“Pura” is the correct name when referring to a Balinese Hindu Temple, a little technicality I always seems to forget. However, I’ll refer to them as both “Pura” and Temple throughout this article. There is a reason why Bali is called the “Island of 10.000 Temples” (or “Island of the Gods”) as you’ll see for yourself. Each village has at least three temples. There are temples on mountains, in valleys, in rice fields (shrines to the Rice Goddess), along the sea. Each and every temple is different, gorgeous and irresistible. It is difficult to come back from a Bali vacation without hundreds of temple photographs. Black and White checkered cloth drapes sculptures, a reference to Balinese dualistic views; along with colored parasols, grey stone carvings against a background of orange, lotus flowers/water lilies, riots of flowers and offerings, will mesmerize you.
FYI: The only difference between Lotus Flowers and Water Lilies is their seeds! So go ahead and call them by either name.
Balinese temples are unlike any other. They are open air places of worship within enclosed walls, compounds contain shrines, towers and pavilions. Entrance passes ferocious looking gate keepers to keep out demons and bad spirits while a field or garden commonly fronts the temple. Dance performances are usually held here in Ubud. The middle zone of a temple is where activity takes place and has supporting facilities, e.g. kitchen. The sacred center holds temple relics, the lotus throne of the highest god and different pavilions.
Every temple also has a shrine for the local ancestor god along with two shrines for Gunung Agung and Gunung Batur holy mountains. I constantly lost track of who was who and what each represented. Some temples had wooden pagodas called Meru with up to 11 stepped roofs (an 11-step Meru is dedicated to Shiva, an “8″ dedicated to another god, “5″ to still another and so on). Earth, Fire, Water, Fertility, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, sun god, assistant gods, demons, snakes, dragons…. No wonder I gave up and just admired their uniqueness.
Gods and demons require offerings to appease them. Throughout Bali, you’ll see offerings in temples stacked high. Flowers bedecking a demon’s head. Offerings on sidewalks in front of shops, at entrances, and whatever you do, don’t step on them! Offerings are made fresh daily with rice, flowers, banana leaves, part of their ritual. You’ll see the uber-graceful Balinese bending down in front of idols, walking with trays of offerings to place in front of each idol, and kneeling in prayer throughout the island.
The most important and enjoyable temples in Ubud and surroundings, easily visited on a day trip, are:
- Inside the Sacred Monkey Forest Santuary. There is a 15,000 Rupiah entrance fee. Walk around to visit threee holy temples and watch out for the nasty macaques;
- Pura Saraswati was commissioned by the royal family and dedicated to the Hindu goddess of art and learning. This 19th century temple has a water garden filled with water lilies and lotus blossoms. Cafe Lotus Restaurant is right by the entrance and 18 rooms are also available to stay at;
- Pura Desa Ubud, the main “town temple” in the centre, across from Ary’s Warung;
- Besakih Mother Temple located in Agung countryside is the biggest and most important Hindu temple in Bali;
- Tanah Lot Temple located right on the beach. An unusual setting on the Indian Ocean that has a holy snake inside a cave;
- Taman Ayun Temple in Mengwi Village. This temple was built in 1634 to worship royal ancestors. Gorgeous Merus inside.
It isn’t unusual to pass more than five temples on just one, short block in Ubud. I double dare you to walk by without going into one and glancing inside others until, yes, you are templed out.