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Kulkul: Binder of Balinese Wills  

by on Tuesday, 1 May 2007No Comment | 3,583 views

Tung…tung…tung, the sound of kulkul sweeps the rice fields and rows of Balinese house compounds. Farmers stop their harvest works; officers stop their typing; all Balinese stop their activities and listen carefully to the rhythm of the kulkul sound, and determine its source. Once they found the meaning of the rhythm and the source of it, they will abandon their works and prepare to do what the message that kulkul sound conveys.


The Kulkul, the Balinese slit gong is as powerful as the voice of God. Balinese said “kulkul ngaran kayu, kayu ngaran kayun,” translated into “kulkul made of wood, wood means will”, the will of the Balinese is bond in the kulkul, and when the kulkul is sounded all the will and mind is focused to obey the summon of the kulkul.

The kulkul is made of long, hollowed-out wooden block whose upper end are carved into anthropomorphic heads. A hard and long lasting wood, such as teak, is usually used as kulkul material. The size of the kulkul is determined by the size of the kulkul tower, bigger tower needs bigger kulkul.


The kulkul tower is a square based masonry building with four pillars that supported the roof situated on the top of the stone work. The kukul tower can be found in one corner of the front courtyard of the temple. It is either free standing or a part of the architecture of the temple wall that runs along the road. It can also be found in hamlet or subak meeting hall, again, it is either free standing or a part of the architecture of the hamlet or subak meeting hall.

The kulkul tower usually houses two kinds of the kulkul, the male and the female. The male kulkul has low-pitched sound and the female has the high one. When the male kulkul is sounded the male hamlet or temple congregation members have to obey the message the male kulkul sound conveys and so does the female hamlet or temple congregation when the female kulkul is sounded.


The rhythm of the kulkul sound determines the message that is conveyed by the sound. A specific rhythm carries a specific message. For example, the continuous repetitions of the alternate male and female kulkul signifies that a girl had been “kidnapped” by her lover and her enrage father beat the kulkul to summon a help from the other members of the hamlet to search for his daughter. The most distinguishable rhythm is the rapid repetitious sound of the male kulkul that signifies an emergency situation, whether it is a robbery, conflagration, or a fight. Only the head of the hamlet, subak community or temple congregation has a privilege to sound the kulkul in ordinary situation, save the emergency situation in which all the hamlet, subak or temple congregation member has the right to sound the kulkul.

The kulkul is something Balinese obey more than governmental edict. The kulkul is truly the binder of their wills.

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