Many claim that there are actually more temples than homes in Bali. Strictly speaking, many temples are really shrines but the number of religious compounds in Bali is quite hard to identify since most of the houses in Bali particularly in Ubud have a yard dedicated for their own temple.
Bali’s temples are normally peaceful and uninhabited. But during festivals, the temples are ornately decorated and transform into scenes of great activity with traditional dances and other ceremonies. According to some Balinese that I talked to, each of Bali’s temples is facing towards the mountains, the sea or sunrise.
Ubud or Bali in general is mostly influenced by the Balinese Hinduism culture. Bali is the only Hindu enclave in Indonesia which is the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Most of the religious activities are held in the temple, which like church for the Christian and mosque for the Muslim.
TIRTA EMPUL TEMPLE (HOLY WATER SPRING TEMPLE)
Tirta Empul or also known as Tampak Siring, is one of the prominent temples in Ubud. It is considered as holy mountain spring and serves as a legendary setting for a traditional tale of good versus evil and is a national cultural heritage site. This temple is located in the village of Manukaya in central Bali.
The temple complex was built circa 960 AD. It serves as a silent witness of the old Balinese kingdom years. Tirta Empul means “holy water spring” is actually the name of the water source that is passing within the temple. The water feeds adjoining purification pools, baths and fish ponds surrounding the outer complex which then all flow to the Tukad Pakerisan River. Another prominent and nearby site on top of a hill beside the temple complex is the presidential palace, Istana Tampaksiring, built during the years of the Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno.
At the entrance gate, we are requested to pay a fee before we enter. I strolled in the outer garden where there is a statue and a pool with lots of lotus flower before going inside the walled premises of the temple. The central shrines is under a traditional nipa hut roof.
As I walk around the temple, I saw a pool with fountains spouting water into it. The water of the pool is drained into another pool which has huge number of multi-coloured big koi circling around. Aside from the temple, Balinese often go here because of the sacred pool, which is also the reason for the temple being where it is.
The legend that is associated with the temple narrates how the pool of water was created by Lord Indra. There is a war between the evil king Mayadewana and the deity, Lord Indra, who is summoned by a priest to come down and help the people get rid of the tyranny. During the night Mayadewana enters the camp of his would-be destroyers treading on the sides of his feet so as to leave no footprints and creates a pool of poisoned water. (Tampak Siring means without imprints.) Next morning, the soldiers of Lord Indra drink the water and got ill. Lord Indra strikes the ground with his followers and creates a spring of fresh water which cures the illness of the soldiers. The spring is still flowing and its water runs into the Tirtha Empul. It is still believed to have healing powers. Pilgrims come from far and near to bathe in the pool to cleanse their body spiritually, mentally and physically.
Gunung Kawi which means “carving in the mount” is a 10th century Hindu temple complex located in Gianyar district. In able to explore the entire site, you have to descend the 300-step stairway made of stone leading to a very beautiful valley where the 10 seven meter high memorials carved in to the cliff face.
Four of these carvings can be found on the west side while the remaining five is on the east side of the river. According to the legend, these temples carvings are the memorial shrines of the king’s mistresses and his family. Currently, Gunung Kawi sanctuary is still used for ritual ceremonies and locals gather here periodically to offer gifts to pay homage of God, the ancient king and his family.
GOA GAJAH (ELEPHANT CAVE)
Goa Gajah or also known as Elephant Cave is an archaeological complex in the village of Budulu. This place is now a temple site. It has a variety of large old structures and relics, some are restored to their full glory. A bathing pool with spouting statues is located near the cave entrance. During religious ceremonies, holy water is sourced from these spouts.
Goa Gajah attracts local and visitors Hindu pilgrims. Various structures dating back to the 10th century reveal Hindu influences and relics feature elements of Buddhism dating back 8th century. The northern part of the complex is dominantly Buddhist while the southern part is mostly Hindu. This made Goa Gajah a silent witness of the Hindu-Buddhist era, just like the Borobudur temple in Central Java.
Goa Gajah was built on a hillside where two small streams met forming a river junction. This site is considered sacred and was built for secluded prayers and meditation. Beside the varieties of artifacts inside the compound, there are also beautiful landscapes like the surrounding rice fields.
The temples in Bali are reflection of how the Balinese give importance to their faith and culture. The villagers here spend their energy and money on their temples because it has a special meaning for them. Aside from building it to repay their ancestors for the prosperity they brought to their descendants, It’s a sacred place where people make contacts with their Gods.