Temples in Bali

You find them clinging to steep volcanic slopes, perched on craggy cliffs, or nestled in the branches of towering banyan trees.  Some seem to float on serene lakes, while others are tucked away amidst the frangipani in family compounds. Known as Pura, Bali’s temples are the meeting points of humans and gods and here, on the island of the gods, a temple is never far from view.

More than 10,000 temples are scattered across the island and commemorate virtually every aspect of life: harvest, rain, prosperity, life, death and protection. Generally, the greater gods are worshipped in larger public temples while lesser gods and deities are worshipped in smaller local temples. The most important are known as the nine directional temples or Kahyangan jagat and occupy auspicious locations, like mountains, cliffs and lakes.  Unlike smaller regional temples, these are considered to be relevant to all of Bali and protect the island and its inhabitants from evil spirits.  From these, six are classed as sad-kahyangan, supreme holy temples and are considered the pillars of the island.  These generally include Pura Besakih, Pura Uluwatu, Pura Goa Lawah, Pura Lempuyang Luhur, Pura Batukaru, Pura Pusering Jagat.

Pura kahyangan jagad: mountain temples

Bali’s majestic mountains and volcanoes are thought to be the abode of the gods, and these temples command impressive settings with panoramic backdrops. They are places  of pilgrimage – especially during full moon ceremonies and odalan (temple anniversaries.) Pura Besakih – the  mother temple is the most important of all and occupies an enormous complex 1000 m high on the slopes of Mount Agung – Bali’s holiest mountain. Believed to be the spiritual and religious centre of the universe,  Brahma, Wisnuand Siwa are worshipped here, as well as  a host of other deities. The  tropical rainforest of Mount Batakaru is home to another important – if less visited –temple, Pura Luhur Batukaru, which is dedicated to the god of plants and growing. While over in the north east, Pura Lempuyang  (the dragon temple) perches on a lonely, windy mountain ridge and is dedicated to the god Iswara, ‘keeper of the peace,’ and is reached by way of 1,700 steep steps cut into the mountainside.

Pura segara: ocean temples

These mighty Balinese sea temples were designed to appease the wild and unruly gods of the ocean, and have particular significance during the Melasti purification rituals that precede Nyepi (the Balinese new year.) During this time sacred objects and effigies are carried in long and colourful processions to the ocean where people bathe with the deities, in a symbolic cleansing of body and soul. With its dramatic setting on the cliffs of southern Bali, Pura Luhur Uluwatu is one of the island’s most famous sea temples and is dedicated to Rudra, the god of storms and wind. While Pura Goa Lawah hugs the coast of Kusamba and is associated with the after life. Commonly known as the Bat Cave (there are hundreds of them – but they are not  objects of worship,) it is said to be linked to Pura Besakih by a 30km tunnel which, according to mythology, is inhabited by a giant dragon-like snake that feeds off bats.

Pura tirta: water temples

Unlike other temples which serve purely religious purposes, the picturesque water temples also have a practical role to play in the management of subak (rice irrigation system), with temple priests managing the water allocation among  the surrounding rice paddies. Some of these temples have sacred springs and bathing pools making them a popular destination for cleansing rituals, the most well known being Pura Tirta Empul.  Believed to have been created by Indra, the ruler of heaven, and god of thunder and rainfall, the holy waters of Tirta Empul are said to have strong curative properties.Other water temples are built within lakes, such as the stunning Pura Ulun Danu Bratan which appears to float on the water and is dedicated to the worship of the goddess of lakes and rivers.

Khayangan Tiga: territorial temples

Each village іs required by adat  (traditional law) to have аt least three temples. These include the pura puseh (temple оf origin) dedicated the village founders and located аt the kaja (pure) side оf the village. In the center of the village, the pura desa (village temple) is for the spirits that protect and bless the village, while the pura dalem (temple оf the dead) is situated аt the kelod (unclean) end and also acts as a graveyard.  There are also functional temples belonging to different professions and their relevant deities. For instance Dewi sri, the rice goddess, is worshipped at rice temples, while farmers and merchants have temples located next to Bali’s markets  which are dedicated to Dewi Melanting, the goddess of seeds, gardens and markets. Family temples are the smallest and the most numerous and can be found in every Balinese Hindu compound. Ancestors are worshipped at these hereditary shrines which are honoured with daily offerings .

