The Temples

      There are an amazing number of temples with almost every village at least three. The most important is the pura puseh (Origin temple) which is dedicated to the village founders and is located at the Kaja end of the village. In the middle of the village is the pura desa for the spirits which protect the village community in its day to day life. At the kelod end of the village is the pura dalem (Temple of the dead). The graveyard is also located this temple and will often include representations of Durga (the terrible incarnation of Shiva’s wife).  Apart from these temples types, others include the temples dedicated to the spirits of irrigated agriculture.

       The word temple in Bali is pura which is a Sanskrit word literally meaning a space surrounded by a wall. As in so much of Balinese religion the temples, although nominally Hindu, owe much to the pre-Majapahit era. Their alignment towards the mountains (kaja), the sea (kelod) or the sunrise (kangin) is in deference to spirits which are more animist than Hindu.

      Families worship their ancestors in family temples, clans in clan temples and the whole village in the pura puseh. Certain special temples in Bali are of such importance that they are deemed to be owned by the whole island rather than by individual villages. These world sanctuaries include Pura Besakih on the slope of Gunung Agung.

      The simple shrines or thrones in rice fields or next to sacred old trees, are not walled. Often overlooking crossroads, intersections or dangerous curves in the road, to protect road users.

       Bali has nine directional temples (kayangan jagat) which protect the entire island and all its people. They’re located at strategic points across Bali, especially on high mountain slopes, rugged cliff faces and lakeside shores (Pura Ulun Danu Batur is on the shores of Danau Batur (north), Pura Pasar Agung on Gunung Agung (northeast), Pura Luhur Lempuyang on Gunung Lempuyang (east), Goa Lawah near Candidasa (southeast), Pura Masceti near Lebih (south), Pura Luhur Uluwatu on the Bukit (southwest), Pura Luhur Batukaru on Gunung Batukaru (west), Pura Ulun Danu Beratan on the shores of Danau Beratan (northwest) and Besakih “the mother temple” as it occupies the crucial position on Bali’s holiest and highest mountain, Gunung Agung (the others are all of equal status and islanders are expected to attend the anniversary celebrations (odalan) of the one situated closest to their home.


      All Balinese temples are oriented kaja-kelod and are designed around two or three courtyard. Each section divided from the next by a low wall punctuated by a huge and usually ornate, gateway. Every pura contains several ritual structures. Bale are raised, open sided pavilions, usually built of wood and thatched with black sugar palm fiber (ijuk-indonesian). These are practical buildings for seating  devotees or gamelan players and for storing ceremony things. Gedong is the generic term for the squat, often cube shaped shrines that are generally made of brick, with thatched roofs. Each Gedong is dedicated to a particular deity or ancestor and  sometimes contains a symbolic image. The elegant Pagoda style shrines that tower over every temple wall are known as meru, after the sacred Hindu peak Mount Meru (home of the gods). Each meru has a small wood or brick base beneath a multi-tiered roof thatched with thick black sugar palm fiber  There’s always an odd number of roofs (three, five, seven, nine or eleven) the number indicating the status of the god to whom the meru is dedicated.

Caste And Clan (Brahmana, Ksatria, Wesya and Sudra)

          Away from the offices, or schools, caste in Bali is still quite important. Individuals associate more freely and often  with those of their own caste than with others. Although there are those in Bali who would seek to reform the system, for the most part the Balinese accept the social organisation of caste. In a sense, caste in Bali can be understood as something like the Renaissance system of patronage.

Pura Luhur Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia

     The island’s great sea temple, this literally hangs over the sea, fantastic sunsets, glorious in silhouette at sunset. The temple perches at the south western tip of the peninsula, where sheer cliffs drop precipitously into the clear blue sea, the temple hangs right over the edge. There’s a resident horde of monkeys in the compound.


          Pura Luhur Uluwatu is one of several important temples to the spirits of the sea to be found along the southern coast of Bali. Other temples include Pura Luhur Tanah Lot. Uluwatu, along with the other well-known temples of the south (Pura Sakenan, Pura Petitenget and Pura Luhur Tanah Lot) is associated with Nirartha, the Javanese priest credited with introducing many of the elements of the Balinese religion to the island. Nirartha retreated to Pura Luhur Uluwatu for his final days.

Pura Luhur Tanah Lot, Bali, Indonesia

      The spectacularly placed is possibly the best known and most photographed temple in Bali, Indonesia. The crowds here are phenomenal, especially at sunset. The temple, perched on a little rocky islet, looks superb. For Balinese, Pura Luhur Tanah Lot is one of the important and venerated sea temples. Like Pura Luhur Uluwatu, at the southern end of the island and is closely associated with the 16th century Majapahit priest Nirartha.

       Because of its sacred status, only allowed to climb the temple stairway carved out of the once crumbling. There is a holy water from the spring that rises beneath the temple rock (donation requested) or view the holy coral snakes that frequent nooks in the cliff face. Climb up to the mainland clifftop for the best viewing angle.

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