Bungkut Play

Bungkut Play: King Bungkut, Balinese Musical Theatre

The play 'Dalem Bungkut' is a favourite amongst Balinese plays (lakon). The story revolves around a series of events related to the submission of King Bungkut of Nusa Penida by King Watu Renggong of Gelgel.

bungkutThe unruly island was placed back under Balinese control after years of a cruel, violent and capricious despot who was possibly a relative to the King of Bali. There are many versions of this story. One detailed version was written down by Walter Spies and Beryl de Zoete in 1938, in 'Dance & Drama in Bali'. Since this particular story gives a detailed account of the events, and given the fact that this is the first accessible written version of the story found in western literature, the author has chosen to quote large part of it below as a basis for further argumentation and research.

The Campaign against Nusa Penida

Image right: "Bungkut" by I Nyoman Renu (Godi Dijkman, Sanur 2009)

King Bungkut of Nusa Penida was a very cruel magician. He forced all the women of the island to sleep with him. The men he got rid of by cutting them in pieces and scattering them to the four winds; then when he had done with their wives he brought the men to life again. The whole population was horrified by his behaviour , but could not do anything against him.

At last they decided to send two village headmen to Gelgel to ask help from King Watu Renggong. He sent out one if his patihs to Nusa, but the sakti of the king of Nusa was so great that no weapon could wound him.

Another of the king's patihs, Gusti Jelantik, had a wife named Ayu Rawit. They always slept together in the east room. But one night Ayu Rawit was unwell, and Jelantik's mother told her to sleep in the west room, while she took her place. That night the patih went as usual to the east room and slept with his mother without knowing it. Next morning when he discovered his mistake he was horrified, and hastened to the priest to ask what he must do. The priest said it was indeed a dreadful crime, and that the whole land would be struck down by sickness unless he and his mother expatiated their crime by death. Watu Renggong therefore ordered the patih and his mother to be thrown into the sea. But their souls did not find release, but lived on in the bodies of two giant leeches in the estuary of the River Unda.

Meanwhile Ayu Rawit had given birth to a son, Gusti Jelantik Putra, who married, when he grew up, Ayu Keniten. One day they went bathing together in the river, and she was pregnant. Just as they were entering the water of the Unda river they heard a supernatural voice speaking to them. It was the soul of his own father, speaking through the mouth of a leech. He bewailed his fate, because his soul could not find release, and he wept bitterly. The son, moved to pity, asked if he could do anything to set his father's soul free. 'Yes, indeed, my son, if you die in battle, my soul and the soul of your grandmother will find release.' And the son promised to release his father's soul.

While they were bathing a piece of dadap wood came floating by and truck the womb of Ayu Keniten. She pushed it away, but it always came swimming towards her. She thought it very strange that she by no means could get rid of the wood, and at last she agreed to take it home with them. Just as it was going to be cut up for firewood a keris appeared within the wood, and a supernatural voice spoke to them: 'I am a tusk of the Naga Besuki, and the king of Nusa can only die through me.

Now as the crimes of the king of Nusa had no end the King of Gelgel, Watu Renggong, resolved to send another expedition against him. This time, he sent Jelantik Putra, and to make sure of success he gave him his own favourite keris.

Before he set out, Jelantik went to take leave of his wife, but she absolutely refused to be left behind. In vain he forbade her to come. She insisted on following him, and she took with her in a basket the tusk of the Naga Besuki. When Jelantik came to the puri of Bungkut he was received with every honour, but the king mocked him, because he knew that no human weapon could hurt him. Jelantik became furious and he drew his keris and attacked the king. But his blows fell off him like water. Just as Bungkut was about to smash Jelantik to atoms, Gusti Ayu sprang forward and gave the magic keris from the basket. And when the king saw him draw this keris from his sheath, his whole body began to tremble and he said: 'Now I know that my hour has come, and that it is you who must kill me. I beg you when I am dead to give my land to the King of Gelgel, with all that I possess; my gold and all my emblems of state. And I beg you to give me an honourable cremation'. And herewith he died.

Jelantik gave him a prince's cremation and retuned at once to Gelgel, bringing with him all the treasures of Nusa Penida, which he had laid before the king. And for himself he only asked a water-pot and a Chinese plate, in memory of his victory over Nusa (1). And Gusti Ayu Keniten bore a son, and his name also was I Gusti Jelantik

The King of Pasuruhan, in Java, had two daughters: Kaniten by his principle wife, and Bina Cili by his second wife. It was arranged that Kaniten should marry the King of Gelgel, Watu Renggong, but she was very curious to know first what he looked like, and sent an artist to Bali to paint the king's portrait. After a while he returned with his finished portrait, and brought it to the palace. After the king's younger daughter, who was very jealous, intercepted him and got hold of the portrait, saying she would give it to her sister. She saw that the king was surpassingly handsome and at once decided to cheat her sister. With the help of her lady-in-waiting she made a second portrait of a fat, ugly little man, with an infinitesimal penis, and this picture was shown to Kaniten. The bride was in despair at the thought of marrying such an ugly little man, and wept bitterly for days on end. One day a cousin of hers, the son of the King of Blambangan, who was very much in love with her, came to the palace, and when he heard why she was weeping he proposed she should marry him instead. And he seduced her and carried her off with him to Blambangan.

