Bali is just one of the 17,500 or so islands making up Indonesia. It is unique in that it is the only island practicing Hinduism. Balinese Hinduism is different to the Hinduism practiced in other countries like India. An explanation of this religion may explain why Bali is often called the Island of Gods with over 6000 temples or shrines covering the island.
Hinduism in Bali has taken its own shape and form over the centuries, representing the history of the people of the island. The religion is formed from animistic and ancestral worship from the indigenous people,Hinduism from India and Buddhism. And so present day Hinduism in Bali is a mixture of the three, reflected in structure and practice. A pura is a Balinese temple.
There are many festivals throughout the year on Bali island honouring the many gods of this polytheist religion. The most noteable is unquestionably Nyepi – the celebration of the new Saka calendar. This usually falls on the ninth month of the Saka calendar. And so Nyepi usually falls around March. In contrast to most new year celebrations, Nyepi is celebrated in complete silence and isolation. Therefore, if you are travelling through Bali during this time, expect no activities, no traffic on the road and no fires to celebrate. In contrast, much of what is typically associated with celebrations can be seen on the eve of Nyepi.
Note- the Saka calendar is one of two calendars used in Indonesia that follows moon cycles. It follows the same length as a Gregorian calendar (365 days). The second calendar is called the pawukon calendar and consists of 210 days. Interestingly, the pawukon calendar is said to have originated from rice growing cycles.
Offerings can be seen all over Bali and on a daily basis. It is practice for the Balinese to give three offerings a day to the gods called Canang Sari. And so throughout your day, you will see these neatly folded squares of palm leaves filled with anything from different coloured flowers (each representing a different god) to food to money.
The Top 7 best temples to visit in Bali
1) Uluwatu temple
Known to the locals as Pura Luhur Uluwatu, this temple is located in the Kuta South district of Bali. Perfectly positioned atop a clip, it boasts uninterrupted views of sunset. It is often referred to as ‘the sea temple by the Balinese. However, the name itself breaks down to mean- ‘something of divine origin’ (Luhur), ‘land’s end’ (ulu) and ‘rock’ (watu). Although small, the temple shrine is perched on the edge of a rock so as to protect the island from evil spirits. It is one of nine directional temples protecting the island from evil spirits. and known as the sea temple to the Balinese.
Many tourists visit at sunset and also catch the famous kecak dance. Although you can watch kecak dances in Ubud (the area where this dance orginated), this version is certainly geared for tourists, presenting an interactive show.
What to wear: Men and women will need to wear sarongs in order to enter the temple. These can be rented from the temple as well.
Cost: Entrance tickets to Uluwatu temple is 30,000 IDR. Tickets for the Kecak dance is 100,000 IDR. Shows start every day at 6pm. Get there early.
Monkeys: There are monkeys on the property and although cute, you need to be mindful of your sunglasses and carrying food in your bags.
2) Besakih Temple
Purua Besakih is known as the ‘Mother Temple’. Sitting on the slopes of Mount Agung, it is surrounded by picturesque views. The large complex holds 86 temples incluing Pura Penataran Agung. Unsurprisingly, It is considered the most important and holiest of the Balinese temples.
The name Besaikh finds its origins in the words ‘basuki’ or ‘wasuki’ meaning salvation in sanskrit. The grand temple has been worshiped since ancient times, with inscriptions dating back to 1007 AD. Besaikh has been used as the central temple of Hinduism in Bali since the 15th Century.
In 1995, Besaikh was named a World Heritage Site, thus adding importance to this site for the country.
What to wear: Men and women will need to wear a sarong. If you forget to bring one you can always purchase them from vendors.
Cost: 7000 IDR per person.
3) Ulun Danu Beratan Temple
Often referred to as the ‘floating temple’, Ulun Danu temple sits on the shores of Lake Beratan. The temple was built to honour, goddess of the lake, Dewi Danu. The lake was formed from a volcanic earthquake 30,000 years ago. Nestled in the mountain highlands, it is a setting that embodies a sense of stillness and peace.
There are three main shrines within the temple complex. Firstly, the shrine with 11 tiers, is dedicated to the God Vishnu. Secondly, the shrine with 7 tiers, is dedicated to the God Brahma. Finally the shrine with 3 tiers, is dedicated to the God Shiva.
