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Which gamelan for which ceremony?  

by on Wednesday, 18 November 2009No Comment | 6,696 views

There may in fact be more than forty different types of gamelan in Bali, each one serving a different function. Here’s a rough guide to explain what gamelan ensembles you may see at different ceremonies in Bali:

1 Dewa Yadnya (for the Gods, e.g. temple ceremonies)

In South Bali, it is most common to use a large gong ensemble known as Gong Kebyar or sometimes Gong Gede. Gender Wayang may also be played on a smaller pavilion in the inner sanctum. A number of villages in South Bali also have either a five- or seven-tone Semara Pagulingan and this is often played alternately with or replaces the more modern Gong Kebyar. I’ve also seen gamelan normally associated with cremation ceremonies such as Gambang or Luang played at temple ceremonies around Denpasar but never Angklung.


Once you get to Ubud or go East to Karangasem, the range and type of gamelan ensembles is much greater. Angklung is common and the stately Gambang is seen accompanying ritual dances in some villages in Karangasem. Selonding is found in many ancient villages in the Bangli and Karangasem region, and new sets are now seen at ceremonies across Bali.

2 Manusa Yadnya (for people, e.g. tooth-filings, weddings, otonan birthdays, receptions)

Gender Wayang is most common here – being an intimate ensemble, it is suited to the earthy wedding ritual. At larger weddings, wealthier families will commission a delicate Semara Pagulingan which may accompany refined court dances such as Legong, Jauk and Topeng in the early evening. Bamboo ensembles such as Joged Bumbung and Joged Bumbung are used to liven up receptions.

At tooth-filing ceremonies, a gender wayang ensemble is a necessary part of the proceedings. For some Balinese otonan and also for those born on a day called Tumpek Wayang, a gender wayang ensemble will accompany a day-time puppet show called Wayang Lemah.

3 Pitra Yadnya (death rites)

There is a special gamelan for every stage of the process of death rites. Gender Wayang, Angklung and Gambang are used in South Bali all the way through, depending on the caste (or the wealth) of the family of the deceased. At the final Mukur ceremony, a Saron or Gong Luang ensemble will play haunting music to attract the souls to the ceremonial ground. There is also often music by Semara Pagulingan and Gong Kebyar groups that is played until the early hours of the morning.

Copyright Vaughan Hatch 2009

Vaughan Hatch has immersed himself with Balinese culture, living with locals in Bali since 1997. He speaks fluent Indonesian and Balinese, and is unashamedly addicted to playing gamelan. A linguistic, archaeology and publishing graduate, he works for indOKiwi ‘linguistic and cultural solutions’ in Sanur. Email him on for further queries.

Link: Mekar Bhuana Conservatory

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