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The good king of Karangasem

  • Trisha Sertori

    The Jakarta Post

Karangasem | Thu, February 26, 2015 | 07:28 am
The good king of Karangasem Royal heritage: King Putra Agung‘s parents, King Anak Agung Agung Anglurah Karangasem and mother (far right). (Courtesy KITLV and Karangasem Palace)" border="0" height="328" width="512">Royal heritage: King Putra Agung‘s parents, King Anak Agung Agung Anglurah Karangasem and mother (far right). (Courtesy KITLV and Karangasem Palace)

As third in line to the throne of the Karangasem kingdom, Ida AAA Gede Putra Agung was born into a world of pomp, ceremony and rigidity.

“It was very rare to play in the palace. When dad came into the garden we had to sit quietly, so how could we play? Ever since I was very small, I always paid tribute to my father, the king,” says Putra Agung during a stroll through the rooms of his palace.

Open to the public, Karangasem Palace in Amlapura offers a glimpse into a disappearing world.

The king’s private rooms, known as Maskerdam, were a meeting place for heads of state in Dutch colonial times. Thick walls and high ceilings keep the spaces cool and would have offered respite from the heat outdoors.

Within the king’s private compound are pavilions set aside for tooth filing ceremonies and another for priests. Both are heavily carved with Chinese design elements, a testament to the close relationship the former king had with Chinese traders, including opium dealers, explains Putra Agung, pointing to a series of ceramic tiles with the type of bird and flower motifs often seen in Chinese paintings and textiles.

An ancient pair of lychee trees cast welcome shade over walkways. “I ate the fruit from these trees when I was young,” says Putra Agung, walking slowly through the gardens of his childhood.

Chinese influence: Chinese design elements, such as these wall tiles, are seen throughout the palace, attesting to the close relationship between the former king and Chinese traders.(J.B. Djwan)Chinese influence: Chinese design elements, such as these wall tiles, are seen throughout the palace, attesting to the close relationship between the former king and Chinese traders. (J.B. Djwan)
A foreign tourist arrives without warning, demanding the king’s attention. “Where are the toilets?” asks the foreigner, unaware he is speaking to the owner of the palace he is touring. Karangasem Palace is open daily for tours.

With a gentle smile and a nod of his head, the king of Karangasem points the tourist in the right direction, then guffaws delightedly at the man’s faux pas and at being mistaken for a tour guide.

Now 79 years of age and Karangasem’s king in his own right, Putra Agung is today dressed in black denim jeans and a maroon shirt — sartorial simplicity that is a statement of his relaxed view on royalty in a modern world. He became king in 2007 and is the last surviving son of the Karangasem royal household.

Putra Agung lives in very different times to his father. This good and gentle king remembers an early childhood spent in awe of his father who is referred to as the last rajah of Karangasem in a book by the same name.

The Last Rajah of Karangasem: the life and times of Anak Agung Agung Anglurah Karangasem (1887 - 1966) was written by Putra Agung’s daughter and historian AAA Dewi Girindrawardani, along with history professor Adrian Vickers and son-in-law Rodney Holt.

Putra Agung and his brothers and sisters were raised by their mothers, only rarely meeting their father during audiences within Maskerdam.

Changing times: Current king of Karangasem, Ida AAA Gede Putra Agung, dresses casually in jeans and shirt. His royal father lived in the days of pomp and ceremony.(JB Djwan)Changing times: Current king of Karangasem, Ida AAA Gede Putra Agung, dresses casually in jeans and shirt. His royal father lived in the days of pomp and ceremony. (JB Djwan)
“In the palace we had strict morals and ethics. We spoke only Dutch, high Balinese and Melayu. So even those who bathed and took care of us were of the Brahmin caste. We were not free to play, everything had rules to it, even how we sat had rules, so it was very rare to play in the palace,” says Putra Agung, who was born to one of his father’s 12 wives.