The lake does lie fairly still allowing for beautiful reflective shots. However, as is most of the case with temples in Bali, you will have to fight the crowds to get that prime position on the lake shore to take it.
What to wear: You don’t need to wear a sarong in this temple but dress appropriately. Temperatures do drop in the region so you may want to bring an extra layer.
Cost: 50,000 IDR per person
4) Goa Lawah temple
On the east coast of the island in the Klungklung region, is Goa Lawah temple or the Bat temple. The entrance to the temple is through a cave opening. However, be warned: this temple is called the Bat Temple for good reason. Entrance to the temple is lined with bats to greet you. If you don’t like bats, skip this temple.
Locals believe the temple leads to three different locations, one of them being Besaikh in Mount Agung. While this may be true, there is little evidence to support this.
What to wear: shoulders, midriffs, knees and ankles must be covered. Ensure sarongs go to the floor.
Cost: Entrance fee is 15,000 IDR per person.
Time to go: Head there at dusk to see thousands of bats fly out of the entrance.
5) Tirta Empul
Tirta Empul is known as the water temple. It is located in central Bali. This temple is dedicated to the God Vishnu and was built in 960 AD. The name itself means ‘Holy Water Spring’ and so it is no surprise that there is a Holy Spring on the temple complex. The spring flows into the purification baths, pools and koi ponds. Additionally, there are three purification baths representing the mind, body and soul. Hindu devotees and visitors alike participate in ritual bathing. In order to participate in the ritual, you must start from the left and work there way through the baths.
What to wear: Men and women must cover up using a sarong. If you want to take part in the purification baths bring your bathing suit, your own sarong and a change of clothes.
Cost: Entrance is 15,000 IDR per person and includes a sarong.
6) Taman Ayun
This temple is located on the west coast of Bali. It was built in 1634 by the ruler of the Mengkwi Kingdom. The temple means ‘beautiful gardens’ , which is suitable, as there is no shortage of beautiful gardens on this complex. Additionally, visitors will see many Balinese tiered shrines. These were raised in honour of the deified ancestors of the Raja Dynasty of Mengwi and important gods from other temples.
Another key point to the complex is that it consists of three grounds. These represent the three cosmological levels according to Balinese Hinduism; the world of men, the world of the gods and the world of the divine. Furthermore, the royal family often used the garden pool surrounding the temple. Unfortunately, this area is closed off to visitors.
Cost: Entrance fee is 20,000 IDR per person.
7) Tanah Lot
Pura Tanah Lot is undoubtedly one of Bali’s most popular temple. Notorious for its epic sunset views and seafront setting, this temple has the crowds flocking in bucket loads! In 1489 the temple was established by a high priest from East Java, who came to Bali to spread Hinduism. He established the temple complex in honour of the sea god Baruna.
It is important to note that Tanah lot is a tidal temple. This means the lower part of the temple rock is only accessed during low tide. Due to erosion from the constant crashing waves, a third of the rock formation is actually artificial. At the foot of the rock temple, priests bless visitors with the holy water spouting from the fountain. All visitors can receive blessings. However, non-Balinese visitors are not permitted into the actual temple. Included in the temple grounds are artisan markets and food stalls with local treats.
Cost: Entrance fee is 60,000 IDR per person. Tanah Lot is the most expensive temple to visit in Bali.
When to go: It is obviously best to go during low tide but do take care when crossing over to the temple rock. The waves crashing through are strong and the ground below water rocky. Although there are people there to help you walk along it is still a wobbly crossing. Especially when you have to stand in a line, on the rocky floor, with the waves trying to knock you over, holding your flip flops and camera so as not to get it wet.
Crowds: I can’t emphasis enough how popular this spot is for tourists. It is heavily polluted with selfie sticks interrupting views of sunset, which almost ruin the experience.
This list is presented in no particular order.
Before visiting keep in mind the following:
- In most cases you will need to wear a sarong whether you are male or female to enter the temples.
- Spilled blood is not allowed on the temple grounds. For this reason, women cannot enter during their menstrual cycle. In the same fashion, men (or anyone) with open gashes or wounds are also not be permitted.
Note: prices mentioned in this article are as of October 2017. Please check temple admission before you visit as they are subject to change at any time.
We travelled to these temples on a self-paid tour organised by Bali Made.
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