The Puputan War: History, Significance & Impact on Balinese Culture

The Puputan War was a conflict that took place in 1906-1908 between the Dutch colonial forces and the royal family and people of the Kingdom of Bali, an island in present-day Indonesia.

The war occurred after decades of strained relations and minor conflicts between the Balinese and Dutch colonial authorities in the Dutch East Indies. Tensions escalated in 1906 when a Chinese ship was wrecked off the coast of Bali. The Dutch accused the Raja of Badung of looting the ship and demanded compensation. The Balinese refused, and fighting broke out in Badung territory.

In September 1906, the Dutch launched a military expedition to subdue the southern kingdoms of Bali. After initial battles, the Dutch surrounded the royal palace in the capital of Badung. Rather than surrender, on September 20, 1906, the Raja led the royal family and over 200 retainers in a ritual mass suicide known as Puputan. This tragic act of defiance against colonial rule sparked the wider Puputan War across Bali.

The main combatants were the Dutch colonial forces against the kingdoms of Badung, Tabanan, Klungkung and Gianjar. The Balinese fought fiercely but were ultimately no match for the Dutch's superior firepower. By 1908, the Dutch had conquered the southern kingdoms, ending the Puputan War after much loss of life on both sides.

Read more: A Day of Silence in Bali: Nyepi Travel Guide

Table of Content

The Puputan War: History, Significance & Impact on Balinese Culture

Causes of the Puputan War

The Puputan War, also known as the Dutch intervention in Bali, was sparked by growing tensions between the Balinese kingdoms and the Dutch colonial forces in the early 20th century.

Bali had become highly coveted by the Dutch due to its lucrative opium trade and fertile lands. However, the island was divided into different kingdoms that the Dutch struggled to control. By the early 1900s, the kingdoms of Badung and Klungkung were the last remaining holdouts against Dutch rule.

The Balinese rulers strongly resisted Dutch colonialism and refused to submit to foreign rule. Tensions came to a head in 1906 when a Chinese ship was wrecked off the coast of Sanur in Denpasar. The Dutch used this as a pretext to issue an ultimatum demanding reparations and control of the Sanur region. When the Balinese king refused, the Dutch sent in their army and warships.

Further ultimatums demanding total Balinese submission followed in 1908. The proud rulers of Badung and Klungkung were prepared to fight to the death rather than surrender their kingdoms to Dutch control. This set the stage for the catastrophic Puputan War which decimated Bali's ruling families.

Puputan Margarana War
Bali's serene landscape holds deep historical significance as the backdrop of the courageous Puputan War.

Meaning of Puputan in Balinese

The Puputan refers to the mass ritual suicides that occurred at the end of the Puputan War. Puputan is a Balinese term meaning "fight to the death."

Rather than surrender to the Dutch forces, the rajas (rulers) of Badung and Tabanan led their followers in a ceremonial fight to the death. When defeat was inevitable, the Balinese royalty, priests, soldiers and people dressed in their finest clothing and marched straight into the Dutch gunfire.

It was seen as a deliberate act to gain spiritual advantage in the afterlife, according to the Hindu beliefs of the Balinese. The rulers believed it was better to die honorably than surrender.

This mass act of ritual suicide was shocking to the Dutch and became a symbol of Balinese resistance. The Puputan demonstrated the strong loyalty between the Balinese royalty and people and their dedication to independence.

Major Battles in Puputan War

The Puputan War involved several major battles between the Dutch colonial forces and the Balinese.

Battle of Tabanan

The Battle of Tabanan occurred in April 1906 when Dutch forces marched on the kingdom of Tabanan. The raja of Tabanan refused to surrender, and fighting broke out in the streets. Outnumbered Balinese warriors bravely fought against Dutch troops armed with modern rifles and artillery. After two days of intense urban combat, Tabanan was captured by the Dutch.

Battle of Marga

In May 1906, the Dutch laid siege to the kingdom of Marga. Determined to fight to the death, the Marga forces staged a puputan, or ritual suicide attack, against the Dutch, who had surrounded their capital. Led by the raja, waves of kris-wielding warriors marched or rode on horseback towards the Dutch rifles. The Balinese fought ferociously despite suffering heavy losses. After the raja was killed, the remaining Marga soldiers fought to the last man.

