With an estimate of more than 10.000 temples, Bali is known as the “island of a thousand temples”. Puras ( Temples ), a place of worship for the adherents of Balinese Hinduism in Indonesia, are built in accordance to rules, style, guidance and rituals found in Balinese architecture . You do have to see at least a few of the temples listed below.
The holiest of all temples in Bali, the “Mother Temple” of Pura Besakih is located some 3,000 feet up Gunung Agung in East Bali. This sprawling complex consolidates 23 separate temples, some dating back to the 10th century. The temple’s main axis aligns with the peak of Gunung Agung, the tallest mountain and holiest site in all of Bali.
Pura Gunung Kawi
Located about a mile south of Tampaksiring, Bali’s “Valley of the Kings” is located in a ravine between ricefields. The Pakerisan river flows through this ravine, and the cliffs flanking the river feature shrines carved into the stone honoring kings and queens from the 11th century. The Balinese – big believers in the holiness of water – believe that the river sanctifies Pura Gunung Kawi.
The sacred spring that feeds Tirta Empul provides holy water for priests and bathing for ordinary Balinese, who believe that a dip hereabouts can bring good fortune and health. An offering must first be made at the temple before you can climb into the long main pool to bathe and meditate. Legend has it that the god Indra created the spring Tampaksiring (namesake of the nearby town) as an antidote to a poisonous spring created by an evil demon king. In reality, Tirta Empul was probably built in 926 AD during the Balinese Warmadewa dynasty.
Pura Luhur Lempuyang
The temple of Pura Luhur Lempuyang is one of Bali’s most important religious places: it’s one of the six sad kahyangan (“temples of the world”) dedicated to Sang Hyang Widi Wasa (the supreme God), and it’s also one of the island’s nine directional temples that “protects” the native Balinese from evil spirits. The temple presents an interesting challenge to visitors: reaching the top means conquering 1,700 steps cut into mountainside jungle, requiring about an hour and a half of serious climbing. Ordinary Balinese make their way up the stairs to ask for divine assistance with problems or request blessings from above.
Pura Tanah Lot
Tanah Lot stands on a rock some distance from the shore, towering over the sea. Access to the temple is limited to low tide; even so, this picturesque temple is barraged by visitors. The temple’s construction was supposedly inspired by the priest Nirartha in the 15th century; after spending the night on the rock outcrop where the temple now stands, he instructed local fishermen to build a temple on that site.
Pura Taman Ayun
Built in the 1600s by the King of Mengwi, Pura Taman Ayun survives today as a beautiful example of a royal public temple. The descendants of the Mengwi royal family still sponsor the temple, which also serves as the clan kawitan temple (a temple dedicated to the worship of the deified ancestors, in this case the previous rulers of the Mengwi royal family). “Taman Ayun” means “beautiful garden”; a moat surrounds the temple, which gives the complex the appearance of floating on water. A landscaped front courtyard entered through an ornamental candi bentar (split front gate) adds to the temple’s beauty. The inner courtyard features a number of multi-tiered meru (pagodas).
Pura Ulun Danu Brantan
This temple on the shores of Lake Bratan is second only to Pura Besakih in significance, but for rice farmers in Bali, this temple is the foremost on the island. Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is the primary temple in the many temples and shrines that punctuate the subak irrigation system popular in Bali. The temple is dedicated to the worship of the goddess of lakes and rivers, Dewi Batari Ulun Danu. Part of the temple is located on the mainland, while a significant section seems to “float” on the lake, being set on an island just off the mainland temple complex. An 11-roof meru (pagoda) sits on the island section, a towering beauty surrounded by a placid lake.
Known as the “Elephant Cave”, Goa Gajah seems strangely free from elephants until you realize it takes its name from its proximity to the Elephant River. (Which is also strangely lacking in elephants.) Goa Gajah’s key attraction is the menacing entrance to the cave – the surrounding rock has been carved into a face, mouth agape.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu
Pura Luhur Uluwatu is both a major Balinese temple – one of the six sad kahyangan revered by all Balinese – and the site of a nightly kecak performance that re-enacts the Ramayana through chanting half-naked men, masked actors and a dramatic fire-dance. Pura Luhur Uluwatu was first constructed by a Javanese Hindu guru in the 10th century. The whole temple stands on a cliff soaring 200 feet above a prime Bali surfing spot in the westernmost part of South Bali.
Pura Goa Lawah
The temple of Pura Goa Lawah in East Bali is centered around a cave inhabited by thousands of bats. A black-sand beach nearby makes Goa Lawah a popular site for post-cremation purification, for the Balinese families that can afford it. The Javanese priest Nirartha is reputed to have visited the cave back in the 15th century. Legend has it that the cave interior extends over 19 miles underground to emerge at Pura Besakih.