Category Archives: Murni

Interview with Ubud’s Leading Lady

Interview with Ubud’s Leading LadyInterview with Ubud’s Leading Lady

Published 27 November 2017

Interview with Ubud’s Leading Lady
Murni in the garden of Murni’s Houses.

Interview with Ubud’s Leading Lady:  Murni is a unique and fast moving Balinese lady who knows how to get things done. She has a contagious smile and a genuine passion for life. FRV had a chat recently while staying at Murni’s Houses in her home town of Ubud.

FRV: They call you the ‘Ibu of Ubud’ … What does ‘Ibu of Ubud’ mean?

Murni: It actually means ‘Mother of Ubud’. There are in fact many Ibus of Ubud and I’m just one of them.

If you had all the money and time in the world, what would you be doing right now?

I’d probably be doing the same things that I’m doing now.

What is that?

I try to create beautiful spaces filled with beautiful objects. After moving from Sanur in 1974 where I had four shops on the beach, I set up Ubud’s first real restaurant just beside the bridge in Campuhan. That was 43 years ago and I’m still running it! I’ve filled it with Asian tribal art pieces I’ve collected over the years, especially in the Lounge Bar, where people often have a drink before dinner or liqueurs afterwards.

Have you always been a collector?

It’s very difficult to be just a collector as the pieces are increasingly rare and expensive, so inevitably you end up being a dealer as well. You try and get better and better examples and sell the others. It’s been very helpful having a tribal art and textiles shop as part of the restaurant.

Why did you build your boutique hotel ‘Murni’s Houses’?

That was in the early 1980s because there was so little guest accommodation available. There was hardly any giving a good degree of comfort and convenience. I was very lucky to get the land, which is only five minutes walk from the centre of Ubud, but set back above the road, so it’s a bit like being in the countryside but still in the middle of Ubud. I like it so much I live there myself. The guests are from all over the world and invariably really interesting and we often have breakfast together. It’s a great way to start the day. Murni’s Warung and the Shop are only a few minutes walk so it suits me fine.

And the spa?

Tamarind Spa happened by chance on the suggestion from a friend. I had a spare building and turned it into spa rooms and employed the very best therapists I could find. I tested them all myself. My plan was to have a massage every day, and now I can’t get in because it’s so busy!

Is that the Tamarind Spa that won the UK Luxury Travel Guide Awards 2017 Contemporary Spa of the Year INDONESIA?

That was an incredible surprise, and of course, we’re all delighted, especially the therapists. They’ve done very well.

I hear you’ve written or co-written books on Balinese culture. Any tips on … Writing books?

Yes, something incomprehensible is what I recommend. The thing about comprehensible books is they are too difficult! Leave that to other people.

You have a website, a Facebook site, a Twitter account, a blog and you’re on Instagram … tell me about your experience with social networking and what advice you would give.

Concentrate on the widgets.

You seem to have a lot on your plate already and we haven’t even talked about Balinese culture. Do you have any current projects?

Well, yes. I seem to have got into long-stay accommodation. There are more and more people staying longer and longer in the Ubud area. I think many of them are digital nomads as they always ask about the internet. I’ve finished two Villas for long-term rentals in Katik Lantang, South Penestanan, where I was born, just 10 minutes away, and right now I’m finishing a large building at Murni’s Houses which will have rooms with and without kitchens, a gallery and a pool – and maybe, if I can squeeze it in, a shop!

As we haven’t talked about Balinese culture, and I know that you are steeped in it, would you like to write a regular column for the magazine on Balinese life and culture?

I’d be delighted and for you I’ll make it comprehensible.

Thank you. Well, Murni. You’ve had an incredible life so far. I’d like to ask you one final question. How would you like to be remembered?

I’m too short at five foot four. I’d like to be remembered as five foot eleven!

Murni is a well-known and much loved personality on the Bali scene and a pioneer of Balinese tourism. During her extraordinary life Murni has lived in Sanur and Ubud and has travelled widely. Everything you could want to know is on her web site.

