Bali is known as the island of ten thousand temples and these holy places offer some of the best examples of local architecture. Besakih and Tanah Lot are two of the most popular places to visit but even the smaller temples can be an interesting diversion.
Bali is the Island of Temples
Religion has traditionally played a key role in the life of the Balinese people – it impacts almost every aspect of their life. There are temples everywhere on the island. It is difficult to determine the exact number of these sacred buildings because it depends on the definition of temple being used – some of these places might be better described as shrines. The traditional Balinese Hindu temple is known as a pura and Bali is sometimes referred to as the island of ten thousand puras.
Types of Temples in Bali
There are 3 main types of Hindu temple found on the island of Bali:
- Major temples are to be found in the city and town and they are also located in areas of religious importance – for example, Besakih Temple (Mother Temple) is located on Mount Agung. Each of the large towns will have at least three major temples.
- Each village on Bali will have a village temple, and this is where people in rural areas will congregate for important festivals, and they will also be found at places important to the community such as wells and springs. It is usual for each village to have at least one shrine devoted to each of the major gods – Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu.
- Homes in Bali are traditionally built inside a compound where all family members stay together. Each of these compounds will have a family temple which will be located to the north of the house.
Architecture of Bali Temples
Balinese temples are usually divided into three distinct parts. This style of architecture is referred to as tri loka. It is based on the Hindu belief that the universe can be divided up into three realms; one for the gods, one for humans, and one for demons. The Balinese will build their temples to reflect these three realms and can be divided into:
- The nista mandala is the outer zone of the temple where the entrance to the grounds will be found. This will usually be the part of the building that is nearest to the sea.
- The madya mandala is the middle zone of the temple and this is where all the supporting facilities will be found.
- The utama mandala is the holiest part of the temple, and it is usually the part of the building that is located closes to the mountains.
Visiting a Bali Temple
Temples in Bali will usually be deserted unless there is a festival or some other religious event. This is because most Balinese will have their family temple where they can worship in private. Foreign visitors are allowed to visit the temples on the island, but they are expected to follow the required etiquette which includes:
- Any part of the body that is below the waist is considered unholy and should be covered. If people are not wearing long trousers they will need to wear a sarong – some of the more popular temples will provide these.
- It is not acceptable for people to climb up on any of the objects inside the temple.
- If women are in currently having their period they are asked not to enter the temple.
- If there is a priest in the temple it is considered bad form to sit or stand higher than them.
- Some temples do not allow young infants and toddlers to enter. This is because they are considered spiritually incomplete until one of their teeth has fallen out.
- Those people who have recently had a relative die are asked not to enter the temple – this is because it is believed that such deaths will upset the family’s spiritual balance.
Important Temples in Bali
The most important temple in Bali is Besakih (Mother temple) which is located 1,000 meters above ground on Mount Agung – the largest volcano on the island. The complex consists of 22 temples that are spread out on parallel ledges. Most of these temples are made of wood and have pagodas on top of them. The holiest place inside the Besakih complex is the lotus throne (padmasana).
Tanah Lot Temple
Tanah Lot Temple has become a popular tourist attraction as well as an important religious site. Its name means land in the sea, and this is a good description of it because it is located on an offshore rock. The temple has needed to undergo some major renovations in recent years, and some of the rock that it is located on is artificial. The temple itself is made up of wooden structures, and there is a single tall tower.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu
Pura Luhur receives many foreign visitors because it is located near to one of the main tourist parts of the island. This temple can be found in Pecatu Village which is in South Kuta. It is located right on top of a cliff overlooking the sea – the holiest part of the temple is right on the edge of the cliff.
Ulun Danu Temple
Ulun Danu Temple is the second most important religious site after Mother Temple. It can be found on the banks of Batur Lake which is in Kintamani district. There are nine buildings inside the complex, and there is an obvious Chinese influence on the architecture. There is a Buddhist shrine inside this temple. The main purpose of Ulun Danu Temple is to pay homage to the lake goddess as many of the local people rely on water from this lake.
Pura Kehen was built in the 11th century, and it is believed to be the oldest temple on the island. This is a garden temple, and it is made up of nine structures. There are also some wonderfully ornate statues spread out around the grounds.