Royal Reminiscences

In conversation with Anak Agung Niang Rai, the mother of Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa of the Ubud royal family. Tjokorda Raka was kind enough to act as interpreter. I have faithfully noted her observations, without embellishing the narrative, to keep it simple and straightforward, just like the life Anak has led for the past three quarters of a century.

Anak Agung Niang Rai, who is 75 years old, is from the village of Negara, Batuan, Sukawati. She grew up in the Ubud Palace, helping in the domestic activities in Puri Saran Kauh Ubud. At that time there was no electricity or piped water.

Water had to be carried by women from the nearby spring in Mumbul (next to Mumbul Inn and opposite Casa Luna) to the palace. The spring water was used in ceremonies, for drinking as well as bathing. Firewood collected from the nearby forest was the standard cooking fuel.

After carrying out her domestic duties in the palace, she played with the children and went to bathe in the Mumbul River. On days of religious significance, they bathed in the holy Campuhan River.

The area from Ubud to Campuhan was devoid of any buildings. In fact, lychee trees were in abundance. And so were other fruit trees that lined the rough stone road. Street lighting was absent and people used Sundih (dried coconut leaves tied together and lit). To keep the flame from dying out, the Sundih was waved gently in the air.

Horses and bicycles were the mode of transport. The palace then owned the three cars in existence. A daily bus service between Ubud and Denpasar was owned and operated by a Chinese person from Sukawati village.

The garments worn by women in those days were very short sarongs, more like mini skirts, with nothing on the top. These topless women only covered themselves during religious ceremonies, with a scarf that was tied like a bustier. The kebaya was non-existent.

Some of Anak’s daily food was sweet potato mixed with pink Balinese rice, sweet corn and rice and fruits like wani, a mango that appeared to be white on the outside, which tasted like a cross between an apple and mango. This fruit is rarely found in Bali today.

During the Japanese occupation, Anak remembers how the Balinese made cotton thread on charkas (hand-operated spinning wheels), just like Mahatma Gandhi had done. The thread that was produced was forcibly taken by the Japanese soldiers and shipped back to their homeland.

She married Ida Tjokorda Gde Ngurah at the age of 15 and gave him three children: Tjokorda Istri Oka, Tjokorda istri Rai and Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa. Anak fondly remembers the food she used to cook for her husband – duck satay, ceramcam that was spicy duck meat and vegetable soup and, of course, the famous smoked duck. Unlike today, babi guling was prepared only for religious ceremonies or big feasts.

Her husband of the Ubud royal family was a poet, painter and magician. He was well known in Balinese literary circles as the man who wrote the famous Aji Pliyon (about the travels of the soul from death to paradise). Balinese read this book when someone in the family passes away.

Anak read two stanzas from the Aji Pliyon.

First Stanza

The purpose of every a great human being is to make others happy.

I am a limited person; I have a dream to achieve this purpose in this lifetime.

Fifth stanza

We talk about the great soul when its comes out of the cage (body)

It has long been imprisoned in the cage

Now, with death, it is released from this cage

Along with his college friends Gousti Kompiang and Gousiti Nyoman Lempad (who was an architect as well a designer of barongs), he built the famous Ubud Lotus Temple in 1952, according to the ancient Balinese architectural code – Asta Kosala Kosali. Today it stands as mute testimony to his vision of Ubud as a centre for spiritually, ceremonies and the creative arts.

Anak’s husband promoted Legong and Topeng dances by hosting them in the palace. Comedy theatre like the puppet wayang and the traditional Arja theatre was a regular feature of Ubudian entertainment.

Ida Tjokorda Gde Ngurah expired on January 1, 1967. The body was kept in the palace in a Bali Gede – a special building that is seen in every Balinese compound. The body was kept here until August 2, 1967, when it was cremated.

Anak Agung Niang Rai is the last of the old guard that stood for all the good and wholesome things that represented Balinese culture: the simplicity of life, the reverence for the environment and celebration of life in its purest forms. (MU/BT)

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