Built in 1686 by Ida I Dewa Agung Jambe, the ruling sovereign of the Klungkung Kingdom, the Gili Garden Kerta Gosa is one of the most attractive cultural heritage sites in Bali today. Kerta Gosa is an open-air building (bale) which was formally part of the Semarapura Palace compound. Located in the heart of Klungkung regency, next to the main market, Kerta Gosa has been restored and maintained by the government. Inside the traditional Balinese’s carved wall there are two buildings standing high beyond the wall, called Bale Akerta Gosa and Bale Kambang. Bale Akerta Gosa is a tall brick building in the right corner of the compound after the entrance and Bale Kambang is the larger one in the middle of the compound surrounded by a pond.
Besides the beautiful architecture of the building, the uniqueness of Kerta Gosa lies in the ceilings of the bale which are covered with traditional paintings in Kamasan style. Kamasan is a village in Klungkung regency which has gained a name for its puppet paintings. Kamasan painting usually takes an epic such as the Ramayana or Mahabharata as the theme of the painting. Kamasan painting is usually found in temples as a meaningful decoration.
Earlier the painting on Kerta Gosa’s ceiling was made on fabric but in 1930 it was restored and painted on plasterboard. The paintings on the ceilings’ of Kerta Gosa offer spiritual lessons. If one looks at it in detail each part of the ceiling tells a different story, there is one part that tells the story of karma and reincarnation and another part illustrates each phase of human life from birth until death. The paintings are divided into six tiers, representing the afterlife, the topmost being Nirvana.
The Bale Kambang is a wonderful building in the middle of the pond. The Kamasan painting on the ceiling depicts a story from the Sutasoma epic. Both sides of the bridge to the bale are guarded by a line of statues representing characters from the epic against the background of the lotus pond.
The themes in the paintings show that the building functioned as the place for the royal family to hold religious ceremonies for the rites of passage (manusa yadnya) such as weddings and tooth-filing ceremonies. Kerta Gosa also functioned as the court during the Dutch occupation in Klungkung regency from 1908 to 1942.