From the 16th century until the beginning of this century, Klungkung was the royal capital of Bali, earned by a certain mystique rather than by its size and economic clout.
From the 14th century to the 17th century, the Gelgel dynasty, governed from Gelgel, four km south of present-day Klungkung, played a major role in government and diplomacy, exerting a pervading influence over the whole island. This was the Golden Age of Bali, when dance, drama, music, and painting flourished.
The last Majapahit king, buckling under the onslaught of Islam on Java, fled Java to set up court in Gelgel around 1550. The Brahmans and Ksatriyas of the court commenced to divide Bali into a number of kingdoms, administered by relatives and generals. The Javanese-Hindu cultural influence emanating from here laid the foundation for Bali's unique religion and society.
The greatest of the Gelgel dynasty kings was Batu Renggong, who called himself Dalem. After assuming the throne in 1550, he launched a military, political, and cultural renaissance, conquering Bali and sending roving bands of Balinese troops into large areas of East Java and the islands of Lombok and Sumbawa.
Indonesia's first contact with Europeans occurred under Dalem's reign, when three Dutch ships put in near Kuta in 1597. Also dating from this critical era are the magnificent old courthouse, floating pavilion, and gardens of Klungkung.
During Dalem's reign the Brahman priest Nirantha arrived on the island, assuming the position of the court high priest and exerting a considerable influence on arts and literature. Besakih became Bali's state temple and the abode of royal ancestors.
In the 17th century the brilliance of the Gelgel court began to flicker. Under the reign of Dalem di Made the dynasty steadily lost land, power, and status. Between 1650 and 1686 a power struggle broke out between two brothers over who was to succeed. Finally, an ambitious general, Gusti Agung Maruti, launched an attack on Gelgel in 1686 and proclaimed himself raja.
The kings of Badung and Buleleng, refusing to accept Maruti's sovereignty, helped the rightful Majapahit descendant regain his throne in 1705. Five years later, for superstitious reasons, a new capital was built in Klungkung a few kilometers to the north.
Klungkung's first king, Jambe, was the first to use the title Dewa Agung ("Great King"). The first major dynastic genealogy was compiled by this court in 1819. The Klungkung court also created new art forms, such as 'arja' and the 'geguritan' poetic form, and held elaborate state rituals to assert its status as Bali's spiritual capital.
The Dutch military campaign against Klungkung began in 1849. Troops landed at Padangbai and marched as far as Kusamba. Hearing the enemy's ranks were stricken by dysentery, the virgin queen Dewa Agung Istri Kanya launched a deadly night attack, inflicting heavy casualties on the Dutch and fatally wounding the Dutch commander. A peace settlement was negotiated by the wily Danish trader Mads Lange and the next day the Dutch troops were ordered back to their ships. Thus the conquest of south Bali was postponed for another 60 years.
As a result of increasing conflicts in political and trade matters between the Balinese raja and the Dutch, a full scale Dutch invasion of the south was mounted in 1906, obliterating the royal houses of Denpasar and Tabanan. In April 1908 Dutch warships arrived from Batavia and both Klungkung and Gelgel were bombarded into submission. Dewa Agung Jambe and 300 of his relatives and followers chose collective suicide (puputan) over the colonial yoke.
Clad in white and armed only with 'kris', the royal retinue marched straight into Dutch rifles. Dewa Agung was shot down and six of his wives stabbed themselves to death, falling over his body. When the smoke cleared, 108 Balinese had died without the loss of a single Dutch soldier.
Today, across the road from the Kerta Gosa, a monument commemorates this ghastly event.
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