A large crafts village northeast of Celuk, 14 kilometers southwest of Gianyar, and 15 kilometers northeast of Denpasar. Many Chinese have settled here, so Sukawati is a flourishing market town, now nearly indistinguishable from neighboring Batuan. Also the home of I Wayang Wija, one of Bali’s top ‘dalang’. A produce market, with cheap coffee, takes place every morning in the town center. Park in the Art Market parking lot on the highway (Jalan Raya Sukawati), then walk around. An excellent little place to eat is Depot Selecta Sukawati, a Chinese-run ‘warung’ beside the Art Market where the Balinese themselves eat. Good, inexpensive dishes: Chinese omelets, ‘mie kuah’, Chicken ‘nasi campur’ and iced drinks. It’s easy to meet people there. During the village’s ‘odalan’, there are up to three processions per day (one for each banjar) for four days in a row in which girls in long trailing dresses walk from Sukawati’s striking temples to a nearby holy spring.
Sukawati was a center of power and arts during the Dalem dynasty in the early part of the 18th century. Legend has it the town came under the spell of Ki Balian Batur, an evil sorcerer. In his attempts to defend the kingdom, the raja of Mengwi sought assistance from I Dewa Agung Anom, the son of Dewa Agung of Klungkung. Using powerful weapons from the court at Klungkung, they soundly defeated the wicked man. Ki Balian Batur’s name lives on in the name of the nearby hamlet of Rangkan (“Place of the Evildoer”).
I Dewa Agung Anom set about establishing a kingdom along the lines of the grandiose Majapahit of East Java, bringing from Klungkung a whole company of high-bred dancers and musicians who entertained the raja on the lavish grounds and gardens of his palace. So sweet and intoxicating were the sounds of the ‘gamelan’ wafting from the great gilded ‘bale’ that the populace gave the palace the name sukahatine, meaning “my heart’s delight,” which eventually evolved into Sukawati.
Although I Dewa Agung Anom’s reign was long, who was to succeed him was eventually thrown into question. Tormented that his sons were ill-suited to rule, he declared that when he died whichever son dare take the corpse’s tongue into his mouth would inherit the kingdom. Upon his death, the raja’s body became so decomposed that none of his sons were willing to perform the repulsive task. However, when a close relative, the raja of Gianyar, stepped forward and took the hideous tongue into his mouth, the corpse immediately shrank to normal size and began to give off a pleasant aroma.
Soon after, the disgraced heirs of the kingdom were defeated in war by the armies of Gianyar, and the palace was abandoned. But Sukawati’s royal legacy explains why the village still sponsors preeminent dance and Topeng troupes and is the home of famous tukang prada (makers of gold painted umbrellas and costumes) and tukang wadah (builders of cremation towers). Sukawati has also been credited with creating the modern form of Legong dance, which features two prepubescent girls.
Sukawati’s complex of temples is only rivaled by Besakih. Pura Penataran Agung in the center of Sukawati is sacred to members of the royal houses of the surrounding areas since it was the highest ranking. Destroyed in the 1917 quake, the temple has since been rebuilt to a smaller scale. Next door, in Pura Kawitan Dalem Sukawati, check out the panel carvings of Tantri fables. In the northeast part of town is Pura Desa with its huge ‘candi bentar’.
Dalang and Wayang Kulit
Sukawati’s 25 or so ‘dalang’ and their troupes regularly win the island’s Grand Puppeteer title, because, it is said, of the potent ‘taksu’ shrine in Sukawati’s ‘pura dale’ before which the shadow puppeteers appeal for power. On Bali, the status of ‘dalang’ is almost equal to that of priests. The town’s most renowned are I Wayan Nartha, I Wayan Wija, Ganjreng and the brilliant gender ‘wayang’ performer I Wayan Loceng, who is an expert in all aspects of shadow puppetry (pewayangan).
Shops all over Bali sell souvenir-quality ‘wayang kulit’, but in Sukawati you can buy the real thing. Wija, the popular ‘dalang’ who lives in Banjar Babakan has developed a theater based on the Tantri fables, having created an utterly original set of leather animal puppets. In this neighborhood’s puppeteer workshops prices are depending on the size, quality, and complexity of the carved, punched, and brightly painted ‘wayang kulit’, made from high-grade cow or buffalo hide.
Ata baskets (called ato here) show the same detail and quality yet are offered at cheaper starting prices than in Tenganan, where they are supposedly made (shopowners here say, simply, that ata come from Karangasem). Kios Adi Putra, Jalan Raya Sukawati, on the north side of Pasar Sukawesi, has a wide selection of these extraordinarily durable baskets, such as ‘copot’ baskets from Lombok. Also sold are large, attractively patterned lontar-palm baskets tinted with natural brown, black and white dyes, which are used by market women to carry goods.
Sukawati also produces woven bamboo baskets, bamboo bird cages, colorfully painted woodcarvings, miniature ‘jukung’ and ornate long-handled temple umbrellas. Sukawati is also the windchime-making capital of Bali. For first-class, fairly priced, custom-made gold- and silversmithing, visit I Nyoman Sadia at Jalan Sersan Wayan Pugig 5, just off the main road in Banjar Babakan in the north end of town. Nyoman takes one or two weeks for delivery. At the ‘bale banjar’ on the left side of the road, turn right down a steep hill, then east 200 meters down an unpaved road. His workshop is on the left.
Sukawati Art Market
Opposite the ‘pasar’ is the two-story Art Market (also called Pasar Seni), a crowded warren’s nest of stalls selling woodcarvings, textiles, clothes (attractive batik shirts), curios, paintings, stone statues, dance costumes, and temple accessories like gilded umbrellas and bamboo flutes. A lot of flimsy junk and cheap souvenirs, so when bargaining keep your sense of humor. The prices are already very good. To save money, art shop owners and hawkers from all over Bali come here to buy articles in their original state then finish them.
Vicinity of Sukawati
North of the market, after the police station, is a side road to the left that leads to Puaya, about one kilometer from the main road, a production center for ‘wayang kulit’ made from hide, topeng masks, traditionally painted dance costumes and theater ornaments, and dolls made of old Chinese coins. A muddy but still satisfying walk in the rainy season is from Sukawati’s 14-kilometers milestone, near the ‘pasar’. Take the dirt road east to Banjar Delod Pangkung, a traditional village of walled compounds and small thatched shrines. From here continue east to the village of Banjar Babakan, famous for its puppetmasters.
East beyond the ‘banjar’ the path leads through a cold, dark bamboo forest. Carry on over the bamboo bridge spanning the Tukad Palak River, over another bamboo bridge, then past bathing places, fields of ‘alang-alang’, peaceful ‘subak’ temples, and a rice hulling station until you reach the amazing 20-meter-high Tegenungan Waterfall. After the hike, bathe in the public bath of Pura Musen, the river temple of Belangsinga village. The path ends up in Belangsinga where you pick up the asphalt road to Blahbatuh between Denpasar and Gianyar.
Finally, there’s an almost deserted beach, Purnama, only four kilometers off the main road, where no one will ask you where you come from or if you want to buy anything. Get there by either walking or hiring a ride on the back of a motorcycle. This beach has jet-black sand and is perfect for sunbathing.