Bali The Island Of Temples

Bali’s Religion and Beliefs

Approximately three million people live on Bali and about 90 percent of the people follow the Hindu religion. Balinese Hinduism was formed from a combination of existing local beliefs and Hindu influences from across Southeast Asia and South Asia. The Balinese, like all people of Hindu faith, believe their religion is one of holy water. Water symbolizes fullness. Water is the building block of life and all living beings are at the mercy of God for water.

Bali temples

The Balinese consider everything to be holy and they believe that physical and spiritual lives are indivisible. Balinese describe their attitude toward life as one with “happiness in duty.” Faith and fun are one. Festivals, ceremonies, dances, and trances are an integral part of Balinese life.

The local people make offerings to the gods every day. Typically, women prepare and deliver the offerings on behalf of their family. Most offerings are simple and include rice, flowers, and incense on a banana leaf. For special ceremonies, the offerings are much more elaborate.

Bali monkey dance

The Balinese believe that when a child is born, it must not touch the ground during its first 105 days. During that time, they believe the baby is still living between heaven and earth and is not yet human. After three months, the family holds a ceremony to welcome the child to the material world and to give the child its name. From this point forward, the child can touch the earth.

Like all followers of the Hindu religion, the Balinese believe in reincarnation. Therefore, the lifelong goal of every Balinese person is to have a beautiful cremation ceremony. They believe the spirit is not released until the body is destroyed and the ashes are thrown to the sea. When a Balinese person dies, a surviving son must arrange for a cremation ceremony. Therefore, it’s important for every Balinese family to have at least one son.

Wealthier families have private cremation ceremonies fairly soon after a relative’s death. Families that don’t have the financial resources immediately available for the cremation may temporarily bury the body for up to 25 years, while they save enough money for the cremation ceremony. They also may join with other families recently who have lost a loved one. By joining together, they can conduct a mass cremation ceremony to make it more affordable.

The Balinese can’t cry when a relative passes away. If a tear falls to the earth, it grounds the spirit of the deceased, which prevents the spirit from leaving this world.

Balinese weddings happen in one of three ways. First, the parents can arrange a wedding between their children, without concern for the children’s preference. Secondly, the couple can ask their parents to agree and negotiate a relationship. Finally, if the children anticipate resistance from the parents, they can elope and negotiate with the parents later. On Bali and Lombok, the locals refer to eloping as “kidnapping.”

Danau Bratan Bali

Like all followers of the Hindu religion, the Balinese follow the caste system. There are four classes of people and the priests are at the top of the system. Weddings between castes are allowed, but sometimes frowned upon. The bride always assumes the caste of the husband (up or down) and can’t return to her family’s caste if the marriage fails.

The Balinese also believe that their canine teeth attract evil spirits and bad human qualities, such as greed and jealousy. They historically believed that these teeth must be filed and flattened in order to be reincarnated. In the past, when children became adults, the village priest filed their canine teeth down to a uniform length. Although the Balinese have stopped this practice for humane reasons, they still conduct a symbolic filing on young adults that is brief and less intrusive.

The Balinese wear yellow or white clothing when entering a temple for a ceremony. Musicians, however, are exempt from this dress code and they usually wear very bright clothing.

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Bali’s Most Stunning Temples

Religion The Center Of Balinese Culture

No visit to Bali would be complete without a trip to see at least one of Bali’s many Hindu temples. There are over 20,000 pura (Balinese for temple) in Bali, a widespread marker of Bali’s reverent culture. The most impressive temples include:

Pura Besakih

The holiest of all temples in Bali, the Mother Temple of Pura Besakih is located some 3,000 feet up Gunung Agung in East Bali. This sprawling complex consolidates 23 separate temples, some dating back to the 10th century. The temple’s main axis aligns with the peak of Gunung Agung, the tallest mountain and holiest site on Bali.

Bali pura besakih

Pura Besakih narrowly escaped destruction in 1963, as lava flow from Gunung Agung’s killer eruption missed the temple by mere yards. Today, Pura Besakih is a major draw for tourists and for devout Balinese.

Pura Gunung Kawi

Located about a mile south of Tampaksiring, Bali’s “Valley of the Kings” is located in a ravine between ricefields. The Pakerisan river flows through this ravine, and the cliffs flanking the river feature shrines carved into the stone honoring kings and queens from the 11th century. The Balinese – big believers in the holiness of water – believe that the river sanctifies Pura Gunung Kawi.

Bali temple Gunung Kawi

The site isn’t a temple per se, nor is it a tomb – the royalty honored here were likely cremated according to Balinese custom.

