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Temple of Pura Besakih

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Bali, Indonesia.

  • Photo of Temple of Pura Besakih
  • Photo of Temple of Pura Besakih
Photo of Temple of Pura Besakih
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One of hundreds of islands in the Indonesian archipelago, Bali is relatively small with an area of only 2147 square miles. Originally inhabited by aboriginal peoples of uncertain origin, Bali was colonized by a seafaring people, called the Austronesians, some four of five thousand years ago. Since the 7th century AD, the animistic Balinese have absorbed diverse elements of Mahayana Buddhism, Hindu Shivaism and Tantrism. Today, the island is the only remaining stronghold of Hinduism in the archipelago and Balinese religion is a fascinating amalgam of Hinduism, Buddhism, Malay ancestor cults and animistic magical beliefs and practices.

A range of towering volcanic mountains divides the island into northern and southern parts. For the Balinese these mountains are the homes of the gods. The range includes four primary sacred mountains: Agung, Batur, Batukao and Abang. Of these, Gunung Agung, Bali's highest mountain at 10,308 feet (3142 meters), is the most sacred to the island's Hindus, while Gunung Batur is considered most holy by the aboriginal people in the remote jungles around Lake Batur. Mt. Agung is the abode of Batara Gunung Agung, also identified as Mahadewa, the supreme manifestation of Shiva. Mt. Batur and Lake Batur are sacred to Dewi Danu, the Goddess of the Lake, who is regarded as the provider of those waters bubbling from natural springs around the lower slopes of Mt. Batur. An enormous fresh-water lake of 4240 acres, sacred Lake Batur is considered by farmers and priests to be the ultimate source of the springs and rivers that provide irrigation water for the whole of central Bali.

In Bali there are six most holy temples, Sad Kahyangan, or the ‘Six Temples of the World’. They are Besakih, Lempuyang Luhur, Gua Lawah, Batukaru, Pusering Jagat, and Uluwatu.

Balinese temples are not closed buildings, but rectangular courtyards open to the sky, with rows of shrines and altars dedicated to various gods and deities. The shrines themselves are not considered sacred but rather exist as residences for holy spirits - either ancestors or Hindu deities. The gods are not said to be present in the temples except on the dates of the temple's festivals, and therefore the temples are usually left empty. On festival days the congregation of each temple assembles to pray to and entertain the visiting deities.

The most famous temple in all Bali is the triple shrine located in the courtyard of the Pura Penataran Agung at Pura Besakih. At this shrine three Padmasanas (a type of shrine) are arranged side by side. Although it is often said that the three shrines are for Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, all are fundamentally dedicated to Shiva. The elaborate tiered shrine is called a meru and symbolizes the world mountain, Gunung Maha Meru. Something like a Chinese pagoda, a meru is constructed of an odd number of thatched tiers. The laws of traditional Balinese architecture carefully specify the dimensions of a meru, the way it must be constructed, the types of wood appropriate for each part, and the ceremonies involved in its dedication. If, for some reason, a shrine must be moved to another location, the spirit of the shrine is first transferred to a daksina, a special offering, which is then placed nearby in a temporary shrine. The original shrine is then completely destroyed. None of its components may be reused for any purpose. Often the materials are dumped into the sea to insure that they are not unwittingly used again. This practice is in contrast to certain other religious traditions where the re-use of the remains of earlier temples is considered to actually increase the sanctity and power of newer temples.

Other important Balinese temples are Ulun Danu Batur, the Temple of the Crater Lake, dedicated to the Lake Goddess Dewi Danu, and Tirta Empul, where flow the holiest waters of Bali, believed to possess magical curative powers.

Photos: Mt. Agung

Temple of Pura Besakih, slopes of Mt. Agung

More about the Temple of Pura Besakih from Sacred Sites.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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Pura Besakih

Pura Besakih is Bali’s ‘mother temple’ – the largest and most important religious site on the island. It’s one of the island’s six ‘pura luhur’ (‘high temples’), and stands an impressive 3000 ft above sea level on the slopes of Mount Agung - an active volcano which last erupted in 1963. The site dates back to prehistoric times, and is named for Naga Besukian, the dragon-god once believed to inhabit the mountain. After becoming a state temple in the 11th century, it’s now dedicated to the worship of Siva - one of the manifestations of the Hindi god Brahman. The temple complex is enormous: it includes 35 different halls and shrines, connected by a series of courtyards, with stunning views across the mountainside. It’s particularly impressive on festival days, such as the temple’s anniversary (Odalan) in April, but is likely to be very crowded at this time.

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