Designed as “A Quiet Place to Learn About Bali,” Madra Homestay opened early in 1974

Peliatan in 1973 was a village known in Bali as a former small but powerful Balinese principality in the 18th and 19th centuries, which had gradually been eclipsed by the growing primacy of Ubud. By the mid-20th century, most Balinese and westerners paying attention to Balinese culture, recognized the village as the home of one of Bali’s most accomplished gamelan orchestras and legong dance groups, which performed in Europe and the United States to great acclaim beginning in 1952.

Bali Arts. Peliatan 1973
Peliatan main road in 1973, at the center of the village looking south from the morning market to the banyan tree and Ibu Arsa’s warung; the southwest corner of Puri Agung is at the far left. Bicycles probably outnumbered motorcycles by about 50 to 1; automobiles were rarer still. Photo: Leonard Pitt

It was also home to Ketut Madra who had moved there in 1958 at age 18 from the adjacent village of Pengosekan to become an apprentice painter of Balinese genre scenes at the home and studio of Wayan Gedah, a painter and dealer who sold Balinese artwork, mostly to visitors from Java. Once in Peliatan, Madra began studying traditional wayang painting with Tjokorda Oka Gambir whose work from the 1930s decorated most of the public temples of Peliatan.

Madra started started learning all the traditional Balinese myths and legends by about age four, watching as his father played gender wayang gamelan music to accompany wayang kulit performances at temple festivals throughout the Ubud area. Painting scenes from those old stories that he had come to know so well, he said, felt like a spiritual calling that was absent in the European-influenced paintings of market scenes, rice field harvests, and Balinese landscape. While most of his customers initially were Balinese who knew the stories in his paintings, he soon began to find that westerners were also interested in the art forms that had been part of Bali’s cultural heritage for centuries.

By the early 1970s as tourism expanded in the Ubud region, Madra found that international visitors were becoming his principal customers. In late 1973, after a singularly successful year of sales of his wayang paintings, he bought a piece of dry land next to the rice fields in Banjar Kalah, the southernmost part of Peliatan’s built area, and began planning a simple thatched pondok with woven bamboo walls, which he hoped to rent to potential students of Balinese culture coming from all over the world. It was the first step in creating what would become the Ketut Madra Homestay.

Construction of the pondok began in December and proceeded quickly. Barbara Miller, a California photographer who studied wayang painting with Madra in 1973, returned to Peliatan to continue her studies in January 1974 and moved into the new cottage as soon as it was finished. Ian Caldwell, from the UK, a friend of both Barbara Miller and David Irons, came to know Ketut well in 1973. He occupied the cottage for two months at midyear soon after Barbara returned to the States. Rucina Ballinger, who arrived in Bali in January 1974 to live in Batuan and study Balinese dance with I Nyoman Kakul became the third guest in late July and stayed through December. 

The pondok’s first year established a pattern of guests who often stayed for weeks, months, and eventually years at a time. Almost all were serious students of some aspect of Balinese life and culture. The pondok offered a peaceful place to absorb what they had come to Bali to discover. It was never empty for long.

While the cottage was solitary, it was not isolated. Removed from Peliatan, but still nearby, it quickly became a natural part of the landscape. The southern edge of the traditional village was just 100 or so meters away, and the first warung selling bubur ayam and nasi tjampur were only a few steps further. The bemo stop for the short ride west to Ubud (and the longer one south to Denpasar) was just around the corner on the main road.

The panorama from the small veranda to the southeast, south, and southwest across the rice fields presented an almost endless landscape with all the activity and ritual of Balinese wet-rice agriculture and the cycles of every phase from planting through harvest twice a year. On clear days, one could see Lembongan and Nusa Penida islands against the horizon more than 20 kilometers to the southeast.

The small kitchen was simple in the extreme. Boiled water that went into a large thermos bottle came from a kettle on the sole kerosene burner. With no refrigeration, daily fresh fruit, rice, canned foods, oatmeal, coffee, tea, sugar, and a few spices and other dry goods made up most of the stored supplies. 

Night light in Peliatan then was from kerosene lamps and flashlights. Electricity only began to arrive in the Ubud area in 1974, initially mostly to markets, businesses, and wealthy homes. However, as Ubud electrified, the number of homestays began to increase more rapidly. Yet electricity was expensive and long after it had arrived, it was still common to have indoor night-time illumination from five- and ten-watt bulbs only.

Madra Homestay, with Ubud homestay license number 10, was one of the first that was not owned by a high-caste Balinese family. Becoming an inn keeper as well as an artist was a bit of a shock for Madra, and bureaucracy, competition, and local politics of licensing would occasionally cause metaphoric headaches and quiet complaints that it was all making him dizzy (pusing).

Fortunately, his first wife Ibu Lampias, like so many Balinese women, was an immensely practical household manager who, while overseeing all the details around the care and feeding of guests and all the finances, simultaneously created the feeling of welcome and hospitality that kept everyone coming back and staying longer.

Ubud and nearby villages had become ground zero both for cultural tourism and for a rarer kind of visitor — scholars and artists who came to learn in depth the music and dance and other art forms so central to Bali’s religious culture. Others arrived to study the ways in which Bali itself was rapidly changing as Indonesia entered the global economy. From the homestay’s earliest days, Ketut Madra found that it held a special attraction for serious students of Bali.