I Wayan Beratha: The father figure of Balinese ‘karawitan’
Delicate tunes wafted enchantingly, as I Wayan Beratha, the creator of many romantic compositions for the Semara Pegulingan ensemble, passionately manipulated the wooden mallet upon the rows of metal blades of the gangsa metallophone, creating a string of soft, yet clearly beautiful melodies.
His music hovered in the air and touched the old wall of Beratha’s family compound in Abiankapas hamlet in East Denpasar. The compound lies just a few meters from a bustling traditional market and most of the aging merchants there knew that the gangsa player that day was not a young, novice musician.
They knew that it was the master musician who was reminiscing about his glory days, embracing once again the instrument and the tunes that always brought a smile to his wrinkled face.
Beratha, born in 1926, was recently awarded the inaugural title of Empu Seni Karawitan (master of the art of traditional music) by the Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI) in Denpasar for his lifetime achievements and dedication to preserving Balinese traditional music that has also included the creation of around 20 musical compositions, various dances, gending (traditional songs) and dance-drama performances.
Accompanied by his only daughter, Sutjiati Beratha, a literature professor at Udayana University, Beratha received the award on Saturday.
Despite declining stamina and limited mobility over the past two years due to diabetes, the 87-year-old, respected by many as the father figure of the art of Balinese music (karawitan), continues to daily engage with his life’s greatest passion: Playing the Balinese gamelan.
“Bapak [father] still often plays the rindik [the bamboo xylophone] and the gangsa by himself. When he does, he usually stays up until late at night,” added his son-in-law I Wayan Ardika, who is a distinguished Balinese archeologist.
Ardika said that currently, a biography about his father-in-law was being written to record his lifetime dedication to the Balinese arts.
Among his numerous masterpieces are the Yudapati dance (1958), the musical composition of Swabhana Paksa (1959), the dance-drama Jayaprana (1961), the tabuh Gesuri (1964), the dance-drama Ramayana (1965), the dance-drama Maya Denawa (1966), the musical composition of Palgunawarsa (1968), and the Panyembrana dance (1971). He created his tabuh Gesuri while performing in New York, one of his many performances abroad, while the musical composition Palgunawarsa received the highest appreciation at the Bali Gong Kebyar Festival in 1968. His famous Yudapati dance depicts the characteristics of a hero; bravery, loyalty, helpfulness, sacrifice and prioritizing the interests of the common people.
Beratha is the son of I Made Regog, and the grandson of I Ketut Keneng, a great Balinese artist in the era of King I Gusti Agung Ngurah Denpasar. As the third generation of a traditional Balinese artistic family, Beratha naturally learnt his expertise in creating gending and playing the gamelan instruments as well as his skills in fixing the tuning the gamelan, locally known as the profession of tukang panggur.
Throughout the years, Beratha has been known for his consistent efforts in the regeneration of the Balinese arts by developing numerous Balinese art studios and engaging in the establishment of the Sekolah Menengah Kerawitan Indonesia (SMKI), the Akademi Seni Tari Indonesia (ASTI) and the ISI. He was also among the founding fathers of the Balinese cultural board Listibya in 1967.
During the award ceremony, ISI Denpasar rector professor I Wayan Rai praised Beratha’s wholehearted dedication to the development of Balinese arts. “Wayan Beratha is a role-model artist. He is like the god of beauty who has taken an important role in developing the Balinese arts.”
For his deeds, Beratha has received dozens of national and provincial awards, including the Art Award from the Education and Culture Ministry in 1972.
Beratha himself is also popular for his broad perspective that opposes the regional-based fanaticism in Balinese music. Between 1957 and 1959, Beratha made an effort to combine the southern and northern styles of the Balinese karawitan.
Beratha, who dropped out of school when he was a fifth-grader at the sekolah rakyat, the Dutch colonial equivalent of grade school, has always been a figure who has symbolized the creativity of the Balinese people despite the lack of a formal higher education.
- Classic Balinese Open Stage – Denpasar, Indonesia (travelpod.com)