Tirta Empul

The sacred spring that feeds Tirta Empul provides holy water for priests and bathing for ordinary Balinese, who believe that a dip hereabouts can bring 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.

Bali tirta empul temple

Legend has it that the god Indra created the spring Tampaksiring (namesake of the nearby town) as an antidote to a poisonous spring created by an evil demon king. In reality, Tirta Empul was probably built in 926 AD during the Balinese Warmadewa dynasty. A villa complex nearby houses government VIPs; it was originally constructed for former President Sukarno in the 1950s.

Goa Gajah

Known as the Elephant Cave, Goa Gajah seems strangely free from elephants until you realize it takes its name from its proximity to the Elephant River. (Which is also strangely lacking in elephants.) Goa Gajah’s key attraction is the menacing entrance to the cave – the surrounding rock has been carved into a face, mouth agape.

Bali Goa Gajah

The interior of the cave features a statue of the Hindu god Ganesha and a worship area devoted to the Hindu god Shiva. Goa Gajah probably dates back to the 11th century, and is mentioned in a poem that dates back to the 1300s.

Pura Tanah Lot

Perhaps the most frequently featured temple on Bali’s postcards due to its unique offshore setting and sunset backdrops, Tanah Lot also happens to be one of Bali’s most important temples. Tanah Lot stands on a rock some distance from the shore, towering over the sea. Access to the temple is limited to low tide; even so, this picturesque temple is barraged by visitors.

Tanah Lot temple Bali

The temple’s construction was supposedly inspired by the priest Nirartha in the 15th century; after spending the night on the rock outcrop where the temple now stands, he instructed local fishermen to build a temple on that site. 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.

As one of Bali’s most popular temples, Tanah Lot is surrounded by crowds and vendors. Do not visit if it’s peace and quiet you’re after, but do come if you’re after a great sunset view.

Pura Taman Ayun

Built in the 1600s by the King of Mengwi, Pura Taman Ayun survives today as a beautiful example of a royal public temple. The descendants of the Mengwi royal family still sponsor the temple, which also serves as the clan kawitantemple (a temple dedicated to the worship of the deified ancestors, in this case the previous rulers of the Mengwi royal family).

Bali's temple Taman Ayun

“Taman Ayun” means “beautiful garden”; a moat surrounds the temple, which gives the complex the appearance of floating on water. A landscaped front courtyard entered through an ornamental candi bentar (split front gate) adds to the temple’s beauty.

Pura Ulun Danau Bratan

This temple on the shores of Lake Bratan is second only to Pura Besakih in significance, but for rice farmers in Bali, this temple is the foremost on the island. Pura Ulun Danau Bratan is the primary temple in the many temples and shrines that punctuate the subak irrigation system popular in Bali. The temple is dedicated to the worship of the goddess of lakes and rivers, Dewi Batari Ulun Danau.

Lake Bratan temple Bali

Part of the temple is located on the mainland, while a significant section seems to “float” on the lake, being set on an island just off the mainland temple complex. An 11-roof meru (pagoda) sits on the island section, a towering beauty surrounded by a placid lake.

Pura Luhur Uluwatu

Pura Luhur Uluwatu is both a major Balinese temple – one of the six sad kahyangan revered by all Balinese – and the site of a nightly kecak performance that reenacts the Ramayana through chanting men, masked actors and a dramatic fire-dance.

Uluwatu temple Bali

Pura Luhur Uluwatu was first constructed by a Javanese Hindu guru in the 10th century. The whole temple stands on a cliff soaring 200 feet above a prime Bali surfing spot in the westernmost part of South Bali – the temple’s name refers to its position “at the head of the rock”, and visitors get an eyeful of the sea as it breaks against the base of the cliffs below. The view is especially beautiful during sunset.

Pura Goa Lawah

The temple of Pura Goa Lawah in East Bali iincludes a cave inhabited by thousands of bats. A black-sand beach nearby makes Goa Lawah a popular site for post-cremation purification, for the Balinese families that can afford it.

Bali pura goa lawah temple

The Javanese priest Nirartha supposedly visited the cave back in the 15th century. Legend has it that the cave interior extends over 19 miles underground to emerge at Pura Besakih.

For more information about Bali, visit http://indonesiantravelbook.com/bali-travel-tips/

Indonesia tourism marketing and public relations firm

Crossbow Communications specializes in international marketing, issue management and public affairs. Indonesia is one of our regions of expertise. Our President and founder is the author of the Language and Travel Guide to Indonesia. Please contact Gary Chandler at gary@crossbow1.com. Visit Indonesia.

Language and Travel Guide To Indonesia