In ancient India, legendary King Udayana was a king of the city of Kaushambi in the north-central India as well as a patron of Shakyamuni Buddha. The Buddhist scripture Samyutta Nikaya records Udayana’s conversion to Buddhism after his visit to the monk Pindola Bharadvaja. Two fourth-century plays by the ancient Indian poet Bhasa, the Svapnavasavadattam and Pratijnayaugandharayana, depict Udayana as a romantic hero, with his legend central to the theme of the plays. A Chinese translation of Ekottaragama Sutra, by monk Dharamanandi in 385 AD, tells about the sadness of King Udayana. He was left behind by the Buddha who had temporarily traveled to heaven. As a dedication to his beloved teacher, King Udayana commissioned a life size statue created in likeness of the Buddha.
Later, a fifth-century AD collection of Buddhist tales called 冥祥記 (Mingxiang ji, Signs from the Unseen Realm) by scholar-official Wang Yan recalls a tale of Emperor Ming of the Eastern Han Dynasty who dreamed about a divine man. This divine man was gold-colored, standing over 20 feet (six meters) in height with a halo around his head. When the emperor later told this dream to his courtiers, one of his them recognized this “divine man” as a deity in India. The emperor then sent an embassy to India who returned with the statue of the Buddha commissioned by King Udayana, which had been completed during the Buddha’s and King Udayana’s lifetimes.
Hundreds of years later, in the small island of Bali in the 10th century, lived another King Udayana. Belonging to the Warmadewa dynasty, the earliest dynasty in Bali, King Udayana’s rule saw the prosperity of his people through consistent market strategies and trade relations, as well as a rich diversity in the agricultural sector, which led to abundant harvests. King Udayana introduced innovative accounting practices such as coins printed in gold and silver plates, as local currency. To this day, Udayana’s name is associated with Bali’s past greatness.
King Udayana ‘s reign is regarded as the Golden Age of Bali. He extended his influence to East Java through his marriage to the Javanese princess Mahendradatta as well as through his first-born son Airlangga who, in his youth, was educated at the court of Watugaluh, Medang, East Java, under the patronage of his maternal uncle King Dharmawangsa. Dharmawangsa was later murdered along with his entire family and many of his subjects in the tragic event called Pralaya Medang (Death of Medang), which took place in the Dharmawangsa Palace during Airlangga’s wedding ceremony.
King Udayana’s rule encompassed cultural and religious diversity. The two major religions of the time, Hinduism and Buddhism, had many sects and cults. In his daily travels, the king himself was accompanied by two groups of Hindu and Buddhist priests. Cultural diversity is illustrated in inscriptions written in the Devanagari, Kawi and Sanskrit scripts as well as ancient Balinese and Old Javanese scripts. In the running of government, King Udayana was notably democratic despite the Balinese system of governance at the time, which was a monarchy. He made decisions based on consensus, visited the fields to check the harvests himself and provided opportunities for citizens to come directly to him with any complaints. The bureaucratic structure of the kingdom during the reign of King Udayana began at the village-level officials who reported to the central officials, who in turn reported to the king himself, who made decisions based on his consultations with his consultants and priestly advisers.
The status of the land owned by the villagers at the time was communal land. This means that the ownership of the land and the houses belonged to the village, while the agricultural harvests and transactions were considered as the right of individuals. The communal land ownership was recorded as assets of the village which was ‘lent’ to the residents and their descendants. If the resident had no descendants, the land was taken back by the village and given to people in need.
A time-share system called mlaga was set up for field owners and employees or tenants. A Tengkulak inscription of 1023 AD determined that the distribution of the harvest of the mlaga system – termed ptlun – was to be divided by three, but it did not explain which party received one third and two-thirds of the share.
The use of currency in public trade before the era of King Udayana was mainly conducted by exchanging goods, such as an onion in exchange for a fish, or three bananas traded for a tin of rice. An exchange would occur when both the buyer and the seller agreed on the amount of goods exchanged. Some traders used other mediums of payments such as beads, ivory, rocks and shells. The medium of exchange was expected to be easy to carry and made of durable materials. It also needed to be of a certain weight based on mutual agreement and display a sign or stamp of the authority at that time stating that the object was used as a legitimate medium of exchange.
As apparent from his close relationship to his priestly courtiers, King Udayana applied religious values for the basis of social and economic transactions. He designed two patterns on either side of gold coins depicting the balance between external and internal or material and spiritual concepts. Four sandalwood trees were printed on silver currency to depict the four cardinal directions which according to ancient Balinese belief were controlled by the gods and goddesses to protect their people. Sandalwood trees were considered sacred in ancient Bali and were often used in sacred ceremonies and building materials. The reasoning behind putting these religious symbols on the coins was so that the Balinese people could associate making money with religious sanctity. Thus the currency was not only intended as a means of exchange and monetary policies, but also a symbol of purity and nobility – although money and purity seem to be opposite concepts in the modern world, they were closely linked in ancient Bali.
