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The Life of a Balinese Temple

The Life of a Balinese Temple: Artistry, Imagination, and History in a Peasant Village

Hildred Geertz
Illustrations by Sandra Vitzthum
Copyright Date: 2014
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  • Book Info
    The Life of a Balinese Temple
    Book Description:

    Should a temple be seen as a work of art, its carvers as artists, its worshipers as art critics and patrons? What is a temple (and its art) to the people who make and use it? Noted anthropologist Hildred Geertz attempts to answer these and other questions in this unique look at transformations in material culture and social relations over time in a village temple in Bali. Throughout Geertz offers insightful glimpses into what the statues, structures, and designs of Pura Désa Batuan convey to those who worship there, deepening our understanding of how a village community evaluates workmanship and imagery. Following an introduction to the temple and villagers of Batuan, Geertz explores the problematics of the Western concept of "art" as a guiding framework in research. She goes on to outline the many different kinds of work—ideational as well as physical—undertaken in connection with the temple and the social institutions that enable, constrain, and motivate their creation. Finally, the "art-works" themselves are presented, set within the intricate sociocultural contexts of their making. Using the history of Batuan as the main framework for discussing each piece, Geertz looks at the carvings from the perspective of their makers, each generation occupying a different social situation. She confronts concepts such as "aesthetics," "representation," "sacredness," and "universality" and the dilemmas they create in field research and ethnographic writing. Recent temple carvings from the tumultuous and complex period that followed the expulsion of the Dutch and the increasing globalization and commercialization of Balinese society demonstrate yet again that any anthropology of art must also be historical.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6481-1
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Terms, Names, and Spelling
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  6. Part I. Work

    • CHAPTER ONE A Temple and an Anthropologist
      (pp. 3-12)

      The evening of the first full day I spent in Batuan, a large village in south Bali, I was taken to see a dance performance at the temple of the village (Pura Désa) by four girls from the household in which I had rented a room. The temple was on a slight rise on the northern edge of the village, on a dirt road with food-peddlers’ stalls along it, strung with dim, bare-bulbed electric lights and kerosene lanterns. A large cement-floored, tile-roofed, open dance pavilion stood outside the gate of the temple.

      When we arrived the show had already begun...

    • CHAPTER TWO Those Who Carry the Temple on Their Heads
      (pp. 13-34)

      The people who built and decorated the temple called Pura Désa Batuan—its “owners,” as they say—live in the village of Batuan and have a special particular tie to its gods. Its architecture and carvings were the product of tight and complex collaboration among them all.

      In the 1920s and 1930s, when the greatest part of the temple rebuilding was accomplished, there were probably only about a thousand adult men and women available for this work. No one was brought in from outside the village. How the artisans were trained and rewarded, how the images of the future temple...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Purposes of Pura Désa Batuan
      (pp. 35-74)

      Why were the stone carvings of Pura Désa Batuan made the way they were? Why were some of the walls and gateways so elaborately decorated that I was easily led to label the works in the temple “art”? What purposes were fulfilled by the manner of their making? What were the members of the temple doing within it, and how did these activities affect the making and arranging of the temple’s carvings? Answers would be background information that is crucial to any interpretation of their meanings or evaluation of their appeal. Understanding such activities and the indigenous ideas associated with...

  7. Part II: Works

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Age of the Balinese Rajas (before 1908)
      (pp. 77-100)

      With this chapter and its sequels, I shift from an examination of general cultural intentions that may guide acts of artistry and imagination to a study of specific artworks selected—for the moment at least—as those material artifacts that might fit with Western notions of what might be at home within an art museum. The particularity of these artifacts calls out for historical research into the circumstances of their making, in both their immediate contexts and also their wider societal horizons.

      I have tried to find out what has happened to each of these carvings—when they were first...

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Age of the Dutch Rajas (1908–1942)
      (pp. 101-138)

      Two earthquakes, one geological and the other social, shook the temple at the beginning of the twentieth century. The first initiated a period of renovation (even, perhaps, a re-imaging) of the physical temple. The second, the Dutch occupation of Bali, began a much longer and in the end more drastic series of transformations of Balinese society, with perhaps even greater consequences for the temple. At first a mere quiver of the ground, this social seismic movement did not reach its convulsive climax until the 1960s. Its reverberations are still felt today.

      When the Dutch conquered South Bali (1906–1908), they...

    • CHAPTER SIX Forms, Meanings, and Pleasures
      (pp. 139-172)

      By 1936 the people of Batuan had rebuilt the main elements of their royal palace for the gods. They had restored and redecorated their main altars and had created two great new gateways and walls on the south side of the temple. From a ritual perspective, the makers had completed the most important aspects of the restoration as they saw it. After 1936, the people of Batuan were to make few major modifications of their temple, confining themselves to many additions of detail, small changes at least if compared to what they had done in the decades immediately after the...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Age of the Last of the Dutch Rajas (1948–1950)
      (pp. 173-190)

      The world upheaval of World War II had major consequences felt all the way down to Batuan. It brought about the end of the Dutch colonial dominance and the acceleration of the entry of the rest of the world into Bali. The changes in Batuan were slow and confusing at first, but rapid and extensive by the 1990s. By the end of the twentieth century the transformative new practices and ideas were being accepted, taken advantage of, and even expedited by members of the village.

      Internal political forces for independence already in motion before the war within the Dutch East...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Age of Freedom (1950–1967)
      (pp. 191-202)

      For nearly twenty years after 1954 little or no new carving was done in Pura Désa Batuan. Minor repairs were made and all ceremonies carried out, but it appears that no larger projects were undertaken, mainly, as far as I can tell, because of a major crisis within the temple community, one that was so serious it nearly came to violence. This conflict had its roots in the new social forces at work: increased education, growing belief in egalitarianism and against royalty, and increasing expansion of social horizons out of the local community.

      In political terms the period I call...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Age of the Tourists (1966–1995)
      (pp. 203-240)

      During the period when I was doing this research in Bali, primarily in the 1980s, political speakers were calling that time by a variety of terms. They would speak proudly ofjaman melek(the age of awakening),jaman pengertian(the age of understanding), andjaman kemajuan(the age of progress). Or they would orate aboutjaman orde baru(the age of the New Order), following President Suharto’s slogan of the Orde Baru, and, in the same spirit, aboutjaman pembangunan(the age of economic development).

      But most commonly, ordinary people called itjaman turis-turis(the age of the tourists). All...

  8. Afterword
    (pp. 241-244)

    I stopped in at Pura Désa Batuan in July 2000 to check a few last details, and I met the latestbendésa.A young man, he was yet another art shop owner, a relative of I Regug. He said he remembered watching me taking notes in the temple and talking with his uncle when he was a schoolboy. He readily gave me permission to take some more photos and then asked me to help him make a brochure in English to hand out to tourists. He had read an article I had published in 1986 in theBali Postabout...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 245-266)
  10. Glossary
    (pp. 267-276)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-284)
  12. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 285-286)
  13. Index
    (pp. 287-292)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 293-296)