Interview with Ubud’s Leading Lady

Murni is an international treasure

Murni is an international treasure Murni is an international treasure

Mary Letterii, San Francisco
6 December 2000

“What a wonderful surprise to meet such a dear old friend on the web! Ni Wayan Murni is an international treasure! Murni’s kindness, warmth, gracious hospitality and genuine caring for her community, family, guests and friends around the world have endeared her to all of us who have had the great pleasure of knowing her.”

Murni is an international treasure

 

San Francisco Tribal and Textile Arts Show February 2009

San Francisco Tribal and Textile Arts Show February 2009 saw Murni attend and exhibit part of her collection of Asian Textiles. It is undoubtedly the most highly respected textile show in San Francisco and a great honour to be able to participate.

“The best show in the city for the collector, connoisseur and the curator of ethnographic material”

San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show, 2009

Murni had a very successful exhibition in 2009.

San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show, 2009

San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show, 2009

San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show, 2009

San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show, 2009

San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show, 2009

San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show, 2009

San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show, 2009 was a return visit by Murni to this leading show of Asian arts. She displayed her textiles, puppets, masks, books, jewelry, baskets and tribal pieces.
Again it was a thrilling experience and very successful.

San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show

Exceptional Asian Art and Artifacts of the Peoples of the Pacific and Mainland Asian Region.

San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show 2009

Murni had a very successful exhibition in 2009.

Murni at the San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show 2009

Murni at the San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show 2009

Murni at the San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show 2009

Murni at the San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show 2009

 San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show 2009

 San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show 2009

Los Angeles Asian and Tribal Art Show, November 2008

Murni was invited  to exhibit some more pieces from her collection at the Los Angeles Asian and Tribal Art Show, November 2008. This followed on from the success of the San Franciscan Show in 2007.

The Los Angeles Asian and Tribal Art Show was widely attended by many dealers and collectors and was a great success. It established Murni’s reputation in the United States and abroad.

Murni exhibited at The Los Angeles Asian and Tribal Show

14 – 16 November 2008

The Los Angeles Asian and Tribal Show

MorYork Gallery, Los Angeles, October 2008

Murni was invited to display her museum quality new and antique textiles and other tribal pieces at the MorYork Gallery, Los Angeles, on Sunday, October 19, 2008.

This rare opportunity was arranged to coincide with the symposium Talking Cloth: New Studies on Indonesian Textiles at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Saturday, October 18, 2008, held in conjunction with the exhibition Five Centuries of Indonesian Textiles: Selections from the Mary Hunt Kahlenberg Collection on view from September 18, 2008 through September 13, 2009.

Murni: MorYork Gallery, Los Angeles, 2008

 

Murni: MorYork Gallery, Los Angeles, 2008

San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show, February 2007

San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show, February 2007 was Murni’s first show abroad. She joined over 100 international dealers in tribal arts,  textiles, antiques and other ethnic pieces.

Her booth looked beautiful and was widely admired. Many of the pieces she exhibited were of museum quality and attracted a lot of attention.

It was a lot of hard work but very rewarding and she made a lot of new contacts as well as seeing a lot of old friends.

San Francisco Arts of Pacific Asia Show

Exceptional Asian Art and Artifacts of the Peoples of the Pacific and Mainland Asian Region.

Murni had a very successful exhibition in 2007.

Murni's in Bali, San Francisco, 2007

Murni's in Bali, San Francisco, 2007

Murni's in Bali, San Francisco, 2007

Murni's in Bali, San Francisco, 2007

Ubud is Just Getting Better and Better

Ubud is Just Getting Better and Better

Ubud is Just Getting Better and Better

A look at Bali’s Artistic centre, past, present and future.

Ni Wayan Murni
Hello Bali, January 2005

In the early Thirties, Miguel Covarrubias came to Bali, and said, “Undoubtedly Bali will soon enough be spoiled for those fastidious travellers who abhor all that which they bring with them.” Well, Ubud hasn’t been spoiled. Ubud is just getting better and better. Covarrubias got it wrong.

