So why does everyone call Bali “The Island of Gods”? One of the reasons is the numerous temples and daily ceremonies on the island. Balinese locals constantly engage in ceremonies in the temples; cremating their loved ones; giving thanks to the nature and ancestors; and celebrating the victory of good over evil. There is an ever-present prayer in the air, accompanied with the distinct smell of incense.
Bali Remained Faithful to the Hindu faith
Bali is just one in a myriad of islands that make up the vast archipelago of Indonesia. Even though the major religion in Indonesia is Islam, this particular island has remained faithful to its ancient Hindu faith. Offerings to the Gods line the streets, adorn car dashboards and sit at every front door, reminding us all to give thanks for the good we have been receiving. Religious ceremonies are mostly held during the fool moon, so if your stay in Bali coincides with one, you are in for a cultural treat, indulging your senses in the colour, music and dance. There are about 20,000 temples (puras) on the island, all charming and worthy in their own right. But here is our list of the ones you really can’t miss.
1. Pura Besakih or “Mother Temple”
Pura Besakih is the holiest of all temples in Bali, located some 3,000 feet up Gunung Agung mountain in Eastern Bali. The temple is constructed from 23 separate temples, some dating back to the 10th century. The temple’s main axis is aligned with the peak of Gunung Agung, the tallest mountain and holiest site in all of Bali. The Agung has always been a point of architectural reference for the Balinese, so each of the traditional housings and belonging family temples are built to face the mountain from whichever spot they are located. Pura Besakih escaped destruction in 1963 by chance, as lava flow from Gunung Agung’s eruption missed the temple by few yards. Adding to its miraculous beauty and cementing the fact that you shouldn’t let a few hundred stairs discourage you from enjoying the architectural marvel. Location: East Bali, accessible via Ubud, Denpasar or Candidasa. 8°22’25″S, 115°27’8.75″E (Google Maps)
2. Pura Gunung Kawi
Gunung Kawi temple is a mausoleum of the Bali royal family from the dynasty of Warma. It features shrines with carved stones honoring kings and queens from the 11th century. It is located in Bali’s “Valley of the Kings” in a ravine between the rice fields. The Pakerisan River flows through this ravine, and the cliffs flanking the river. The architecture looks like The Temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia – a second best if you can’t make it to Siem Reap. Location: Near Tampaksiring, accessible via Ubud. The temple can be visited together with nearby Tirta Empul, the next gem on our list. 8°25’22.41″S, 115°18’44.57″E (Google Maps)
3. Tirta Empul or “The holy water temple”
The sacred springs that feed the Tirta Empul temple pools provide holy water for priests, and bathing for local Balinese and tourists. It is believed that a dip brings good fortune and health. An offering must first be made at the temple before one can get purified in the pool. Tirta Empul was built in 926 AD during the Balinese Warmadewa dynasty. A gorgeous villa complex housing government VIP’s poises above the temple; it was originally constructed for former President Sukarno in the 1950’s. Location: Near Tampaksiring, accessible via Ubud. 8°24’52.76″S, 115°18’57.25″E (Google Maps)
4. Tanah Lot
Tanah Lot stands on a rock some distance from the shore, towering over the sea and only becoming accessible during low tide. Today, Tanah Lot is regarded as one of Bali’s most important directional temples, worthy of a multimillion-dollar restoration effort in the 1990’s that saved it from falling into the sea. There is a belief that an unmarried couple should not step on the ground of the temple together, as their love will be doomed forever. As one of Bali’s most popular temples, crowds surround Tanah Lot, particularly at sunset. Enjoy the mania and do some shopping for souvenirs at the entrance area while you’re there. Location: Accessible via Ubud or Denpasar. The temple can be visited together with Pura Taman Ayun nearby. 8°37’16.35″S, 115°5’12.54″E (Google Maps).
Tanah Lot at Sunset via Wisata
5. Pura Luhur Uluwatu
Pura Luhur Uluwatu is one of the six pura places worshiped by all Balinese. It stands on a cliff soaring 200 feet on the westernmost tip of south Bali, offering a spectacular view during sunset time. The external audorium hosts nightly performances of kecak dance that re-enacts the Ramayana through chanting of half-naked men, masked actors and a dramatic fire-dance. It is believed that Pura Luhur Uluwatu was first constructed by a Javanese Hindu guru in the 10th century. Location: eleven miles south of Kuta. 8°49’37.7908″S, 115°5’4.5722″E (Google Maps)
Tips for visiting
Wear clothes that cover your legs and shoulders.
Buy a sarong to wrap around you if you forget.
Never sit higher than the priest
Do not point to your feet and if you can, take off your shoes.
Respect the local culture, by being quiet and abiding.