 

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Free Diving Amed


“The one who controls his breath is the ruler over his mind and body”

Swami Satyananda Saraswati.”

Photographs courtesy of Cdelacy / www.apneista.com  

More on Amed

Learning to free dive

 

Amed with its rugged mountain scenery and vibrant coral reefs is increasingly known as a centre for free-diving in Bali, and is home to Apneista, the island’s first free-diving school.  With a beachside yoga shala, cafe and juice bar on the picturesque bay of Jemuluk, Apneista  offers a range of courses that combine the essentials of free-diving with yoga, stretching, pranayama and advanced breath work – all  components of going ‘down the line’ into the big blue.   “Yoga breath is the bridge between mind and body, the conscious and the unconscious  says Matt, founder of  Apneista. “Rather than yoga being simply part of our free-diving training, we see free-diving as the oceanic part of our yoga practice.”

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People have been free-diving for thousands of years, scraping the ocean floor for pearls, shell fish and sponges, but free diving as a sport was relatively unknown until the iconic film of the 80’s, The Big Blue.  The movie, loosely based on the real life rivalry between two champion free-divers, Jaques Mayol and Enzo Maiorca, captured the glory days as divers reached record depths and in so doing challenged the notions of human biology. It was discovered that humans, like sea mammals possess the mammalian dive reflex – when  the body is submerged in cold water all major systems slow down, minimising the need for oxygen. Known as the dolphin man,  French-born Mayol mastered his free-dive technique by swimming with dolphins –   in mimicking their behavior he learned how to integrate himself with the ocean. By adding the power of yoga and meditation, he revolutionised the sport, becoming the first free diver to reach 100 meters.  As yogis have always taught us, when we become aware of our breath, incredible things can happen.

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While adrenalin junkies still strive to go ever deeper, these days many are drawn to the more gentle, recreational aspects of free diving, and the opportunity to enjoy the peace and stillness of the underwater world unencumbered by a  tank. While scuba diving enables you to stay underwater for a longer time, passively observing the reefs and marine life; free-diving allows a full aquatic immersion as you float gently on the currents, completely at one with the ocean. There is an extraordinary sensation of weightlessness and silence, time seems to stand still – in fact it doesn’t seem to exist at all. The outer peace of the surrounding deep blue ocean creates an extraordinary sense of inner peace – or perhaps it’s the other way around… its hard to tell when the  body and mind are acting as one and flowing effortlessly, seamlessly into an intensely beautiful experience.

Asanas and free diving

Just as yoga asanas are often inspired by animals,  free-diving – sometimes referred to as ocean yoga – teaches us to move like a fish, gliding slowly and gracefully through the ocean. “Yoga teaches us alignment of the body, with practice the body becomes more fluid in nature as we develop flexibility and make space, but this is not a  thing only of ligaments and muscles, it is a thing of energy,” says Matt. “We don’t do this for the sake of sitting in ever-more complicated postures, we do this so the body’s subtle life juices can flow better. With free-diving our focus is precisely on this type of fluid movement, to move like water through water. We learn that rigid movement is wasteful movement the forgiving nature of water allows us a fluid realignment of the body.”

The benefits of Pranayama

“The list of benefits of yoga for the free diver are long – from teaching mental clarity and thoracic flexiblity to emotional well-being, but  the benefits of free-diving to the Yogi, when practiced in the right spirit, are equally profound,” says Matt. “ The most obvious  is the control and understanding of the breath, free-diving as a door into the science of pranayama.”   Those who practice pranayama regularly are naturally able to hold their breath longer and are accustomed to exploring the breath and the mind’s reactions to the body, perfect tools for free diving which requires  a range of breathing techniques, including a pre dive ‘breathe up’ and a ‘post dive’ recovery breath.”

