Of all the beautiful beaches, natural aesthetics, cultural riches and friendly people what attracted me the most was Bali’s temples. Although dedicated to the same Hindu deities as in India, the temples here have got a unique touch of Balinese architecture. The concept at the heart remains same but the representation is unique and compelling in its own sense.
These Balinese architectural and cultural delights are in abundance on this small island. In fact each house, village, town or community would have a shrine dedicated to their favorite deity and is often blended with the residential structure. The only thing that perhaps gives these temples a distinct look from the equally well decorated houses is, the thatched grass roofs more prominent on a multi-storey temple tower giving it an appearance of a pagoda; as the stone statues and other artifacts are in abundance anyways everywhere in Bali.
We dedicated considerable amount of our Bali trip in exploring these temples and understanding their significance to the Balinese lifestyle. Here is a glimpse of some of the prominent and famous ones.
Tirtha Empul (The Holy Spring Temple)
The temple has natural water pouring out of mouths of statues in a pond to take holy bath, a traditional way of purification for Balinese people. Although this sort of arrangement is quite common in Bali temples but here it is realized in the most effective way. The space is huge and there are changing rooms and sarongs available on rent and it is probably considered the most sacred of all holy springs in Bali. The purification ritual completes after taking a dip under each statue sequentially and is quite refreshing and rejuvenating experience and highly recommended.
The complex is quite huge with carved stone pillars & towers scattered around. Although there are separate open spaces for performing praying rituals but a closed central shrine or a statue is not very evident, it seems the temple concept in Bali is quite wholesome not centralizing it on a main shrine. There is no particular place in front of which you have to bow your head or fold your hands; the whole place radiates the purity and aura of the presence of divine. The temple as such has no permanent roof or ceiling, again a common feature in Bali temple architecture but has a large pool with a healthy fish population thriving on the food offered by tourists and locals.
A few steps down amidst the mountains, rice fields and forest lead one to the temple of Gunung Kawi. The temple sits in the lap of mountains and appears to be carved into it. After making descent on rocky steps and crossing a small bridge on a jungle stream one approaches a secluded and quiet temple. The temple area mostly comprises of statues and caves seem to be carved in rocks with a small dedicated walled compound with sacred pillars and statues.
The temple in itself is quite blend with absence of intricate decorations like other Bali temples but its setting amid thick, lush forest and rocks make it appear like an ancient center of a lost civilization that makes it a must visit.
Goa Gajah (Elephant cave temple)
The compound of cave temple of Goa Gajah has been developed into a picnic spot of a sort. The temple itself is a small cave shrine whose entrance is from an intricately carved rock. There are three ‘lingas’ inside the cave signifying the three supreme deities, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh.
The place is bustling with tourists and it does justice to them in the form of a small Balinese art & craft market while approaching the temple or providing with a picture perfect spot in the surrounding gardens, which makes it up for a rather simple and small temple complex by Balinese standards.
Built on a projection of a cliff on the western coast of Bali, it is one of the most iconic places of the island. The temple structure in itself is quite humble and is not allowed for tourists to enter due to safety concerns but the surrounding area has been developed into a busy and lively tourist hotspot with markets, eateries and gardens all around.
One can also enjoy Balinese dance performance here every evening. It is arguably the most scenic spot to see the sunset but expect a large crowd due to popularity of the place.
Another famous cliff top temple complex in Bali which is better preserved and accessible and even more popular not because of the temple itself but the open amphitheater that plays a famous Balinese dance performance “Kechak” every evening during sunset.
It is one of the best performances on the island and draws houseful crowd every evening. In this particular dance performance the music is given by various enthusiastic youths continuously shouting ‘Chak Chak Chak’ sitting in a big circle with main artists presenting a dance drama in the middle. The presentation and audience interaction is quite good and you can go for it if you have taste for unique, different and tribal dance forms.
Pura Taman Ayun (Royal Palace Temple)
In the heart of the island sits probably the most beautiful and serene of all Balinese temples. It has been a worshiping place of Bali royalty and the temple is very well maintained. It boasts of a wide and handsome moat and lush green lawns.
Although popular the temple area seems to radiate calm and its temple towers and statue pillars provide for a unique picture backdrop. If passing time sitting on the grass or posing with a Balinese deity is your cup of tea then do pay this beautiful temple a visit.