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Thousand temples, thousand stories, one island

The island of Bali is believed to be the abode of the gods. There’s a temple in every nook and corner of this picturesque island. Every traditional Balinese home has a family temple; every village has a village temple. There are market temples in the markets, rice temples in rice terraces. There are mountain temples and sea temples. And the list doesn’t end here. There are nine directional temples to protect Bali from evil spirits. Then, there are the royal temples dedicated to Bali’s powerful kings. It is no wonder then that Bali is called the island of a thousand temples. Every temple on the island has an interesting legend behind it. In this feature, Soulveda journeys to a few temples on the island, and brings to you the stories behind them.

Pura Besakih

With 23 shrines in its complex, Pura Besakih is called the ‘Mother Temple’. It’s considered one of the holiest temples on the island. Situated at a height of 30,000 feet on Mount Agung, an active volcano, the flowing lava missed the temple complex by merely a few metres during a volcanic eruption in 1963. This incident reinforced the belief that the sacred temple is home to a powerful deity.

Another legend narrates how the temple got its name. It is said that in the eighth century, a monk had intended to build homes for people in the area. When the construction was completed, he is said to have named the complex ‘Basuki’ after Naga Besukian, a dragon deity believed to be inhabiting Mount Agung. But over the years, several other shrines were built in the area, and the name evolved to Besakih.

 

Pura Goa Gajah signifies the union of Hinduism and Buddhism, which has uniquely influenced the principles of Balinese Hinduism.


Pura Tanah Lot

Pura Tanah Lot is built atop a rock formation in the middle of the sea. Legend goes that this temple was built by a Brahmin Danghyang Nirartha, who propagated Hinduism. It is said that when Nirartha arrived at Tanah Lot to teach Hinduism, the village leader Bendesa Beraban was not happy. He asked Nirartha to leave immediately. Before leaving the village, Nirartha moved boulders to the middle of the sea and built a temple on it using his supernatural powers. To guard the temple, he turned his shawl into a poisonous sea snake. Beraban, then, realised the greatness of the Brahmin and became his loyal follower.

Pura Goa Gajah

Goa Gajah or the elephant cave is located near Ubud. The entrance to the temple has menacing stone carvings that is supposed to ward off evil spirits. Built in the ninth century, this cave served as a spiritual abode for meditation. Interestingly, this cave structure has both Hindu and Buddhist relics. The northern part of the complex is predominantly Buddhist and the southern part is mostly Hindu (Shaivite). Perhaps, this temple signifies the union of Hinduism and Buddhism, which has uniquely influenced the principles of Balinese Hinduism.

Pura Tirta Empul

Located in Tampaksiring, Pura Tirta Empul is considered sacred for its fresh spring water. A legend has it that Balinese king Mayadenawa once possessed a very special boon—the power to transform himself into any form he desired. But when the powerful king wielded his power carelessly for evil purposes, Lord Indra decided to intervene. Indra stationed his army of powerful troops to attack the arrogant king. When Mayadenawa learnt of the plan, he sneaked into Indra’s camp stealthily. He created a poisonous waterbody in the vicinity. The next day, scores of Indra’s soldiers were found dead. And several others were sick and dying. As an antidote to the poisoned water, Indra is said to have created Tirtha Empul. He stabbed the ground with his staff and healing water sprung forth which cured his soldiers. In the end, a war did break out, and Mayadenawa was killed by Indra.

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