The Palaces of Bali

The Palaces of Bali

“A Secret Worth Sharing”

It is a big surprise to discover that the small island of Bali has so many kingdoms. The plethora of palaces encouraged an intense rivalry between them as they competed to produce the best buildings, decorated with the finest paintngs, stonework, textiles and woodcarvings. The kings staged the grandest ceremonies with hundreds of dancers and musicians in dazzling costumes. This glittering outpouring of artistic talent amazed the outside world when early visitors reported what they had seen. Clifford Geertz, one of the leading anthropologists of the 20th century, described the pre-colonial Balinese kingdoms as ‘theatre states’.

The royal palaces had neither military nor economic control over the villagers. The villagers, were, after all, the military. What control they did exercise was essentially based on consent and moral authority. There was an unwritten contract under which the kings organised huge, theatrical ceremonies and the villagers helped with the preparations and participated in them. These elaborate state rituals derived from the sacred texts. A court’s prestige was measured by and its power depended on its ability to carry out grand ceremonies. The palaces were out to impress.

When we researched the nature of royal power for our book Secrets of Bali, Fresh Light on the Morning of the World, we discovered that the relationship between the rulers and the villagers was one of mutual dependence. We also found out that the kingdoms were defined, not by borders, but by their centre, similar in concept to a mandala. Move closer to the centre, and you move closer to power and influence.

It is amazing that so much has been written about Bali yet so much remains to be written about this incredible little island. Search the internet and there’s barely a mention, yet, as Richard Mann reveals in this book, there are, in fact numerous palaces still belonging to the old royal families and they are inhabited by accessible people, who will welcome you into their homes. It is a secret worth sharng.

Ni Wayan Murni and Jonathan Copeland

Introduction to Palaces of Bali by Richard Mann, Gateway Books International, 2012

If you would like to buy the book, please email murni (at)

The Palaces of Bali