Battle of Denpasar

The final major battle occurred in September 1906 when the Dutch besieged the capital of Badung kingdom in Denpasar. The raja again called for a puputan against the Dutch forces. Men and women wearing white ceremonial clothes marched straight into Dutch rifle and artillery fire. Fighting was intense as the Balinese refused to surrender. After the raja ritually stabbed his own chest, the remaining Balinese fighters charged forward to their deaths. Over 1,000 Balinese died before the Dutch took the city.

Aftermath of War

The Puputan War had devastating effects on Bali. The royal families were wiped out, with thousands killed in the puputan mass ritual suicides. Entire villages were destroyed in the fighting. The Dutch had successfully conquered Bali, establishing full colonial control over the island.

Many Balinese were left grieving and displaced after the war. With the old ruling families gone, the traditional way of life was disrupted. The Dutch instituted new administrative policies and laws over Bali. While allowed to continue practising their Hindu religion and customs, the Balinese lost autonomy under Dutch rule.

Taxes and demands for goods increased under the Dutch, causing economic hardships for the Balinese. Ongoing resistance continued against Dutch control for years after the war, with sporadic revolts and uprisings. But the Puputan War marked the end of independent kingdoms in Bali. The island remained under Dutch control until Indonesia's independence in 1945.

The war left deep scars and changed Balinese history forever. Yet the courage of the puputan has become an important part of Bali's cultural identity. The sacrifices made are commemorated today as a source of pride, remembrance and inspiration for the Balinese people.

Legacy of Puputan War

The Puputan War holds an important place in Balinese cultural identity. The puputan ("fight to the death") actions of the rajahs and their followers are seen as examples of honor and courage in choosing death over the humiliation of surrender.

Today, the Puputan War is commemorated through monuments, memorials, and public celebrations. The most prominent monument is the Puputan Badung Monument in Denpasar, which commemorates the puputan of Badung. Unveiled in 1987, this monument depicts Balinese warriors marching to their death, with inscriptions honoring their bravery.

Other monuments can be found at the sites of major puputans, such as at Kesiman and Sumerta. Puputan memorials have also been constructed abroad, such as the Monument to the Balinese Puputan in the Netherlands.

The anniversary of the Puputan Badung is commemorated each year on April 20th in Denpasar. Thousands gather at the Puputan Badung Monument to pay respects through offerings, prayers and cultural performances. For the Balinese, the Puputan War represents the courage and honor of their ancestors in defending their kingdom.

Visiting Puputan War Sites

The Puputan War left behind several monuments, museums, historical sites, and landmarks that travelers can visit today to learn more about this impactful time period.

Monuments and Museums

Some key monuments and museums related to the Puputan War include:
  1. Puputan Monument - This monument in Denpasar features larger-than-life statues depicting the raja of Badung ceremonially stabbing his kris into his chest, symbolizing the mass ritual suicide that occurred at the end of the war.
  2. Museum Negeri Propinsi Bali - The Provincial Museum of Bali contains exhibits and artifacts from the Puputan War, including weapons, photographs, and artwork.
  3. Museum Satria Mandala - This museum in the former royal palace in Denpasar also displays Puputan War memorabilia.

Historical Sites and Landmarks

Significant historical sites and landmarks from the war era that travelers can visit include:
  1. Puri Kanginan - The palace compound in Denpasar where the final Puputan took place on September 20, 1906. While mostly in ruins today, parts of the original palace structures remain.
  2. Puri Pemecutan - The palace in Denpasar where the Raja of Badung made his last stand on September 20, 1906. Visitors can see remnants of the palace at the site.
  3. Jaba Pura - This temple in Denpasar was another key location during the final Puputan on September 20, 1906.
  4. Kesiman - The village east of Denpasar that saw fighting between Balinese and Dutch troops.
Visiting these monuments, museums, and historical sites allows today's travellers to reflect on the history and legacy of the Puputan War in Bali.

Colonel I Gusti Ngurah Rai

Colonel I Gusti Ngurah Rai, born on January 30, 1917, is celebrated as an Indonesian National Hero for his leading role in the Indonesian War of Independence against the Dutch, particularly in Bali. His most notable involvement was in the Puputan Margarana, a battle that dramatically showcased the Balinese spirit of resistance.

When faced with insurmountable Dutch forces, Ngurah Rai made the courageous decision to command a "Puputan," which translates to a fight to the last man. This act of defiance and sacrifice occurred on November 20, 1946, and, unfortunately, led to Ngurah Rai's death along with all of his troops. The Puputan Margarana not only left a mark on Bali's history but also became a symbol of unsurpassable heroism and the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of one's homeland.

