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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Author: Alison Bone

A well seasoned travel writer, Alison arrived in Bali in 2008 and never got around to leaving. Trading global nomadic journeys for explorations of a culinary kind, she now writes about the island's ever-evolving dining scene. Alison also returns regularly to Fiji and has just completed her first book, The Faraway Islands, about her time living with a traditional community in the remote Yasawa Islands.

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