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A new book guides readers into Bali’s rarely seen attractions -- behind the palaces’ walls.
For centuries, palaces have played a very important role in Balinese society as centers of art and culture’s preservation.
During the Dutch era, Bali had eight kingdoms that today have developed into eight regencies and a municipality.
Beyond the eight kingdoms, there were other palaces not recognized as kingdoms by the Dutch, which conquered Bali in a series of bloody battles and puputans (duels to the death).
These kingdoms had their own kings, ministers, military commanders, priests, artisans, painters, weavers and more.
Palaces of Bali — through useful mix of history, descriptions and photographs — describes how palaces are the root of Bali’s civilization through its many roles, from guarding national security and helping the islands become an attractive world tourist destination.
Balinese maestro Nyoman Gunarsa credits the palaces for saving the Balinese language from extinction or being replaced by foreign languages since most of Bali’s population are simple farmers busy working in the fields.
“Not only the language, but other aspects of the culture, such as fine art, dance and Karawitan, could be extinct too because no one cares about these things,” said Gunarsa, the book’s classical art and historical adviser.
“Palaces can be tourism objects because of their greatness and mystical and spiritual factors.”
Bali Governor Mangku Pastika said in his congratulation note on the book that the palaces were bastions of religion and culture, defining and propagating both for centuries.
“The very heart of Bali beats in palaces,” he says.
Penned and published by British author Richard Mann, an avid promoter of Indonesia, the book does not feature all Bali’s palaces but only 12 which are open to tourists.
In opening their doors to visitors, these palaces have found a way of paying for the upkeep of their premises, providing jobs for villagers and continuing their religious, cultural and community roles.
Mann said it took more than a year to produce and prepare the book, claimed as the first ever guide to Bali’s royal palaces open for tourism.
The launch at the Agung Rai Museum of Art in Ubud coincided with the announcement of the first ever Palaces of Bali Festival scheduled for September this year. The festival is expected to attract more visitors to Bali and encourage Bali’s palaces to open up more to visitors by offering more facilities and programs.
“Around the world, many former royal palaces have been brought successfully into the tourism sector, especially in Britain, Europe and India, offering visitors a unique opportunity to experience ‘life behind the palace walls’ as well as creating revenues vital for palace upkeep,” says Mann, who has written, edited and published nearly
90 titles and editions since 1984.
The book touched on many aspects, from pre-Majapahit Bali, the Majapahit kingdom itself as well as Bali’s role in the island and the country’s history until the 1945 Independence Day.
Each palace has its own chapter, with related historical backgrounds, interviews and contact details.
The book offers guidelines for visitors on what they can see and do in the palaces, from making individual visits, enjoying walk-in cultural performances and learning on which palaces which allow guests to stay “behind the palace walls”.
Mann said that after Indonesia’s independence, the kingdoms lost their power but still had palaces to maintain.
“As in India and Europe, tourism is a good way of funding the palaces as well as giving visitors unique insights into Bali’s spirituality, culture and art. I think this initiative is really ‘creative economy’,” he says.
And the palaces are not only a fascinating place for Bali tourists to visit.
British Ambassador Mark Channing said the palaces serve as a reminder of the role that royal families have played over the centuries as well as the respect and importance they continue to enjoy to this day in the traditions and affections of the people.
“Seeing some of the sites themselves, readers will have to agree that these palaces deserve to occupy a prominent place among the most treasured and important. They add hugely to the richness and allure of an already beautiful and distinctive island.”
Palaces of Bali
Author: Richard Mann
Publisher: Gateway Books International, 2012