I am a Balinese baby boomer. When I was growing up in Ubud, just after the Second World War, our lives were hard. We didn’t have much. Not being able to afford pure rice, we added corn, jackfruit and sweet potatoes. Our protein was from rice-field eels, dragonflies or frogs.

Now, in Ubud, there are 24-hour supermarkets. A brand new one has just opened close to my restaurant. It has everything – well, nearly everything; it doesn’t have rice-field eels and dragonflies but it does have frogs!

When I was six, we were lucky to go to school. It was hard. Now all kids go to school. That is good. Many children go to university and some go abroad. Computer classes are available in Ubud for local children. That is progress.

There is progress for tourists too. Ubud has always welcomed tourists. There are excellent courses for them: cooking, batik painting, silver jewellery making, woodcarving, stone carving, gamelan and yoga. There are nightly entertainments and five dance groups perform regularly.

Ubud was a leafy place in my childhood. Tall lychee trees lined the main road. Where Ibah Hotel now is, mango trees grew and where Ary’s Warung now is, there were jambu trees.

Monkey Forest Road was a dirty, muddy track with rice fields on each side. Every day you would see farmers carrying produce on their shoulders and ducks on the way to the rice fields. At night you would hear frogs croaking and see fireflies flashing.

Nobody, apart from the Royal family, owned a car; most people walked. If you were lucky, you had a bicycle. I, and a group of friends, had bicycles. We cycled over pot-holed roads down to Sanur to sell our wares to cruise ships. In the evening we cycled back.
Now many families have cars. In fact, most do, and Ubud has a traffic problem. I was the first woman driver in Ubud. Originally only men drove cars. One small step for women! That was in 1976.

There have been other advances. Many activities were reserved for men; even painting, for which Ubud is famous, was traditionally a male preserve. When Puri Lukisan Museum opened in Ubud in 1972, all the exhibits were by men. Now there are many women artists and Seniwati Art Gallery, started in 1991 by Mary Northmore, is dedicated to women.

Gamelan music was exclusively male. In the last twenty years or so, several women’s gamelan groups have formed. My own group plays all over the island.

Our traditional ceremonies bring the arts together; their purpose is to please the gods and men. In my young days, there wasn’t the money to create lavish displays. Now, in Ubud, there are frequent ceremonies: maybe six gamelan groups, numerous dancers, shadow puppets, thousands, dressed in the finest Balinese textiles, attend our ceremonies.

Over my lifetime, and especially recently, there has been rapid development. When I opened my restaurant in 1974, there was no electricity – not until 1978. It was hard to keep beer cold but candles and kerosene lamps created an atmosphere beyond compare. Now, reputedly, there are over 300 restaurants in the area.

In 1974 there were only two hotels: the Tjampuhan and the Menara but everyone stayed at the Tjampuhan. Now there are many wonderful hotels and fabulous villas. There are hundreds of shops – including my own.

However, the time has now come to limit development; we don’t need any more shops, hotels, restaurants or supermarkets and we should concentrate on our strengths and our traditions.

In November we had a very successful Writers and Readers Festival and I am pleased that it is planned to make this an annual event. In December there was the Global Healing Conference at ARMA, which Desmond Tutu attended. We also launched the 50th anniversary of the book Dancing Out of Bali by John Coast at Murni’s Warung, where the star of the book, dancer Ni Gusti Raka, danced and signed copies.

I believe that for the future, we should focus on events such as these, and, of course, the temple ceremonies and exhibitions.

Murni
Ubud, Bali

Ubud is Just Getting Better and Better

Another Day Another Dance

Another Day Another Dance

cover-natural-guide

Ni Wayan Murni
Natural Guide to Bali, 2005

Balinese dances – and indeed the other performing arts in Bali – have a religious background.

Dances are offerings to the gods and ancestors – staged to please and entertain the deities at religious ceremonies to which they have been invited by the priests. Visitors to Bali have a very good chance of seeing one and they certainly should.

Dances also accompany rites of passage, which mark a turning point in a person’s life, such as baby ceremonies, tooth-filings, weddings and cremations. There are exciting dances at exorcism ceremonies, held to rid the place of disruptive forces. Sensational dances are performed at times of crisis, such as epidemics, famines and plagues. At these events dancers, and sometimes even spectators, fall into trance.