The story of I Gusti Ngurah Rai is a poignant reminder of the cost of freedom and the unyielding spirit of the Balinese people. His leadership and monumental sacrifice continue to be commemorated in Bali and throughout Indonesia, with Bali's international airport notably bearing his name in honor of his contributions.

I Gusti Ngurah Rai
Colonel I Gusti Ngurah Rai and his gallant troops, who in the face of overwhelming odds chose honour and freedom, whispers tales of courage, sacrifice, and the unwavering love for one's homeland.
puputan war
I Gusti Ngurah Rai, a national hero of Indonesia, commemorated on the Indonesian rupiah note, honouring his valiant leadership during the Puputan War.

Cultural Depictions

The Puputan War has been the subject of numerous cultural works and artistic interpretations over the years.


Renowned Indonesian painter Affandi created a series of expressionist paintings in the 1950s and 1960s depicting scenes from the war, including The Rage of Kesiman and Fallen Puputan Warriors. His works aimed to capture the emotion and tragedy of the conflict.

Other Balinese artists like I Nyoman Tusan and I Wayan Karja also produced paintings related to Puputan, often in a romanticized folk art style. These works tended to focus on the bravery and sacrifice of the Balinese people.


The 1984 film Tjokorda Gde Raka Soekawati's Puputan Badung was one of the first Balinese feature films. It dramatized the royal family's heroic but tragic fight against the Dutch forces.

In 2011, the Indonesian film The Last Puputan told the story of a Dutch soldier who falls in love with a Balinese woman amidst the outbreak of the war. It provided an intimate look at the conflict.

An international co-production called Fallen produced in 2016 also depicted the Puputan War through a fictionalized romance. It starred well-known actors like Dominique Swain.


The Puputan War has been featured in novels like Mochtar Lubis' Senja di Jakarta, which included an episode on the Badung Puputan.

Many poems have also commemorated the bravery of the puputan fighters, like "Puputan Badung" by Sapardi Djoko Damono.

The war and destruction of Denpasar also formed the backdrop for the magical realist novel Saman by Ayu Utami, providing an evocative setting.

Overall, the dramatic and emotionally charged history of the Puputan War has inspired many memorialising creative works in various media. It continues to capture artistic imaginations in Indonesia and globally.

Travel Tips

When visiting sites related to the Puputan War, it helps to be prepared to get the most out of your experience. Use the following information to help you prepare for the trip:

Best Times to Visit Bali

The dry season from April to October offers the best weather for exploring the area. Temperatures are warm but not too hot, with low humidity. Avoid the monsoon season from November to March when heavy rains can make travel more challenging.

Getting Around Bali

Many of the Puputan War sites are located in and around Denpasar. Taxis are readily available, though you'll get better rates if you haggle the price before getting in. For longer day trips, consider hiring a car and driver for the day. Bicycles are another nice way to get around the area.

Accommodations in Bali

Denpasar offers a wide range of hotel options, from budget guesthouses to luxury resorts. Stay near downtown to be close to the central sites. Ubud is another popular place to stay, offering a more serene setting amid lush rice paddies and temples. Aim for places with pools to relax after long days exploring in the tropical heat.

The Puputan War was a significant yet tragic event in Bali's history. Through this brief travel guide, we covered the background, causes, major battles, aftermath, and legacy of the war. Key points include:
  • The war was fought between the Dutch colonial forces and Balinese rajahs in 1906-1908. It ultimately led to the fall of the Balinese kingdoms.
  • While the Balinese were outmatched technologically, their brave final stand (known as the Puputan) demonstrated their honour and principles.
  • Several major battles occurred in Badung, Tabanan, and Klungkung regions. Thousands of Balinese, including many women and children, were killed.
  • The war consolidated Dutch control over Bali and ended its autonomy. But it also created rifts between Balinese royalty and commoners.

Today, the Puputan War is remembered through monuments, museums, art, and ceremonies. The sacrifices made are a point of cultural pride.

For travellers, visiting sites related to the Puputan War provides cultural insight and perspective on Bali's history. As you explore the island's beauty, take time to reflect on its past struggles and traditions. The Puputan War is an important part of the Balinese story.

Share your travel and dining experiences on Instagram by tagging @rollinggrace or using #RollingGrace. Happy travels!


Popular Posts