Bali is an island, as you know, in a myriad of 17,000 islands of the vast archipelago of Indonesia, and even though the major religion is Islam, this particular island has remained faithful to its ancient Hinduism religion.
The familiar name for Bali is “the Island of Gods”. One of the reasons the name was constructed are numerous temples on the island and daily ceremonies. Balinese do ceremonies all the time – engage in for cremating their loved ones, giving thanks to the nature and ancestors, the celebration of victory of good over evil, etc.
So there is an ever-present prayer in the air accompanied with smell of incense. The offering boxes made from palm leaves, filled with vibrant colored flower petals and rice are decorating the streets, are found in the cars, in the houses, reminding us all to give thanks for all the good we have been receiving.
There are about 20,000 temples (pura) on the island, but I listed here a few of them that are a must see. I would recommend incorporating temples as a part of your tour of other localities on the island, because they are scattered around the island
The religious ceremonies are mostly held during the fool moon, so your stay on Bali coincides with full moon, it is really a cultural treat to go and see the ritual in any of the temples, indulging your senses in the colors, the dance, gamelan music, the masks…
1. Pura Besakih – the Mother Temple
The first temple on the list is the holiest temple in Bali, called the “Mother Temple” or Pura Besakih is located some 3,000 feet up Gunung Agung mountain in East Bali. The temple is constructed from 23 separate temples, some dating back to the 10th century. The temple’s main axis is aligned with the peak of Gunung Agung, the tallest mountain and holiest site in all of Bali. The Agung has always been a point of reference for the Balinese, so each of the traditional housings and temples are built so they face the mountain on whichever spot they are located on.
Pura Besakih escaped destruction in 1963 by chance, as lava flow from Gunung Agung’s eruption missed the temple by few yards. So don’t let a few hundred stairs discourage you from checking out this holy place.
Location: East Bali, accessible via Ubud, Denpasar or Candidasa. 8°22’25″S, 115°27’8.75″E (Google Maps)
2. Pura Gunung Kawi
This temple is a mausoleum of Bali royal family from the dynasty of Warma. It feature shrines carved into the stone honoring kings and queens from the 11th century. It is located in Bali’s “Valley of the Kings” in a ravine between the rice fields. The Pakerisan river flows through this ravine, and the cliffs flanking the river. The architecture looks like The Temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Location: Near Tampaksiring, accessible via Ubud. The temple can be visited together with Tirta Empul nearby. 8°25’22.41″S, 115°18’44.57″E (Google Maps)
3. Tirta Empul – The Holy Water Temple
The sacred springs that feed Tirta Empul temple pools provide holy water for priests and bathing for ordinary Balinese, who believe that a dip brings good fortune and health. An offering must first be made at the temple before you can climb into the long main pool to bathe and meditate.
Tirta Empul was built in 926 AD during the Balinese Warmadewa dynasty. A villa complex housing government VIPs poises above the temple; it was originally constructed for former President Sukarno in the 1950s.
Location: Near Tampaksiring, accessible via Ubud. The temple can be visited together with Pura Gunung Kawi nearby. 8°24’52.76″S, 115°18’57.25″E (Google Maps)
4. Tanah Lot
Tanah Lot stands on a rock some distance from the shore, towering over the sea. One can access the temple only during low tide; but even so, visitors barrage this picturesque temple. Today, Tanah Lot is regarded as one of Bali’s most important directional temples. A multimillion-dollar restoration effort in the 1990s saved Tanah Lot from falling into the sea. There is a belief that an unmarried couple should not step on the ground of the temple together, as they will be separated forever.
As one of Bali’s most popular temples, crowds surround Tanah Lot, but it does offer an amazing sunset view. Also, you can shop for souvenirs at the entrance/exit area.
Location: Accessible via Ubud or Denpasar. The temple can be visited together with Pura Taman Ayun nearby. 8°37’16.35″S, 115°5’12.54″E (Google Maps).
5. Pura Luhur Uluwatu
Pura Uluwatu is a major Balinese temple one of the six pura sad kahyangan places of worship by all Balinese, which stands on a cliff soaring 200 feet on the westernmost tip of south Bali. The view to the open sea is especially beautiful during sunset time. The external audorium hosts nightly performances of kecak dance that re-enacts the Ramayana through chanting of half-naked men, masked actors and a dramatic fire-dance.
It is believed that Pura Luhur Uluwatu was first constructed by a Javanese Hindu guru in the 10th century.
Location: eleven miles south of Kuta. 8°49’37.7908″S, 115°5’4.5722″E (Google Maps)
Bali Governor Wants to Close Temples to Tourists?
However, on November 5th during the closing of the workshop on development of tourism Bali, that Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika declared he intends to close major temples (Pura Sad Kahyangan and Pura Dang Kahyangan) to tourist visitors.
One of the reasons is a continuing debate over government plan to establishing strategic National Tourism Areas (KSPN) on Bali, for which a 5 billion Rp was allocated. Besakih Temple and the surrounding slopes of Mount Agung were to be transformed into one of the KSPN, but the Governor believes he should protect the sanctity of Balinese temples. ‘Pura (temples) – it is decided – should be clean of activities outside the interest of the Hindu faithful, at least at ‘Pura Sad Kahyangan’ and ‘Pura Dang Kahyangan’.” Apparently what annoyed Governor the most is when Miss World Indonesia came to visit in the Besakih Temple.
The list of temples Pastika intends to close for tourism in the next five years were among others Besakih Temple, Uluwatu Temple, the Bat Cave and Pura Goa Gajah.