When Watu Renggong heard that his bride had been stolen away, he sent his patih Jelantik Putra (the son of the leech), to make war on Blambangan and to bring back his bride. And he gave him his keris Metiwu Jiwa. Jelantik also took with his his own magic keris. But when he reached Blambangan he remembered that he must die in battle to redeem the soul of this father, and therefore sent back his own keris back to Bali. Thereupon he ran amok in the puri and was killed by the men of Blambangan. The king was very grieved at his death, and sent another patih, Gusti Ularan, to Blambangan to avenge him. He also ordered him to settle his account with Pasuruhan because of the bride he had lost. Ularan went to Blambangan with 3,500 men, and a great battle took place in which the king was killed. Then he rushed on to Pasuruhan. He was a very passionate man, and in his zeal he cut off the king's head. Returning with it to Bali, he laid it at the feet of the king of Gelgel. Watu Renggong was horrified to see that his friend and near-relative had been murdered. That was not at all what he had meant. He was infuriated against Gusti Ularan and banished him to Petemen in north Bali. He received 'for his services' two hundred rice-field plots, but he and all his descendants were forbidden ever to show their faces at court again. This last episode is also a favourite one in the Topeng.

Dalem Bungkut, variations on a theme

bungkutfrontIda Bagus Ariana Surya from Krambitan, like – I imagine – many other playwrights, wrote a play with the same name. Surya based his version on the book 'Leluhur orang Bali' (The Ancestors of the Balinese People) by I Wayan Kardji, published by CV Bali Media, Denpasar. This book is not found anymore in the bookshops, and further investigation is needed to find out the exact ins and outs of the story presented in it.

Over time, stories are changed in keeping with the local tradition and fashion. Details, persons, events and names are added or subtracted giving rise to a variety of stories which all have the same plot and name, in this case Dalem Bungkut. Grosso modo, though, the story remains the same and the basic contents does not change in its essence. Judging from the interview, there are, however a number of differences when compared to Spies' version, which might shed light on the events in Nusa Penida at the time and especially on the relations between the kingdom of Gelgel and that of Nusa Penida.

Surya recounts that King Watu Renggong and King Bungkut are cousins/nephews (sepupu), since their parents are related. This opinion, and many a mythological tale together with the views of a number of informants, has lead to speculation concerning the genealogy of the two kings. One theory, elaborated in greater detail elsewhere, is that both Waturenggong and Bungkut (or Dukut, as he is called in other versions and folk tales) were both grandsons to Kresna Kepakisan (1350-1380), the first ruler in the new capital of Bali, Samprangan. All tales somehow mention family strife. If one looks at the family tree, one can see one royal line of descent and a non-royal one. Whereas Waturenggong was from pure royal (Javanese) blood, Kresna Kepakisan's fifth child Tegal Besung was not, since he was born out of the womb of Ni Gusti Ayu Kutawaringin, a woman of apparently lower rank. There is little information on Tegal Besung, whether he had any role in government affairs and so on. Nor do we have as yet any proof of family quarrels. This is, however, where the speculations start. Besung had five children. His third son was named I Dewa Nusa, and was the 'sepupu' (albeit in the second degree) to Waturenggong. Given his name I Dewa Nusa, it is hard not to be tempted into the presumption that this third son might have been sent off, exiled, or left of his own accord to Nusa Penida. But there are other possibilities as well.

Surya says it seems that Bungkut was jealous of his cousin Waturenggong since the latter became King of Gelgel. Bungkut was even largely ignored by Waturenggong, which infuriated Bungkut. Things went out of hand, and what had seemed an internal family matter, a rift in relations due to presumed jealousy, grew out to be a stately affair, a battle of forces. Waturenggong called upon Gusti Ngurah Jelantik, who at the time was just married to Gusti Ayu Kaler. Jelantik was sent over to Nusa Penida armed with a royal keris 'Kipencoksan', an important symbol of the power which Watu Renggong had inherited from his ancestors and gave his the authority to rule over Gelgel, entire Bali and, in fact, Nusa Penida. Jelantik's wife Ayu Kaler was forbidden to go with her husband and make the crossing to Nusa. But she did in the end accompany Jelantik.

The keris Kipencoksan was found by Jelantik near Mount Batur, when he was trying to help a farmer cut down a tree. When Jelantik finally succeeded in cutting down this tree (piece of wood), there was a keris inside it.

Unlike Spies' version of the story, Jelantik was not welcomed in the manner that befitted a royal envoy from the King of Gelgel. He was told to return to mainland Bali immediately. Jelantik felt indignant at these words, but as he felt sakti, he did not heed the words of Bungkut and became very angry.

In the end, Jelantik was treated a meal, and was allowed to stay, on the condition that he had to eat with 'athitipuja', which means that he had to show King Bungkut all the necessary respects being the guest (atiti, Balinese) of the royal court on the island. After an initial duel which Jelantik lost, his wife presented the sacred keris 'Pencoksang', an heirloom of the Lord Toh Langkir, in the form of the tusk of the Naga Besuki. After King Bungkut saw this, he surrendered and was ready to die. King Bungkut, however, reminded Jelantik that on every Sasih ke-enam, in the month of December, he was going to spread disaster around the country.

After Bungkut was killed, a temple was built in his honour at Ped. The ashes of King Bungkut are worshipped there to this day.


1) These heirlooms, according to Walter Spies, are still in the possession of the Jelantik family. "The water-pot is in Mengwi, the Chinese plate in Blahbatu, where lives a very cultivated member of the Jelantik family." The author has photographed a Chinese-style water-pot, or Martavan, kept in the Mrajan of the Jelantiks at Puri Ageng Blahbatu, together with some other objects kept there. Not all scholars agree on the authenticity of these heirlooms.


  • Spies, Walter & Beryl de Zoete – Dance & Drama in Bali, Periplus 1938/2002, p.301-303
  • Interview with Ida Bagus Putu Surya, and Ida Bagus Putu Ariana, (Surya's nephew), Kerambitan, June 2007

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