“She and two other wives were the only ones allowed to enter Maskerdam. Father would visit the rooms of his wives, but they did not visit him,” says Putra Agung, adding that 12 wives was an unusually small number in Bali at the time.

“Twelve wives, that was not many. Balinese kings had hundreds,” chuckles Putra Agung, adding that he and his many siblings were close to one another but not to their regal father.

“We were not brave enough to be close to dad. Even if dad wanted us for something we went to Maskerdam for an audience with him,” says Putra Agung of a childhood that did not allow for the rambunctious affections of child to father. There was no mad running and jumping into his father’s arms, instead only a solemn bowing of the head.

“With my children I have been a very different sort of dad. There has been more freedom, but our royal family ethics remain. You can’t compare the eras. It depends on the circumstances,” says Putra Agung of the tradition-bound world he grew up in.

“I am also a rajah, but very different. Look how I dress in jeans and a shirt,” says the king in his humble rooms at the palace.

He makes just a few concessions to his position; the kings of Karangasem have always had their own private rooms and while Putra Agung maintains this tradition, much of his personal space has been given over to the joy of his life, a superbly stocked library.

Despite his years, the king who studied history still lectures at Udayana University in Denpasar, where students call him Prof. And it is education that this good man believes is the lynchpin of the nation’s progress in the modern world.

Royal rooms: The royal compound called Maskerdam was once the private domain of Karangasem’s former rajah. It is now open to tourists. (JB Djwan)Royal rooms: The royal compound called Maskerdam was once the private domain of Karangasem’s former rajah. It is now open to tourists. (JB Djwan)
“Our family has always been very interested in education. The royal family stands as a role model for society. We want the people of Karangasem to move forward with the world and education is key in this,” says Putra Agung, pointing out that Karangasem has long been a model of modernity in Bali.

“Karangasem was one of the first cities in Bali to have running water and electricity,” says the scholarly king, who spent most of his life in universities until he became king of Karangasem at 71 years of age.

Visitors welcome: The water pavilions and palace gardens are open to the public.(JB Djwan)

Royal heritage: King Putra Agung'€˜s parents, King Anak Agung Agung Anglurah Karangasem and mother (far right). (Courtesy KITLV and Karangasem Palace)

As third in line to the throne of the Karangasem kingdom, Ida AAA Gede Putra Agung was born into a world of pomp, ceremony and rigidity.

'€œIt was very rare to play in the palace. When dad came into the garden we had to sit quietly, so how could we play? Ever since I was very small, I always paid tribute to my father, the king,'€ says Putra Agung during a stroll through the rooms of his palace.

Open to the public, Karangasem Palace in Amlapura offers a glimpse into a disappearing world.

The king'€™s private rooms, known as Maskerdam, were a meeting place for heads of state in Dutch colonial times. Thick walls and high ceilings keep the spaces cool and would have offered respite from the heat outdoors.

Within the king'€™s private compound are pavilions set aside for tooth filing ceremonies and another for priests. Both are heavily carved with Chinese design elements, a testament to the close relationship the former king had with Chinese traders, including opium dealers, explains Putra Agung, pointing to a series of ceramic tiles with the type of bird and flower motifs often seen in Chinese paintings and textiles.

An ancient pair of lychee trees cast welcome shade over walkways. '€œI ate the fruit from these trees when I was young,'€ says Putra Agung, walking slowly through the gardens of his childhood.

Chinese influence: Chinese design elements, such as these wall tiles, are seen throughout the palace, attesting to the close relationship between the former king and Chinese traders.(J.B. Djwan)Chinese influence: Chinese design elements, such as these wall tiles, are seen throughout the palace, attesting to the close relationship between the former king and Chinese traders. (J.B. Djwan)
A foreign tourist arrives without warning, demanding the king'€™s attention. '€œWhere are the toilets?'€ asks the foreigner, unaware he is speaking to the owner of the palace he is touring. Karangasem Palace is open daily for tours.

