The Island of the Gods and a Thousand Temples
The Island of the Gods is home to more than 10,000 temples, all of which play host to regular ceremonies honoring deities at every stage of life.
And despite their visual differences, all Balinese temples adhere to the same three principles of Balinese design philosophy:
1. Keep the Human–Divine Connection Subtle.
2. Keep the interaction between people and their natural environment positive.
3. And keep the social atmosphere open and friendly.
In a perfect world, this is called harmony.
As places of worship, Balinese communities put in significant effort to ensure that their temples are as beautiful and well-maintained as possible, reflecting the significance of these buildings in Balinese society.
Temples in Bali are the homes of deities. Normally there are at least 3 public temples within each village in Bali:
- Pura Puseh (Temple of Origin) built to honor the God of Creation (Brahma),
- Pura Desa Bale Agung built to honor the God of Life (Wisnu)
- Pura Dalem built to honor the God of the death and reincarnation (Siwa Durga).
Visitors are only permitted in certain sections of the temple if they are dressed appropriately (in a sarong) and behave respectfully. However, the central area (Inner Sanctum) of some sacred temples is reserved for religious activities only and is off-limits to all visitors.
Visitor Etiquette for Bali’s Temples
Most temples in Bali warmly welcome tourists, within reason. Women and men alike are encouraged to dress modestly, and sarongs may be borrowed for a nominal donation to the temple or the community from many of them.
It has already been noted that some sections of temples are off-limits to anybody besides devotees. Take responsibility for maintaining order by reading and obeying posted signs. Banjar locals may ask for a small donation in the form of an entrance fee to help fund infrastructure upgrades and cultural celebrations.
Menstruating women are urged to stay away, and guests are politely reminded to keep their clothing and behavior tasteful. Following these rules will help ensure that your visit to Bali’s most sacred temples is as memorable as possible.
Different types of Balinese Temples
The Balinese word for temple is pura, and there are many distinct “pura” that serve various functions in Balinese ceremonies and coincide with different times of the year in the Balinese calendar. Temples on Bali are located along the kaja-kelod sacred axis, which runs from the mountain to the sea and symbolizes the transition between the spiritual and the earthly worlds. All of Bali’s temples are sacred sites, although some are more revered than others. The temples of Bali may be broken down into four distinct types, each based on the specific functions they serve and other distinguishing features.
1. Pura Kahyangan (Directional temples)
The most sacred sites, and most revered temples in Balinese Hinduism, where the island’s most revered deities, priests, and ancestors are honored. The temples of Kahyangan may be broken down into the following six divisions:
- Pura Kahyangan Sad Winayaka or Pura Sad Kahyangan (also known as the DIRECTIONAL TEMPLES of Bali)
- Pura Kahyangan Rwa Bineda
- Pura Kahyangan Catur Loka Pala
- Pura Kahyangan Padma Bhuwana
- Pura Dang Kahyangan
- Regional Pura Kahyangan Jagat
Some of the “puras” on the island were constructed on the slopes of mountains and volcanoes since it was thought that here was where the hyang (gods) made their home.The 9 Directional Temples
2. Pura Kahyangan Tiga (Traditional Village Temples)
Three temples, known as the Khayangan Tiga, may be found in most Balinese villages. The Balinese community gathers at these temples, which are often located in the middle of cities or villages for religious ceremonies.
- Pura Desa dedicated to Lord Brahma
- Pura Puseh dedicated to Vishnu God
- Pura Dalem dedicated to Shiva God
A pura dalem often has a massive tree, such a banyan or a kepuh, that is also used as a shrine due to the temple’s link with death rituals in the human life cycle. The ngaben (cremation) process often begins with the placement of this temple at the gravesite of the recently deceased.
3. Pura Tirta (Water temples)
Apart from religious purposes, these temples also manage water as part of the Subak irrigation system. The priests at these temples have responsibility over the distribution of water among rice paddies in the communities that surround the temple. A few tirta temples are known for bathing pools with sacred water for certain cleaning rituals, while others have an actual lake surrounding them.
4. Pura Segara (Sea temples)
These are puras erected near the sea to please the sea gods and goddesses. Typically used in the Melasti ritual, one of the ceremonies performed during Nyepi when sacred objects and holy artifacts are cleansed at sea to remove any negative forces.
Bali’s temples are indeed sacred to the Balinese and more often than not, you will witness a ceremony when visiting the temple. The most sacred and most important temple is Besakih, a towering mountain-top structure of many smaller temples and staircases. It is known as the “mother temple” and is treated with great veneration. This has been a site for pilgrimages for over 1,000 years, even surviving the nearby volcanic eruptions of Gunung Agung. Another very important temple for Balinese people is Pura Danu Bratan, a picturesque site built at the shore of lake Bratan (Beratan) in the mountain highlands near Bedugul. It is not as big as it looks like on pictures, but a very scenic place and very important to the Balinese.
Balinese temples are majestic and really beautiful such as the temple of Tanah Lot, which is perched on a rock in the ocean. This “directional temple” is particularly iconic, and is most beautiful at sunrise or sunset and less crowded at other times. Or pick Uluwatu temple of Pura Luhur in the very south; although the architecture is not as impressive like some of the other temples, it adorns a towering cliff side and is home to a colony of monkeys who are happy to accept your food or steal your sunglasses. Here, a traditional kecak dance performance can be seen at sunset. If you are especially fond of monkeys, come to Ubud’s monkey forest, a protected site which features ancient moss-covered temples and monuments, and is dedicated to the monkey god, Hanoman.