The earliest and most remarkable specimen of metallurgy present on Bali
is the famous pre-Hindu bronze kettle gong, the largest of its type in
the world, in the towerlike shrine in the back of Pura Panataran Sasih
in Pejeng. This mysterious hourglass-shaped artifact, nearly two meters
high and adorned with eight stylized heads, survives from Indonesia's Bronze
Age, which began around 300 B.C. It is not clear if the Balinese possessed
the sophistication to forge the gong themselves, or if it was imported
The Balinese, as recently as the 1950s, excelled in working precious and semiprecious metals into many more instruments and accessories than they do today. At one time the coppersmiths and copper casters of Banjar Budaga (near Klungkung) forged or cast brass bells, incense holders, and lamps which were used as ritual objects by all classes of priests. They also fashioned handsome gold and silver plates, vases, knives, and scissors for cutting sirih. Now, only the ornate rings, bracelets, earplugs, ear pendants, and flowers for dancers' hair made from hammered and chiselled gold are still crafted. Nowadays metalworking is a common occupation, for the most part a craft of souvenir and jewelry makers.
Working as the king's armorers and as the vital source of argricultural tools and metallic musical instruments in pre-industrial Bali, the village blacksmiths were of very high social standing, free from the confines of the Hindu caste system. As a sign of deference, even the haughty Brahmanas were obliged to speak in High Balinese when speaking to a smith in his workshop. Royalty often made gifts of rice fields to honor smiths in their service. Blacksmiths had their own temples and burial grounds.
Traditional blacksmiths (pande wesi)—using bellows, tongs, anvils, charcoal fires from coconut-husks—still can be found on Bali. To see traditional gamelan instrument makers in action, visit the workshop of Pak Gabeleran in Blahbatuh where bronze is forged into xylophonic keys or pots. Ornate instrument stands are carved here as well. Tihingan village, five km north of the main Gianyar-Klungkung road, is another instrument-making center. Balinese musicians from all over the island come to these foundries to buy their musical instruments.
The art of stained-glass and iron-mongering is kept alive by Mondirama in Padangtegal just before Ubud (if coming from Peliatan). Dolf, the owner, designs all his own glass and iron pieces. The glass manufactured at the shop is burned (oxidized) to achieve 130 colors. This method was used in medieval times. Artisans who restore European cathedrals have to use this method to match the ancient colors. Mondirama is the only factory of its kind in Indonesia. There's another one in Bandung, but they import glass from the U.S., which makes their products expensive.
One of the largest and most complete stores for bronze decorative objects in Indonesia is the Golden Buffalo House of Bronze, on Monkey Forest Road in Ubud, tel. (0361) 96328, fax 752013, and at Jl. Legian Tengah 412 in Kuta, tel. (0361) 755936, fax 752013. They can create any kind of motif by designing a piece after one in their catalog or by creating a sample.