Overall, the symbols in the currency were interpreted as a righteous or noble transaction. The guiding principle was if one always remembers that all things belong to the divine and will eventually return to the deities in any transaction, then the transaction will be blessed by divine mercy and in accordance with the guided path of goodness, honesty, sincerity and simplicity of life, which in turn leads to the ultimate road to emotional and physical well-being. The reasoning was that if everyone from businessmen and government officials to merchants and farmers use this concept, then there would have been no such transgressions as crime, corruption and other misconducts.
In the ancient Balinese belief, money represented abundance, and abundance was not merely an external factor in life. The lack of inner abundance in trade would have led to an imbalance in the harmony between the external and internal well-being of the individual. Therefore, trading was always to be accompanied by a reflection on the harmony and balance between one’s physical well-being (the material world) and one’s inner happiness (the spiritual world) as presented on the coins designed by King Udayana. Due to the presence of the symbolic ornaments or texts on both sides of the coins, they were considered very valuable, as they were religious artifacts that contained the name of the king. However, this proved to be impractical. As gold and silver currencies were highly valued, they were never used in lesser transactions and only used by the kingdom’s officials instead of the local people.
Markets were placed in strategic locations such as areas with dense populations, crossroads and the harbors. Apart from meeting the needs of the people, the markets also functioned as places to cultivate trade relations between regions and islands. The money used in these trade transactions was kepeng, a currency imported by the Chinese to conduct trade in Bali. Kepeng was used when there was need for money in small denominations. It also had the added advantage of being easy to carry as a kepeng coin typically had a hole in the middle which could have been used to hold significant amounts of paper money or notes.
King Udayana’s governance was inseparable from the strong influence of his wife, Queen Mahendradatta. In inscriptions relating to King Udayana, the name of the queen always precedes the name of the king. This differed from inscriptions issued by other kings who ruled before and after Udayana, where the names of their queens were omitted.
To add to his prestige and influence, King Udayana of Bali married the Javanese princess Mahendradatta of the Isyana dynasty from East Java. Mahendradatta was the daughter of king Sri Makutawangsawarddhana and the sister of King Dharmawangsa of the Medang Kingdom, a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom that flourished in Java between the eighth and 11th centuries. The marriage of Udayana and Mahendradatta was very likely meant as political union to seal Bali as part of Medang’s realm. The union produced three sons: Airlangga who later became the king of the Kingdom of Kahuripan, which was formed by the territory of Medang after its destruction by King Wurawari of Lwaram; Marakata, who later become king of Bali after the death of their father; and Anak Wungsu who ascended to the Balinese throne after the death of his brother Marakata.
Although the complete history of Udayana and his family is difficult to ascertain as there is little written historical record of Indonesia prior to its independence in 1945, folklore on the Balinese traditional arts open a window to his life. An example of this is the Balinese Barong dance, which is a part of the ritual drama, focusing on the ongoing battle between Barong (the force of good) and Rangda (the force of evil). Barong is depicted as a lion or dragon-like animal with an ornate feathery tail while Rangda is portrayed as a vicious old woman with unruly long white air and big, sharp teeth. While Barong protects villages, Rangda inflicts villages with plague, malicious magic and miseries.
The colors black, white and red associated with Rangda, are also associated with Durga. Rangda seems to have been inspired by at least two famous worshippers of Durga. The first worshipper is the 12th-century legendary widow Calon Arang. Often portrayed as a fierce witch with a frightening face, Calon Arang damaged farmers’ crops and brought about diseases to the land. The other, earlier worshipper of Durga, is Queen Mahendradatta herself who is also known for her devotion to the cult of Durga in Bali.
Due to her powerful position, Mahendradatta’s association with Rangda is more complicated than that of Calon Arang. As the princess of the ruling Medang Kingdom who married into the Balinese Warmadewa family, (who were Medang’s vassals, thus sealing Bali as part of the East Javanese Medang realm) she might have been perceived as ruling Bali through her husband as queen regent. Even if Mahendradatta was not the queen regent, her position would have been powerful enough for the Balinese court to carefully revere, or even fear her, which would have earned her many enemies.
Therefore, Mahendradatta’s unfavorable image in Balinese folklore may be the result of the influence of the Balinese court politics to discredit the ruling foreign queen. It may have also reflected her marital difficulties with King Udayana. Her husband and sons, the most powerful men in the kingdom, could have censored this unfavorable comparison of her with the figure of Rangda, if they felt the need to do so, as this comparison would reflect unfavorable on them, through their association with her. As there are no surviving records which described the familial relationship and dynamics of Udayana’s family and there are no surviving records about Mahendradatta’s husband and sons being viewed unfavorably or inconvenienced in any way by this association, one can perhaps assume that Mahendradatta’s relationship with her husband and sons was ambivalent.
The folklore regarding Mahendradatta which linked her to Rangda holds that Mahendradatta was condemned, divorced and exiled by Udayana for allegedly practicing witchcraft and black magic. The humiliated Mahendradatta then sought revenge upon her husband’s court and the whole kingdom. She summoned all the evil spirits and took her revenge by killing off half the kingdom with plague before being defeated by a holy man. After her death in 1011 AD, statues of Mahendradatta were erected depicting her as Durga Mahisashuramardini (Durga the slayer of Bull-demon). Mahendradatta was entombed in the temple in Pura Bukit Dharma Kutri in Buruan village, Blahbatu, Gianyar Regency, Bali.