In mediaeval Bali (circa 1600-1906) gamelan semara pagulingan (also known as semar pegulingan) was an important part of the Balinese courts. Accompanying court rituals and pendet dances at temple ceremonies, semara pagulingan also served to lull the royal family to sleep when it played in the late evenings in the inner sanctum of the palace. Semara pagulingan have 5, 6 or 7 tones, with 5-tone orchestras being the most common. In their 5- and 6-tone forms, there are very few semara pagulingan sets left in Bali from the court era.
This orchestra is used primarily for instrumental pieces, as the dance repertoire is long since forgotten. We have three semara pagulingan sets at Mekar Bhuana: two in Bali (a seven- and a six-tone set) and one in New Zealand. The seven-tone orchestra at Mekar Bhuana in Bali is antique and complete; in fact, it is the largest semara pagulingan set in the world. The set includes four saron jongkok, a gentorag bell-tree, four gumanak tubular bells, four kangsi cymbals and a ponggang–all features of court gamelan. Our group studies the Pagan Kelod, Kamasan, Gerenceng, Titih and Kaliungu Kelod repertoire.
The seven-tone set in New Zealand also partly old but has a higher tuning than our one in Bali. The orchestra is both smaller in instrumentation as well as dimensions of the keys, pots and casings. There are just six gangsa (but all gangsa jongkok) however, we still include some of the rare instruments such as a ponggang, a pair of kangsi and pair of gumanak. It is the only active set we have that includes the extremely rare instrument called a curing, here in the barangan range. We had a pair of gender rambat, some extra terompong pots in the higher range, as well as five-keyed gangsa jongkok casings made for this set so that it can also be played as a five-tone semara pagulingan and semara patangian in New Zealand.
Our six-tone semara pagulingan is not yet complete, as we still need to fundraise more to make the ornate wooden casings, the design of which we would like to base on the only other six-tone semara pagulingan orchestra in the world, which is housed in Amsterdam and sadly no longer played. All the gangsa in our set are gangsa jongkok and we have also included a pair of rare curing barangan to make the sound even sweeter when one day it is played as a whole. You can be part of our passionate reconstruction project by donating here to help get the casings made.
Over the past 21 years, we have succeeded in reconstructing many long and extinct court pieces, as well as some of the original court dances which were once accompanied by these delicate court orchestras.
Watch videos of our semara pagulingan on our YouTube channel.