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The Life of a Balinese Temple

Artistry, Imagination, and History in a Peasant Village

Hildred Geertz

Publication Year: 2004

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii-viii

Every time I returned to Bali, some of my understandings of Balinese conceptions (of life, of gods, of temples) proved wrong or distorted. Many of these new insights concerned details of word usage, customary practices, and novel acts, but occasionally they forced major reorientations in my thinking. As a result of these...

Terms, Names, and Spelling

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xv

This book is an attempt to think about the anthropology of “art” through the tangled particulars of the stone carvings of a certain village temple on the island of Bali, a place known for its exuberance of art forms, energetic communal life, and religious complexity...

Part I. Work

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1. A Temple and an Anthropologist

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pp. 3-11

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...

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2. Those Who Carry the Temple on Their Heads

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pp. 13-33

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...

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3. The Purposes of Pura D

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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...

Part II. Works

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4. The Age of the Balinese Rajas (before 1908)

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pp. 77-99

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...

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5. The Age of the Dutch Rajas (1908–1942)

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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...

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6. Forms, Meanings, and Pleasures

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pp. 139-171

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...

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7. The Age of the Last of the Dutch Rajas (1948–1950)

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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...

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8. The Age of Freedom (1950–1967)

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pp. 191-202

For nearly twenty years after 1954 little or no new carving was done in Pura D

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9. The Age of the Tourists (1966–1995)

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pp. 203-239

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 of jaman melek (the age of awakening), jaman pengertian (the age of understanding), and jaman kemajuan (the age of progress). Or they would orate about...


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pp. 241-244


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pp. 245-265


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pp. 267-275


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pp. 277-284

Illustration Credits

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p. 285


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pp. 287-292

E-ISBN-13: 9780824864811
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824825331

Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 607452333
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Life of a Balinese Temple

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Batuan (Indonesia) -- Religious life and customs.
  • Architecture -- Indonesia -- Batuan.
  • Batuan (Indonesia) -- Social life and customs.
  • Art, Balinese -- Indonesia -- Batuan.
  • Temples -- Indonesia -- Batuan.
  • Balinese (Indonesian people) -- Indonesia -- Batuan -- Rites and ceremonies.
  • Balinese (Indonesian people) -- Indonesia -- Batuan -- Religion.
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