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Anak Agung Agung Anglurah Ketut Karangasem was the last royal regent of both Karangasem and Bali. The King was a man of arts and letters, architecture and religion. A deeply spiritual man, he found time to study the holy books, the palm leaf lontar, written in the ancient Kawi language and became a lay priest, a bhagawan. The King was also a practical man, who himself took care of the major ceremonies himself, as he did with the ceremonies for the ancestors of the royal clan, when he was given the throne as a very young man in 1919.

When conducting this same Maligia ceremony for the ancestors in 1937, the famous American anthropologist Margaret Mead and her husband Gregory Bateson were the Kings guests, and there was, according to testimony, a brief philosophical exchange whereby the King referred to the ocean - to which the spirits of the ancestors were carried to spread the ashes - as the place from which we all come, and to which we all must return. In short the ocean, holy and dreaded by the Balinese, symbolized Brahman, the all-encompassing God that resides in everything.

 

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When you think of Puri Agung Karangasem, you should not think of a museum, but the living quarters of the King, where daily offerings are placed on all auspicious places, at gates and thresholds, on guardian spirits and temples, and imagine, that the living quarters of the King, who died in 1966, did not start at his house, but at the front gate, and that the courtyard, the pond, the island pavilion, were all part of the King's open living room.

You can see this in the old photos that adorn the walls of the palace, where European furniture and pots and desks and chairs are placed outside, sometimes in the courtyard itself, and you can see the King's clever sense of bringing the landscape into the living room by using mirrors on the walls, and bringing the inside out into the garden in a living room without walls.

Today Puri Karangasem is still the center for the ceremonial life of the royal family of Karangasem, where each building serve a specific function: Gedong Eka Lange, the wedding house; Gedong Maskerdam, for wedding receptions and the monthly council of the royal family; Bale Pemandesan, the pavilion where tooth-filing ceremonies signifying the royal rite of passage to adulthood is held, Bale Pawedaan, where on special occasions the Buddha and Shiva priests officiates the rituals for the royal family of Karangasem; and the Balai Gili, the island pavilion, where the priests may take a rest and dine far elevated above all other mortals.

So indeed, Puri Agung Karangasem is still a living place, and the absence of people in these images just speaks of the wait before all guests arrive and all ceremonies begin.

 
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Being fascinated by water, like the sage Nirartha himself, who synthesized the Balinese canon in the 16th century, the last king of Karangasem built pleasure gardens around holy springs. Two of these water palaces Balinese and guests enjoy to this very day: Tirtha Gangga on the hills overlooking the Bay of Seraya, and Ujung Water Palace on the ocean front near Seraya in Karangasem.

Tirtha Gangga resonates doubly with the Balinese. First the name evokes the memory of the holy river of the Ganges in India. Secondly, 'tirtha,' meaning 'water' in Balinese, evokes the very nature of Balinese worship, as Balinese religion is called 'agama tirtha', the ritual of (holy) water. To this day you can come and refresh yourself in the ponds in the shade below the Banyan tree, and feel purified swimming together with the golden fish. It is believed the spring water will bring you youth and revived spirits.

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