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The Importance of Being Charming

My home village of Batur may be more spectacularly beautiful, but Ubud is where tourists choose to linger for longer. Asked by my uncles and aunts why this is so, I would rack my brains for answers.

Most often, I would think of the healing charm of Ubud. The name itself comes from the word Ubad, which means ‘medicine’. Legend has it that Rsi Markandeya, who led the first few waves of migration from the Dieng plateau in Java circa 10th century, discovered the healing power of the Wos River at the confluence known as Campuhan. That was why he directed the settlement of the Wos River ridge, due north of Ubud today. Even my father settled here eventually, and chose to take his last breath of fresh air near his favourite riverside hideaway.

Observing the sculpture that is the mascot of Ubud, I found a simpler answer in the figure that stands proud at the Ubud, Gianyar, Pejeng and Tegalalang intersection, about half a kilometre east of Ubud market. Baring his chest towards Ubud, he looks and directs his bow and arrow towards Gianyar. The archer reminds me of the prince of charm Arjuna, the legendary lover of the Mahabharata.

Arjuna, the third-born of the five Pandawa brothers, was not the most handsome. His younger brother Nakula was. He was not the strongest or bravest warrior – that was Bima, his older brother. Neither was he the smartest, nor the wisest of them all, for those virtues were attributed to Sahadewa, the youngest, and Dharmawangsa, the eldest, respectively. What made him special? He was the most charming. Most loved. Most human.

Despite being the spiritual son of Indra, god of rain and war, Arjuna was not one eager for battle. He faltered at the battlefield of Kurusetra. Krishna, the family advisor, sang to him. The song of the wise Bhagavan, known to many as the Bhagavad-Gita, became a hallowed chapter of the Mahabharata, for it contains a pearl of wisdom for man: Life is for Karma or action; the time for doing. One must carry out one’s duties, one’s Dharma.

Why was this weak mortal asked to lead the greatest battle of all Indian epics? Because he gave people hope. So the soldiers would brave their hearts, as he had to.
Arjuna catches the popular imagination as a man so charming, he had many wives and none berated him for it. Among his wives and lovers were goddesses, princesses, demons and ogres. He sired numerous children, and they all got along well, so patient and charming was the man. When war came, they fought alongside each other too.

It would seem that the new big and wide wives, namely the oversized busses, are figuratively starting to tread on the toes of Ubud’s longer, more established lovers. The problem does seem to be one of spatial planning and time-management, something the legendary Arjuna managed quite well in between his many quests thanks to the geographic dispersion of his many wives. Ubud today, however, has a finite area in which to keep and maintain concubines and offspring. Perhaps there’s a limit to the number of lovers Ubud can take, after all… if Ubud is to retain his charm.

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