Some dances have a story, often based on the old Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabarata. It is almost impossible for the first time spectator to follow the plot. Boys dance girls’ parts, girls dance boys’ parts. You cannot tell which are which. Both wear heavy make-up. The same person may dance several roles and scenes change with the barest of announcements. It‘s best just to sit back and enjoy the extreme beauty of the movements, the expressions and the dazzling costumes. Lose yourself in the subtle, intricate, wonderful, percussive sounds of the gamelan orchestra.

Dances are classified into the sacred and the secular. Sacred dances are for the gods and secular dances are for humans. Sacred dances are sub-divided into the very sacred and the ceremonial. The very sacred (wali), like the pendet, gabor, baris gede and the masked dance, topeng pejegan, take place in the holiest, inner court of the temple (jeroan) and the ceremonial dances (bebali), like the Ramayana and gambuh, take place in the middle courtyard (jaba tengah). Sacred and ceremonial dances usually take place when the priest is conducting the rituals and the temple is milling with people. At the same time, a shadow puppet performance (wayang kulit) may also be going on.

Secular dances take place in the outer part of the temple or even outside. Popular examples are the legong, kebyar and the lively solo baris tungal. New dances tend to fall into this category, and although often created initially for Western consumption, the Balinese quickly adopt them as their own. Examples are the famous kecak (monkey dance), which was choreographed by Walter Spies and Katharine Mershon in 1931 for a German movie “Island of the Demons” – they based it on old Balinese trance dances; the oleg tumulilingan (bumblebee dance), created by local choreographer, Mario of Tabanan, for the Peliatan dance troupe’s tour of Europe and America in 1952; and the new genggong (frog dance), a favourite among children.

Balinese dances are not about individuals. The story is not the important thing. It’s the rhythm, the atmosphere and the feeling for space. The characters exist in their own formal, spiritual world. There are stock characters, who represent respected or not so respected qualities. The king and queen are nearly always refined or halus. The king’s ministers may or may not be refined. The witch and the monster are coarse or kasar. They all have their own stylized movements, their own dress and speak in Kawi, an old language that few understand. The only individuals are the clowns, who improvise, joke, and explain to the audience in Balinese what is happening on stage.

The gestures in Indian dancing tell a story, but not in Bali. Faces are like masks. Emotion is underplayed. Gestures are purely abstract, although a few have dramatic meanings. Shading the eyes with the hand indicates weeping. First and second fingers pointing at the end of a stiffly extended arm is a gesture of anger or denunciation. Eyes move quickly from side to side to stress the rhythms and accents.

The best place to see dances and listen to the gamelan is in their proper setting, in one of the many temples. The temple, private or public, will be packed with people in splendid Balinese attire. White-clad priests will be intoning mantras, ringing bells and muttering prayers. Ladies will be carrying offerings of fruit and flowers on their heads and placing them on special pavilions. The moon and the stars will illuminate the proceedings.

Many hotels and restaurants put on tourist dances. These can be enjoyable, but lack the magical, natural beauty of a temple. Many tourist villages also have shows. The best are in the Ubud area. I am from Ubud, so I would say that, wouldn’t I? But, it’s true. The dance troupes in Ubud Palace and Pura Dalem are of international standard and frequently go abroad. There is a policy of rotating them as much as possible to prevent them getting stale

There are dances four times a week in the beautiful Pura Dalem temple, next to my shop, Kunang-Kunang II. The temple is softly lit by small lamps of coconut oil, in the traditional way. There is a great kecak, fire and trance dance on Mondays and Fridays at 7.30 pm, a barong and kris dance on Thursdays at 7.30 pm, and a dramatic jegog bamboo orchestra (with dances) on Wednesdays at 7.00 pm.

Murni
Ubud, Bali

Another Day Another Dance

Buddhas in Bali

Buddhas in Bali

Buddhas in Bali

Ni Wayan Murni
Hello Bali, February 2005

Visitors to Bali see Buddha images everywhere. They are often moved and inspired by them but wonder what they mean. They all look alike, but are subtly different.