 

Underwater Meditation

Yoga and meditation teach us to let go of tension, to be in the moment, as we learn to passively observe thoughts and physical sensations without putting energy into them. This is essential to free diving where the mind may initially rebel against the idea of going deep and being unable to breath – but it is only by confronting our fears that we are able to move beyond them. “This drawing together of mind and body into one focused moment is some of the essence of yoga,” says Matt. “In Bali the sea is considered a place of many dangerous spirits yet also a place of purification,” he adds. “In a romantic way we can see free-diving in the Balinese context as a ritualised confrontation with the our ‘low spirits’ of fear and needless anxiety. When we free-dive sometimes the mind turns against us becoming mischievous or fearful, we can become plagued by our own inner ‘demons of doubt’. But with the ritual of our weighted line and safety procedures  and our faith in physics we can see beyond the doubts to the deep blue face of mother nature. Then we free-dive mindfully, infused with calm and a sense of home coming.

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Amed

Photograph Cdelacy for www.apneista.com

Famed for its pristine reefs, Amed lures divers from around the world, but there is much more to this scenic coast line than ship wrecks and coral gardens.

Tucked into the north east corner of Bali, where rugged mountains tumble to a cerulean sea, Amed basks in glorious isolation. Peaceful fishing villages cling to the coast where black sand is lined with colourful jukungs (fishing boats) and tranquil bays teem with marine life. Often described as sleepy, the region is gently waking up and provides a quirky, unspoilt alternative to the buzzing south. Amidst the rustic home stays and charming boutique hotels traditional life continues much as it always has. Fishermen set sail before dawn, farmers tend to cassava and peanut crops, and the white crystals of the salt pans glisten in the sunlight.

Amed’s attractions are not limited to single sites, you need to take in the big picture by immersing yourself in the dramatic natural scenery as you explore the ocean and the land. The name Amed generally refers to a string of  fishing villages joined by a  narrow road that dips and winds between the mountains and the sea.  Each upward swerve reveals picturesque half moon bays that will have you constantly reaching for your camera. This is the driest region of Bali and the sloping, parched red earth is strewn with boulders, brambles, black lava rock and wild grasses baked to a crisp coppery gold. In striking contrast,  branches of bougainvillea, hibiscus and frangipani frame the deep blue sea with vibrant splashes of colour. Low lying villages are set amidst palm groves and mango trees, where women collect firewood, chickens streak across the road in wild abandon and cows loiter in the shade of the banana groves.

A scenic road leads inland to the village of Bangle and gives a glimpse into rural life,  with terraced hills strewn with cassava and corn plantations and houses made of stone and thatch.  The village nestles in an oasis of greenery, thanks to a series of holy springs – each with a different taste. For a small fee one of the villagers will act as a guide.

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pura lempuyang  (the dragon temple)

Past Bangle, the rough road steepens sharply and leads to one of the island’s most important temples, Pura Lempuyang, known as the abode of the God Iswara, ‘keeper of the peace.’ Isolated on a windy mountain ridge with stunning views over the valleys, this mysterious and beautiful temple is a place of pilgrimage and spiritual awakening, especially during elaborate full moon ceremonies. The temple is more easily and safely reached on the inland road from Culik, and with 1700 steps to climb is best visited early in the morning. 

The Salt Pans

The Lombok Straight brings clean cold fast moving water from the north which mixes with the warm Bali tropical water to create a unique artisan salt which is stocked in gourmet delicatessens around the world. While the industry is declining, salt pans are still scattered around the shores of Amed, where farmers use ancient techniques to craft 100% natural salt by sun and wind evaporation. The taste is unique – mild and slightly sweet – and salt can be bought direct from the farmers who will happily give you a tour and explain the production process.

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In total contrast to the inhospitable landscape, the calm sea is home to some of Bali’s most beautiful reefs – a  veritable underwater fantasy world inhabited by frolicking sea horses, giant trevally, schools of barracuda, clown frog fish, reef sharks, turtles and a diverse range of hard and soft coral. The thriving marine life is attributed to  low level tourism, and the phenomenon known as the Indonesian Through flow which links the Indian and Pacific oceans with streams of nutrient rich cold water that nourish the reefs of eastern Bali.

The Liberty ship wreck in nearby Tulamben is one of Bali’s most famous dive sites, but the bays around Amed have plenty to captivate novice and experienced divers. Best of all, many of the sites can be accessed directly from the beach and are equally enjoyed with a mask and snorkel.  Highlights include the sheltered bay at Jemeluk with a vibrant reef teeming with tropical fish just meters off shore, while a short swim or boat ride to the rocky point, known as the drop off, reveals slopes covered in giant gorgonian fans and red barrel sponge corals. Further east, the Japanese wreck at Banyuning nestles on a pretty coral garden; divers can explore the lower reaches, while snorkelers also enjoy great views of the wreck covered in sea fans and soft pastel corals swaying in the gentle current.

