it was here that he felt compelled to build a temple by
the name of Pura Gunung Lebah.
subsequent expeditions around Bali, Rsi Markaneya built a
number of other significant temples and created a shared irrigation
system for the terraced landscape that is still practiced
by farmers today. The formation of the banjar, which is a
village council responsible for community and religious affairs,
was also inspired by this holy man. In essence, it can be
said that Rsi Markaneya is responsible for the foundation
of Balinese Hinduism in it purest form referred to as Agama
Tirta or the religion of holy water.
Since being discovered backing the 8th century, the area
of Campuhan has always been highly regarded by the Balinese
for its immense spiritual powers. Even the term Ubud is derived
from the term ubad, meaning medicine in reference to the traditional
healing properties of the array of plants that randomly grow
here. Generations of Hindu worshippers have made special pilgrimages
to the fork in the Wos River to mediate, bathe and collect
holy water for temple ceremonies and cleansing rituals.
There had always been ties between Java and Bali, but it
was the disintegration of the once mighty Majapahit kingdom
in the 15th century that saw a mass exodus of nobles to Bali.
A new kingdom on the island's east coast called Gelgel was
consequently established and gave sanctuary to many important
ruling families. They brought with them an artistic legacy
and the principles of the caste system.
By the 17th century Bali invariably experienced a rapid emergence
of new kingdoms, including the founding of several royal houses
in Ubud. However, this period also saw much conflict between
the royal clans with supremacy as the ultimate goal. A prince
from Klungkung was sent to create a palace in Sukawati as
a centre of great power and aesthetic beauty. Artisans came
from all over Bali to help in its construction and once completed
many of them chose to stay. Sukawati today is a community
that strongly supports all forms of artistry as well as dance
With the successful establishment of a reigning authority
in Sukawati, palace retainers were then sent in the late 1700's
to secure the area of Ubud. A pair of cousins formed rival
communities in Padang Tegal and further north in the area
of Taman. Following subsequent fighting between these neighbouring
villages the king of Sukawati sent his brothers Tjokorde Ngurah
Tabanan to Peliatan and Tjokorde Tangkeban to Sambahan to
establish palaces with the notion to control these troubled
Despite early feudalistic struggles between the kingdoms
of Peliatan and Mengwi, the two overcame their differences
following a battle that is said to have involved magical powers.
Thereafter, the people of Mengwi moved to help populate Ubud
and during the latter 1800's the entire area began to flourish
with plentiful rice supplies and a booming economy.
By the middle of the 19th century there was a certain anti-Dutch
sentiment brewing within the kingdoms and conflict was still
rife. Mengwi experienced a bitter defeat and all land was
distributed between its aggressors. Several of the battles
that took place were actually fuelled by the Dutch and it
was an unusual time that saw opposing kingdoms suddenly form
The colonizing Dutch authorities chose to start interfering
with the island's politics at the beginning of the 20th century.
Under the leadership of Tjokorde Gede Raka Sukawati, Ubud
came to be known as a sub-regency and then much later in 1981
became a sub-district taking over the administration of 13
neighbourhoods and 7 traditional villages. The district of
Ubud today encompasses all areas within the boundaries of
Tegallalang, Peliatan, Mas and Kedewatan.
Bali saw a significant influx of overseas visitors during
the 1930's.This first wave of tourism was focused in and around
Ubud due to the business confidence of Tjokorde Gede Agung
Sukawati who was proficient in English and Dutch. He had established
a small guest house and his older brother Tjokorde Raka Sukawati,
who lived across the street, took the initiative to welcome
the celebrated artist cum composer Walter Spiers to Ubud to
live and work.
This set a trend for other foreign artists and soon the likes
of Rudolf Bonnet and Willem Hofker arrived to set up easel
and paint. As word of Ubud and its enchanting beauty spread,
the village went on to host a circle of famous faces such
as Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplain, H.G Wells and the recognized
anthropologist Margaret Mead.
The vision to establish a painters association was born in
1936 and saw a collaboration to form the Pita Maha between
Tjokorde Gede Agung, Spies, Bonnet and several local artists.
With the help of the American composer Colin McPhee, who had
built a home along the stunning Sayan Ridge, the group was
responsible for bringing together some of Bali's greatest
artists to teach painting, dance and music to a younger generation.
Ubud developed the reputation as being the cultural pulse
of Bali and that image still stands today.
World War II brought hardship to the island and Ubud suffered
considerably. The Japanese invaded and this was later followed
by a violent struggle against the Dutch for independence.
Indonesian gained its freedom and its first president in 1945,
but some 20 years later a so called 'communist coup' saw thousands
of murders across the archipelago. Many lives were stolen,
especially in Ubud and it is local folk lore that the white
egrets inhabiting the area of Petulu are actually the lost
souls of those who were massacred.
After almost 20 years of uncertainly, tourism resumed in
Ubud during the 1970's when backpackers and hippies set out
to seek new experiences. A steady flow of visitors have since
found themselves captivated by the intense beauty of the landscape
and gracious hospitality of its people. Ubud has managed to
embrace the 21st century with dignity and still retain its
timeless artistry, culture and religion. It is a unique destination
blessed with a strong sense of community and rare spiritual
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