The largest bronze-age antiquity in the world
The Moon of Pejeng is a colossal bronze kettledrum believed to be the largest bronze-age antiquity in the world, housed high in a pavilion at the rear of Pura Penataran Sasih about six kilometres west of Ubud.
Similar (though not as large) metal drums have been found from China through Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and as far as west as Papua New Guinea possibly originating with the ?ông S?n culture (700-500BC—300AD) in northern Vietnam. The drums were both musical instruments and cult objects as well as articles of trade.
The origins of this particular drum are unclear, evidence of bronze casting in Bali around the same time has been found, however neither copper nor tin to make bronze is found on the island. The local legend for its origin affords it the epithet “The Moon of Pejeng”.
The fable was first recorded by a German botanist working for the Dutch East India Company in Ambon, Georgius Everhardus Rumphius (1628-1702) in his posthumous work The Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet and the story goes, that the drum was once a wheel of the chariot that carried the moon across the night sky, as bright as the moon itself. One day it fell from the heavens into a tree at Pejeng, glowing so luminously it hampered a gang of thieves going about their thievery. One hapless chap decided to urinate on the shining object, dulling it to the bronze colour we see today. Apparently pissing on the moon’s shinny wheel is not advisable (if you ever happen to be in that situation), as it resulted in his death.
To this day, it’s forbidden to touch or disturb “The Moon”, thus its position high up out of reach, and a little difficult to see in its entirety. The roughly hourglass-shaped drum is almost two metres high and the diameter of the tympanum is 160 centimetres. It lies on its side, with the round moon-face to the front of the shrine and you can easily see an eight pointed star motive in the centre.
Other intricate geometric motives are not discernible from the ground but were recorded in 1906 by one of Bali’s early visiting artists, Dutchman Wijnand Otto Jan Nieuwenkamp (1874-1950). A frog-like face design suggest it may have been used ritualistically to invoke rain.
The Temple itself, Pura Penataran Sasih dates to 1266, becoming the state temple of the Pejeng Kingdom in the early fourteenth century. The “sasih” of the name means moon in Balinese. Other than this important relic, a number of other pavilions contain a substantial collection of rather randomly displayed sculptures dating from the tenth to the twelfth century. In three covered pavilions the statues are wrapped in cloth, respectively red (to the south, representing Brahma), yellow (to the west, representing Mahadewa) and black, which has faded to purple (to the north, representing Vishnu).
Two long stone plinths, labelled “ratu bintang”, “queen (or king) of the stars” house smaller stone artefacts. Courtyards lead to adjacent temples within the complex, and within one, Pura Taman Sari, an interesting large black volcanic stone prasada (or candi) has similarities with the smaller temples near Borobudur in Central Java.
Notwithstanding its historical significance, the temple complex is a captivating and serene place to wander within. History buffs should add it to their itinerary when visiting the other ancient sites in this area. Sarong and sash are required (you must bring your own), sign the guestbook and leave a donation as you enter (10,000 — 20,000 rupiah is reasonable).
Pura Penataran Sasih is one and a half kilometres north of Goa Gajah and Yeh Pulu, and 800 metres north of the Museum Gedong Arca. Combine all with a trip to Gunung Kawi and Tirta Empul for an interesting day trip discovering the ancient history of Bali.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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