Ubud has been connected to Batur for centuries. One of its most iconic temples is part of a subak irrigation network that the author calls “a kind of spiritual/hydrological supply chain” that links back to the watershed of Batur.

By Graeme MacRae

If you look over the bridge at Campuan, you’ll see a big temple. It used to be a very beautiful temple. Now it is a very big, grand temple. Every 210 days, like most other temples, it has an anniversary ceremony (odalan). This just happened, and they say it always rains when there is an odalan at Pura Gunung Lebah (and so it did). Gunung means mountain and lebah means below. Combined they form a very Indonesian kind of paradox or riddle which has several meanings. One of them is a direct reference to the (lower) Mt Batur within the crater of the (higher) Mt. Batur. The big temple Pura Batur on the rim of the crater was originally also down in the crater. Pura Gunung Lebah is a kind of spiritual outpost (pasimpangan) of Pura Batur. It is also part of a kind of spiritual/hydrological supply-chain that links the little shrines in every ricefield to Pura Batur. Making offerings at Gunung Lebah is the next best thing to making them at Batur. All around Ubud you’ll find temples with names like Taman Sari or Gunung Sari: they are all pasimpangan of Pura Batur.

20160629_180443Pura Gunung Lebah during recent ceremonies

Mount Batur seems a long way from Ubud and when you get there it’s a different Bali. But they are getting closer. As Ubud builds taller, Batur sinks lower, as the black sand of the crater is trucked out and turned into concrete. But Ubud is connected to Batur in many other ways, in fact Ubud would not be what it is today without Batur.

The first “king” (admittedly a slightly inflated term) of Ubud was from Peliatan, but he was brought back from exile in the crater of Batur, where he was found sitting under a tree at Kedisan. His palace, the original Puri Ubud, was a little way uphill from the present one and its main temple was called Batur Sari. His lineage was replaced by the ancestors of the present palace in the mid-1800s (another story).

Puri Ubud began as a branch of Puri Peliatan, which was itself a branch of the kingdom of Sukawati. Sukawati was founded by a prince from Klungkung who earnt his kingdom (“from the mountains to the sea”) by using a magical weapon to shoot out of the sky a dangerous magician called Balian Batur (from guess where?) who was making trouble for everyone down in south Bali.

Ubud was a nowhere kind of place with a low-ranking branch palace until the 1870s when its leader surprised everybody by successfully defending territory along the Ayung river west of Ubud against an attack from the much bigger kingdom of Mengwi. His name? Tjokorda Rai Batur. Why Batur? It depends who you ask. The official palace version links his name to the power of a magical kris from Batur which belongs at Pura Gunung Lebah (a longer story) and is to this day one of the sacred heirlooms (pusaka) of Puri Ubud. But a more convincing explanation, from someone with no vested interest, was that his mother was a girl from Batur, who lived in Tegallalang and sold leaves in the Ubud market, and to whom his father (the king) took a fancy.

A decade later, Ubud was involved in a more serious, and very complicated set of wars, which revolved around the rise of Puri Negara, another branch of Puri Sukawati about halfway between Ubud and Denpasar. Negara were advancing uphill and Ubud were losing ground to them (the name of the downhill part of Peliatan, Banjar Kalah is said to refer to this loss). Ubud needed help and they asked for it and they got it. What sort of help and from whom? It depends who you ask, but the most convincing version is that it came from Batur, in the form of a small army of 66 men, but who had the power to appear as thousands (bau siu). They also brought military hardware of two kinds – conventional guns and a magical kris, which has also become a pusaka of Puri Ubud.

With this help from Batur, Ubud weathered the storm and eventually defeated the army of Negara (an even longer story) in 1891, in what was then (and until recently) ricefields around Lodtunduh. Puri Negara was looted and destroyed totally. Ubud, along with Peliatan and Tegallalang, took possession of its extensive lands, which became the basis of Puri Ubud’s power and wealth ever since. Among the loot from Negara were stone rice mortars and even small buildings which are still in some Ubud homes now. But the biggest prize was a huge gong (gede) whose deep sonorous tones you can still hear at ceremonies at Pura Batur. Why did it end up in Batur? (It depends who you ask, but) according to Pura Batur, it is an enduring symbol of the dependence of Ubud on Batur.

120 years later, Puri Ubud still send offerings to ceremonies at Pura Batur, but now Ubud also depends on the sand and rock of Batur to build a different kind of kingdom. Each one of those little piles of sand you have to walk around is a gunung lebah.

totw-59a-1024x288“As Ubud builds taller, Batur sinks lower…”


Graeme MacRae, an anthropologist from Massey University, New Zealand,  first visited in Ubud in 1977. He lived here with his family for 18 months in 1993-6. Graeme did his PhD thesis based on Ubud research: “Economy, Ritual & History in a Balinese Tourism Town” at the University of Auckland, 1997.You will find most of Graeme MacRae’s writings at http://graememacrae.wordpress.com


feature photo shows Mt Batur in the foreground with it’s ‘sub-crater’ on its right flank, and in the background Mt Abang and Mt Agung.

all images ©Rio Helmi