I know that our American friends have just celebrated their Memorial Day during which they honor their servicemen and those who have fought for their country. During a visit to Kerta Gosa, Bali, I came across a very different kind of memorial monument. It was not to honor their heroes and victorious warriors but to remember their honorable defeat and annihilation.
Kerta Gosa was built on 1686 by the First King of Klungkung, Ida I Dewa Agung Jambe as part of his palace in Klungkung that was called Semara Pura which means ‘A holy place for love and beauty’. Kerta Gosa consists of two buildings (Bale akerta gosa and Bale Kambang) set within a garden and lake complex called Taman Gili. The former functioned as a Court of Justice and the latter which was beautifully positioned in the centre of the gardens, functioned as a meeting place or an audience hall for the King. It is also called the Floating Hall as it is surrounded by a lake.
Both these buildings have elaborately decorated ceilings consisting of panels painted in the two-dimensional “wayang” or puppet style and have been called Bali’s Sistine Chapel. The paintings centre round the journey of Bima Swarga through heaven and hell to try to rescue and redeem his parent’s soul. In turn though, it reminded convicts awaiting trial the kind of suffering and punishments that await them in hell. Some of these are quite grotesque.
Just across the road from Kerta Gosa is another all together different monument. It is called the Puputan monument and it and the painting below remembers the tragic end of the kingdom. Puputan refers to the suicidal last stand of the local defenders in the face of overwhelming odds.
Those that could would die fighting but others including women would ritually commit suicide rather than be subject to rule by foreign conquerors. A number of notable puputans occured in Bali between 1906-1908. Such a disaster happened at Klungkung Palace on 18th April 1908 when faced with invading Dutch soldiers equipped with modern firepower. The battle was completely one-sided and several thousands were killed.
This is the ugly side of colonialisation and imperialism and its human costs to the practically defenceless local populations and this too should never be forgotten.