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Balinese Blend Arts, Religion Into Daily Life

Bali is the land of 10,000 Hindu temples. Try as you may, you won’t be able to see them all. The following information will help you start your research, prioritize your destinations and plan accordingly.

Most of Bali’s temples are simple, elegant and beautiful. Most are hundreds of years old. Some sit on the edge of the sea, while others are near streams, lakes and other peaceful places. The architecture, craftsmanship and cultural display are magnificent and memorable.

There are several different types of temples across Bali. Most families have a private temple. Most neighborhoods have a private temple.

All villages on Bali have at least one temple for the entire community.

The temples may or may not be open to the public. The larger temples, such as Besakih, are usually open to everyone.

Throughout Indonesia, temples are referred to as pura or candi. Pura is Sanskrit for “space surrounded by a wall.” Therefore, the word pura usually refers to larger temples with inner ceremonial areas. Candi often refers to smaller temples and sometimes refers to the split gate that leads into the Balinese temples (these split gates that guard the entrances to temples are called candi bentar).

Pura Tanah Lot: This charming temple overlooks the Indian Ocean. It is Bali’s top seaside temple (of seven) as it sits on a massive natural coral foundation just a few meters off the beach. At high tide, it is completely surrounded by water. Tanah Lot is best seen in the late afternoon and at sunset. In fact, the Balinese perform enchanting ceremonies on the beach at sunset. As with the other top tourist destinations on the island, it can be packed with people. To avoid the crowds, visit in the morning.

Pura Besakih: This is the largest and most sacred temple on Bali. It was built in the 2nd Century by the Hindu priest Markandia. It features three main complexes dedicated to the Hindu Trinity. Each complex features large meru (pagoda-style, roof-like structures) to honor the souls of kings and other elite ancestors.

Pura Uluwatu: This is Bali’s second-best seaside temple. It sits high on a cliff and overlooks the rugged surf about 300 meters below. Most sights around Bali are more picturesque when viewed at sunrise or sundown. Uluwatu is no exception. The cliff faces the southwest, which is a spectacular place to watch the sunset over the Indian Ocean. Visitors can buy food for the monkeys that inhabit the temple.

Bali temple

Danau Beratan: Also known as Pura Bratan, Danu Beratan and other combinations of those words, this charming temple sits on the edge of Lake Beratan, high in central Bali. When the lake is full, the temple is surrounded by water. This is one of two lakes located in the caldera of this giant and extinct volcano. The Temple to the Lake Goddess sits on the edge of the lake and makes a dramatic site. Clouds lingering inside the extinct volcano add to the mystical backdrop behind this beautiful temple.

Taman Ayun: This is one of the oldest major temples in Bali and dates back to the Mengwi Dynasty of the 16th Century. The name means pretty garden. The temple features many black thatched-roof pagodas to honor the volcano gods of Mt. Agung and Mt. Batur. The brick building in between is the Paibon to honor the ancestor of the king. The temple is framed by a large moat.

Pura Kehen: This is the temple built by the former king of Bangli, which was one of the nine kingdoms of Bali. Various feasts and ceremonies are held here throughout the year. This small, but proud temple is about an hour from Ubud. 

Pura Taman Saraswati: This temple is located in Ubud, which explains why it often is called the Ubud Water Palace. The temple features a famous lotus garden and several mythological Hindu figures. The inner temple is still an active worship site and restricted to visitors.

Pura Gunung Kawi: This is one of Bali’s oldest, largest, and most charming ancient monuments. It sits near river at the bottom of a small valley and consists of 10 large relief cuts chiseled in the rocky walls of the valley floor. Not much is known about this temple, but locals suspect that it was a tribute to 11th Century Balinese royalty. It requires a hike down steep, stone stairs to get there.

Pura Tirta Empul: This temple dates back to 962 A.D. According to the Balinese, the sacred pool of spring water is Tirta Amerta (the holy water of immortality). This water drains to the bathing pool and fountains outside the temple. Former president Soekarno’s palace overlooks the springs. He designed the simple structure himself and had it built in 1954.

Kuta Beach Memorial: Kuta Beach is the area where terrorists bombed a nightclub in October 2002 and then bombed a restaurant in October 2005. The Balinese built an outdoor memorial across the street from the 2002 site, which lists the names of the victims.

Visitors must wear sashes and sarongs to visit most temples. Small donations are required to enter many of them.

Indonesia is the fourth-largest nation in the world with more than 267 million people. The country has more than 17,500 islands, including Bali, Borneo, Java, Lombok, Sumatra and Sulawesi. Learn where to go, what do and what to say.

Language and Travel Guide to Indonesia

Learn where to go, what to do and what to say. Experience more of Indonesia than the average traveler by speaking Indonesian. Simple courtesies and greetings will make your trip more productive and rewarding. Our phonetic style makes it impossible to mispronounce important words. Order your hard copy. Indonesians will sparkle with delight when you speak just a few words in bahasa Indonesia. Watch our Indonesian tutorial.

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Author: Gary Chandler