Bali is predominantly Hindu but has long had a connection with Buddhism and, following contact some 2,000 years ago with various Indian influences, is the last surviving Hindu-Buddhist civilisation in Indonesia.

Inscriptions dated 9 AD have been found, which mention Tantric and Mahayana Buddhism. There are stone statues and references to Buddhist monks and monasteries.

Some time between the 14th and 19th centuries, the Buddhist monasteries came to an end and eventually the various Hindu and Buddhist sects, whose beliefs were similar, merged into Bali-Hinduism.

Buddha was born into a royal family in Lumbini in south Nepal in the sixth century BC. He lived a life of luxury, married and had a son.

One day he met an old man, then a sick man, then a dead person. They represent suffering. Later he came across a wandering monk with a shaven head, dressed in a yellow robe, begging for alms. He saw tranquillity in the monk and decided to renounce the World and live the same way.

When he was 29, he left home in the middle of the night, on a horse, and travelled to a forest where he fasted. Some images show him in an emaciated state with his ribs showing. He decided that suffering was not the right way and enunciated his doctrine of the Middle Way: moderation in all things.

The earliest human Buddha images were made in the first century AD in Gandhara, a kingdom encompassing parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Greco-Roman art had a great influence there, which is evident in the Buddha’s toga-like robes, wavy hair and young features.

Buddha’s physical characteristics indicate his qualities and episodes in his life.

The bump on his head, the ushnisha, indicates supreme wisdom; the hairy mole between his eyes, the urna, supernatural vision; his short, tight, curly hair his renunciation of the World; and his long pierced earlobes his nobility. Indian royals wore heavy earrings, which stretched their ears. Sometimes the ushnisha takes the form of a flame, which symbolizes illumination.

Buddha’s skin is always unblemished and he wears a monastic robe, either open, leaving the right shoulder bare or draped over both shoulders.

In Bodh Gaya, Bihar, in northeast India he meditated for 49 days under a bodhi tree. During that time, Mara, the god of desire, tried to tempt him. Finally Buddha asked the Earth goddess for help by touching the earth with his right hand. She roared, “I am his witness,” and defeated Mara. At that moment Buddha overcame desire and attained Enlightenment, which Buddhists call Nirvana. Buddha images show him sitting in the lotus position, right hand extended down, palm inwards, middle finger touching the ground, left hand in his lap.

After a while, Buddha gave his first sermon to the World. It was in the Deer Park at Sarnath in northern India and is called ‘Setting the Wheel of the Law in Motion’. It marks the beginning of Buddhism as a faith. Images show Buddha, hands at his chest, each forming a circle with thumb and forefinger with the ends of the fingers of the left hand resting against the palm of the right.

Buddha then travelled around India, preaching, meditating and performing miracles. Images show him walking, right hand raised, arm bent, palm outwards, fingers pointing upwards, in the gesture of fearlessness.

The meditating Buddha is tranquil, back straight, in the lotus position, hands in his lap, right hand resting on his left, palms upwards, fingers extended, thumbs touching, eyes half-closed and with a hint of a smile; suggesting that he understands everything.

When he was 80, probably in 483 BC, Buddha died in a grove of trees near Kushinagara in northern India. He lay on his right side, head resting on his right hand, left hand on left hip, a peaceful expression on his face and accompanied by some of his disciples. The reclining posture always refers to his death; his final release.

Buddha images are usually on a throne shaped like a lotus, a symbol of purity and perfection. Just as the lotus has its roots in mud and filth and can grow into a beautiful flower, so can a person who follows the Buddha’s path reach Enlightenment.

Following his death, Buddhism spread to many countries and many Buddha forms came into existence. Perhaps the most popular is the Laughing Buddha. He is represented as a monk with a bald head, big smile and large, prosperous belly. He keeps a bag full of treasures beside him, and beams, “Don’t worry, be happy!” but is this man really a follower of the Middle Way?

Murni
Ubud, Bali

Buddhas in Bali