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www.dive4images.com

free-diving

There is a whole lot more to free-diving than just holding your breath. Once the bastion of pearl divers and extreme adrenalin junkies seeking to go ever deeper, these days people are more drawn by the opportunity to explore the silence and the beauty of the underwater world in complete freedom. Jemeluk Bay has become a centre for free-diving in Bali and is home to the island’s first free-dive school Apneista , www.apneista.com which offers  two day courses combining advanced breathing techniques with yoga and pranayama.  Sometimes described as ocean yoga or underwater meditation, the free-diver is unencumbered by a scuba tank and can glide through the water like a fish. Moving slowly and gracefully, without a trail of bubbles, allows a far more intimate and natural experience with marine life.

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Photograph Courtesty Cdelacy for   www.apneista.com  

Healthy pursuits

Just being in Amed induces a state of peace and well being. Early nights are for floating to sleep lulled by the gentle murmur of the ocean; mornings are for rolling out of bed and straight into the sea; lazy afternoons call for languid lunches, siestas,   relaxing beach massages, or a spa visit. Usher in the evening with a sunset yoga class at Apneista, overlooking the beach, or check for workshops in the hillside yogashala at Om Shanti www.omshanti.com  A full range of detox and healing programs are offered at the luxurious Golden Rock Detox Centre www.theretreatbali.com while   Aiona Garden of Health www.aionabali.com offers personalised ayurvedic programs, and sells herbal teas, kombucha, homemade jams and chutneys in a delightfully quirky setting.

day trips

Amed makes a great base for climbing Moung Agung – best attempted in the dry season, and for visiting Tirta Ganga, an evocative water palace set in a maze of tropical water gardens filled with statues and stone fountains. Cycling is a great way to explore the countryside, and East Bali Bike tours www.eastbalibike.com have a range of options including tours from the slopes of Mount Agung down to the sea.

Stay

Life in Amed

Lean, Bunutan, Abang T  0363 23152 www.lifebali.com

A tranquil beachside haven with cottages, beach houses and pools nestled in enchanted gardens flourishing with frangipani and bougainvillea. The atmospheric Perfumed Garden villa is highly recommended, with its wonderful antiques, ocean views and private salt water pool.gardens life in Amed

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Blue Moon Villas

Selang Beach T 0363 21428 www.bluemoonvilla.com

With a fabulous garden setting on a headland overlooking Selang Bay these stylish suites and villas enjoy panoramic ocean views. Request one of the beautiful Blue Angel Oceanfront rooms and relax in the private infinity pool clinging to the cliff’s edge.

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Good Karma

Jalan Raya Selang.  T: 081 337 531 133

Set in the shade of towering banyan trees and vibrant flowers these bamboo beach shacks are basic but charming, and just meters from the sea.

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Hotel Uyah Amed & Spa resort  (Salt Lodge) Jl Ketut Natih, Pantai Timur T 036323462  www.hoteluyah.com

A rustic, eco friendly resort that is partly solar powered. The sprawling beachfront property aims to preserve salt production in the region and is built around salt pans.

 Eat

Local style warungs and home stays offer traditional food, while resorts and hotels have adjoining restaurants serving Indonesian and western cuisine. Top picks include Warung Enak a crowd favourite with tasty home style cooking made from fresh organic produce – the health juice with turmeric, lemon and honey is excellent. Komang John’s Cafe (Blue Moon Villas) has expansive ocean views and serves up authentic Balinese and international dishes, with a good selection of daily specials and tropical cocktails. Life in Amed offers fantastic salads, Indonesian and western food and the best chocolate cake in the area.

getting there

The drive from the airport takes about three hours. Follow the road to Candi Dasa  then turn inland to Amlapura passing tropical hinterland and verdant rice terraces. The small town of Culik in the shadow of Mount Agung marks the gateway to Amed. There is also a longer, more scenic coastal route from Amlapura, but the road is narrow and rough in places. Public transport is limited, and there is much to see, so it is best to rent a car or motor bike.

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