The Story of Ubud

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Balinese village of Ubud can trace its roots back to the 8th century. A collection of palm leaf scripts document that a holy man once travelled from India on a spiritual journey across Indonesia to spread the teachings of Hinduism. On the island of Bali, he was attracted to a river junction that radiated light and energy. That place was Campuhan, Ubud where he built a special temple known as Pura Gunung Lebah, which is considered a sacred site even today.  

Moving forward in history, the downfall of Java’s once mighty Majapahit kingdom in the 15th century saw a mass exodus to the island of Bali. Sanctuary was given to many important ruling families and they brought with them an artistic legacy. The rapid emergence of new kingdoms during the 17th century saw the founding of several royal houses in Ubud. Artisans came from all over the island of Bali to help create an elaborate palace and many of them chose to stay. As a result, Ubud still supports all forms of craftsmanship as well as dance and music.    

By the 1930, Bali’s first wave of international tourism was focused in and around Ubud largely due to the business acumen of the reigning royal, Tjokorde Gede Agung Sukawati. Proficient in English and Dutch, he established a small guest house and welcomed visitors including the celebrated artist cum composer Walter Spiers. This set the trend for other foreign artists and soon famous personalities such as Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplain and H.G Wells flocked to Ubud.

The establishment of the Pita Maha painters association in 1936 by an Ubud royal and several notable artists was responsible for bringing together some of Bali’s greatest artists to teach painting, dance and music to a younger generation. It was then that Ubud developed the reputation as being the cultural pulse of Bali and that image still stands today.

The name Ubud actually derives from the term ‘ubad’ meaning medicine in reference to the abundance of herbs and plants that once grew in the area for traditional healing. This is quite apt given that Ubud currently has a thriving wellness scene. In fact Bali’s entire spa industry is founded on the age-old legacy of traditional healing.

Nowadays, Ubud attracts followers of healthy lifestyle practices such as yoga, meditation, reiki and other holistic therapies. Ubud plays host to the annual BaliSpirit Festival, an inspiring celebration yoga, dance and music. The event champions the collaborative powers of the creative community and strives to strengthen the ecological health and harmonious vitality of Bali.

A number of inspiring events have helped put Ubud on the world map including the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. Founded in 2003, it is one of the most anticipated gatherings on the world’s literary calendar. Newer offerings such as the Ubud Village Jazz Festival draws crowds every year and unites music lovers with a strong line-up of local and visiting performers. Another exciting initiative is the Ubud Food Festival, a culinary adventure that showcases the diversity of Indonesian cuisine together with extraordinary local produce.

For many years Ubud had enjoyed a steady flow of visitors who have found themselves captivated by the gentle beauty of the landscape and warm hospitality of its people. Ubud has managed to embrace modern times with dignity yet still retain its timeless artistry, culture and religion. It is a unique destination blessed with a strong sense of community and a spiritual energy that permeates all aspects of daily life.