The Gamelan Master

Introducing Tjokorda Raka Swastika of the Ubud royal family, a gamelan master who I met in the palace garden to talk about his art.

Gamelan music has intrinsic religious significance and is an integral part of Balinese culture. This short passage from our conversation does not do justice to the art. But for the sake of brevity, we have confined ourselves to presenting it only as an introductory piece so that anyone not conversant with this religious art will begin to understand the complexities of the music.

“I learned Gamelan from a local guru Dewa Nyoman Sura from Pengosekan village, about 5 kilometers from Ubud. In those days, there were no children playing the gamelan. I hung around the musicians and watched them play.

In the 60s, there were only two gamelan groups in Ubud – one belonged to the Ubud Kaja (North) and the other Ubud Kelod (South).

Gamelan is the traditional music of Indonesia (specifically Bali and Java). Gamelan means the traditional ensemble of instruments. For example, in Bali, Kendang (drum), Reong (kettle gong), Gong Kempur (medium gong) and Kemong (kettle gong).

The materials used in the gamelan are metal and wood. Prior to the use of metal, we had bamboo gamelan, as seen in the Gambang Ensemble.

The metal used for instruments is made of the Panca Datu – 5 elements of tin, copper, iron, silver and gold.

Gamelan is played on religious occasions as it is one part of the rituals:

Dewa Yadnya (God ceremony), Resi Yadnya (Prayer ceremony), Manusa Yadnya (Human being ceremony), Pitra Yadnya (Soul ceremony) and Buta Yadnya (Devil ceremony).

Gamelan in Bali is also performed in temples when sacred dances take place. Of course it is played for the performance arts elsewhere.

I have been performing the gamelan for 30 years and have taught students from Australia, Japan, Holland, Denmark and England.

In 1986 I visited Tokyo along with a gamelan group from Ubud. It was for an International Music and Dance Festival. Since then, many Japanese have visited Ubud to study the art. Many have been my students. Three years later, in 1989, I performed in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Holland and Finland. In 2000 I taught gamelan for three months in Sydney. Today there are two gamelan groups in Sydney, one started by the local Balinese community and another by an Australian. I performed at the Summer Festival in Fukuoka, Japan, in 2003.

Presently, I am concentrating on teaching and the future progress of children’s gamelan. The 1999 Bali Arts Festival held in Denpasar saw my students represent the Gianyar team, which won an award.

In 2005 the children group, Cenik Wayah, who were trained by me, represented Gianyar Regency at the Bali Arts Festival and won an award.

Now I am also training women in the art of the gamelan.

If you want to learn more about gamelan, please call me at 08123980111. (MU/BT)

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