With a gentle smile and a nod of his head, the king of Karangasem points the tourist in the right direction, then guffaws delightedly at the man'€™s faux pas and at being mistaken for a tour guide.

Now 79 years of age and Karangasem'€™s king in his own right, Putra Agung is today dressed in black denim jeans and a maroon shirt '€” sartorial simplicity that is a statement of his relaxed view on royalty in a modern world. He became king in 2007 and is the last surviving son of the Karangasem royal household.

Putra Agung lives in very different times to his father. This good and gentle king remembers an early childhood spent in awe of his father who is referred to as the last rajah of Karangasem in a book by the same name.

The Last Rajah of Karangasem: the life and times of Anak Agung Agung Anglurah Karangasem (1887 - 1966) was written by Putra Agung'€™s daughter and historian AAA Dewi Girindrawardani, along with history professor Adrian Vickers and son-in-law Rodney Holt.

Putra Agung and his brothers and sisters were raised by their mothers, only rarely meeting their father during audiences within Maskerdam.

Changing times: Current king of Karangasem, Ida AAA Gede Putra Agung, dresses casually in jeans and shirt. His royal father lived in the days of pomp and ceremony.(JB Djwan)Changing times: Current king of Karangasem, Ida AAA Gede Putra Agung, dresses casually in jeans and shirt. His royal father lived in the days of pomp and ceremony. (JB Djwan)
'€œIn the palace we had strict morals and ethics. We spoke only Dutch, high Balinese and Melayu. So even those who bathed and took care of us were of the Brahmin caste. We were not free to play, everything had rules to it, even how we sat had rules, so it was very rare to play in the palace,'€ says Putra Agung, who was born to one of his father'€™s 12 wives.

'€œShe and two other wives were the only ones allowed to enter Maskerdam. Father would visit the rooms of his wives, but they did not visit him,'€ says Putra Agung, adding that 12 wives was an unusually small number in Bali at the time.

'€œTwelve wives, that was not many. Balinese kings had hundreds,'€ chuckles Putra Agung, adding that he and his many siblings were close to one another but not to their regal father.

'€œWe were not brave enough to be close to dad. Even if dad wanted us for something we went to Maskerdam for an audience with him,'€ says Putra Agung of a childhood that did not allow for the rambunctious affections of child to father. There was no mad running and jumping into his father'€™s arms, instead only a solemn bowing of the head.

'€œWith my children I have been a very different sort of dad. There has been more freedom, but our royal family ethics remain. You can'€™t compare the eras. It depends on the circumstances,'€ says Putra Agung of the tradition-bound world he grew up in.

'€œI am also a rajah, but very different. Look how I dress in jeans and a shirt,'€ says the king in his humble rooms at the palace.

He makes just a few concessions to his position; the kings of Karangasem have always had their own private rooms and while Putra Agung maintains this tradition, much of his personal space has been given over to the joy of his life, a superbly stocked library.

Despite his years, the king who studied history still lectures at Udayana University in Denpasar, where students call him Prof. And it is education that this good man believes is the lynchpin of the nation'€™s progress in the modern world.

Royal rooms: The royal compound called Maskerdam was once the private domain of Karangasem'€™s former rajah. It is now open to tourists. (JB Djwan)Royal rooms: The royal compound called Maskerdam was once the private domain of Karangasem'€™s former rajah. It is now open to tourists. (JB Djwan)
'€œOur family has always been very interested in education. The royal family stands as a role model for society. We want the people of Karangasem to move forward with the world and education is key in this,'€ says Putra Agung, pointing out that Karangasem has long been a model of modernity in Bali.

'€œKarangasem was one of the first cities in Bali to have running water and electricity,'€ says the scholarly king, who spent most of his life in universities until he became king of Karangasem at 71 years of age.

Visitors welcome: The water pavilions and palace gardens are open to the public.(JB Djwan)Visitors welcome: The water pavilions and palace gardens are open to the public. (JB Djwan)

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