The temple of Pura Besakih is the most important temple on the island of Bali. Indonesia

Besakih Temple

Over 1000 years ago it was built on the active Agung Volcano to protect the locals.

Pura Agung Besakih Temple

Pura Agung Besakih TempleBesakih Temple in Bali

Besakih Temple

On this page you will find a detailed description of the temple, its history and why it is called the Mother Temple. I will also tell you where it is located and how to reach it from different parts of Bali. In addition, I will introduce you to the sights that are nearby.

It is said that Bali is the island of a thousand temples. This is indeed true. Sanctuaries are literally everywhere here, from small family altars in the courtyards of Balinese homes to huge temple complexes. You can hardly visit the entire thousand temples, but I strongly recommend you to see the main temple of Bali.

Why is Besakih the main temple?

Besakih, or Pura A ung Besakih, is located on the western slope of Gunung Agung. It is the highest mountain on the island, reaching a height of 3,142 meters. In addition, it is believed that here is the so-called “Axis of the World”, around which, according to legend, rotates all the universe, all the planets and stars. The volcano itself is a home for the gods and is revered by local residents almost as the most sacred point on the island.

Of course, it was just impossible to build a modest temple in such a place. Therefore, the Balinese built here a whole complex, consisting of more than 86 religious buildings. It really is a huge area. There are about 3 0 000 square meters available for tourists alone, and all the buildings are located on an area of more than 1 5 0 000 m2. It is the largest temple complex on the entire island.

In addition, Besakih is also the oldest Balinese temple. Scientists have found that some elements (such as altars and stairs) are more than 2 000 years old. This means that the sanctuary in this place was located even before the spread of Hinduism in Bali. Most likely, the site of the current temple was a pagan sacred structure where locals made offerings to the spirits of their ancestors.

All this allows us to boldly state that Besakih is indeed the main temple of Bali. In addition, it also has a rich past, which I will tell you about next.

The History of Pura Besakih

The first written mention of this place dates back to the beginning of the 11th century. But these mentions are about the existing temple and not about its construction. And when it was built is less clear. There are legends mentioning a certain itinerant monk who built the Besakih in the eighth century. But there is no documentary evidence of this event. Also, according to legends, another founder might have been Raja Kesar, who lived in the early 10th century. But then where did the altars two millennia old come from? Probably Kesari only enlarged a temple that already existed before him.

In general, Besakih expanded and was completed almost every century. Scientists have discovered that the Agung Panata r an (central temple dedicated to Shiva), one of the three main sanctuaries of the complex, was built in the seventeenth century. The chronicles say that many Balinese kings at different times allocated money for the construction of the temple.

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The temple was not mentioned in any document for a long time after the 11th century. In the 15th century, when the political center of Bali moved to the central part of the island, the temple again began to appear in various chronicles. In particular, there are mentions of Besakih being a state temple with a mausoleum.

Pura Agung BesakihPura Agung Besakih

Pura Agung Besakih

Pura Agung BesakihPura Agung Besakih

It is known that in times of natural disasters the Balinese took refuge in this temple, and at other times offered sacrifices to the gods to atone for their sins. There were even ceremonies of sacrifice during which a tiger, a buffalo, a cow and a black monkey were slaughtered.

One of the most significant events in the history of Pura Besakih is the eruption of the volcano Agung in 1963. In the spring of that year there was to be a celebration of Eka Dasa Rudra (Eka Dasa Rudra), the centennial festival of spiritual purification. Shortly beforehand, in February, a rise in the temperature of the ground at the foot of the volcano had been recorded.

The priests thought it was a bad sign. They were convinced that it was the wrath of the gods, and the Eka Dasa Rudra celebration should be postponed until another year. But no one listened to them because everything was ready for the ceremony to begin. The priests were not mistaken. On March 18, 1963 the crater at Agunga exploded and released a flood of lava. It came down the slopes of the volcano and destroyed everything in its path. As a result of the eruption more than 1,000 people died, many Balinese were left without a roof over their heads. It is noteworthy that at the same time, residents of some European countries observed red sunsets. They say it is related to the events in Bali.

Since then, seismologists closely monitor the activity of the volcano crater. But there is one notable fact, which locals regard as a favor of the gods. The fact is that during the eruption Besakih did not suffer at all. Despite the fact that it is located on the slope of the volcano, lava flows bypassed it. It was an accident, or really the will of the gods – no one knows. But the Balinese are convinced that it was the temple that saved the island from the monstrous destruction. The chronology of the eruption of Agung Volcano now can be traced in the section Agung Volcano – news.

Besakih is often called the “mother temple,” but it would be more correct to call it the “mother temple. For the locals it is very important. It protects the island from natural disasters and helps communicate with the gods. It is the most important and ancient temple in Bali and was the source of the spread of Hinduism in these parts. That is why it is the mother temple.

Description of the Besakih temple complex

The entire complex consists of three main temples. Each is dedicated to one of the deities of the Hindu pantheon (also often called Trimurti or Trisakti).

This triad includes:

  • B r ahma, the creator god.
  • Vishnu, the guardian god
  • Shiva – the destroyer god.
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The temple allows prayers to the trinity as a whole, or to each deity individually. In fact, this is how almost every Balinese temple is arranged.

In Besakih, the structure of the temples is as follows:

  • In the central part of the complex is the largest temple, Agung Panataran. It consists of three courtyards, which are arranged as if steps on top of each other. This is where Shiva is worshipped.
  • A little to the east is the second temple, Dangin Kreteg. It is dedicated to Brahma.
  • The third temple is to the west. It is called Batu Madeg and is devoted to Vishnu.

Interestingly, each of the temples is built and maintained at the expense of one of the Balinese districts. For example, Agung Panataran is funded by Klungkung, and Dangin K r eteg is funded by Karangasem. Batu Madeg is supported by Bangli County. Other districts here do not have large temples, but there are individual buildings (e.g., Gianyar, Badung, Buleleng, and Tabanan). Thus, Besakih is both the common sanctuary for all Balinese and the main sanctuary for residents of some districts.

By the way, small altars belonging to the Balinese aristocracy can also be found here.

In terms of architectural elaboration, the most interesting will be the Agung Panata r an temple. On its territory there are about 5 0 ritual structures.

As I said before, the temple consists of three courtyards:

  • The first courtyard. To get to it, you have to climb a staircase of 5 2 steps. The stairs themselves are flanked by sculptures of Hindu deities and at the top is the traditional split gate, the Chandi Bentar. The first courtyard is a kind of vestibule. The main buildings are located in the second and third.
  • The second courtyard. A large gate, richly decorated with stone decorations, leads here. Behind them is the throne for the deities. As this temple is dedicated to Shiva, he is seated in the middle, with Brahma and Vishnu on either side of him. Here, too, in the second courtyard, is the Sanuhan Agung. It is where the gods gather during great festivals and accept the gifts of the Balinese. Nearby is Bale Agung. It is a covered pavilion with 2 4 columns instead of walls. Here the locals can pray. Another building is Pavedajan. But it is closed to outsiders because it is intended for clergymen.
  • The third courtyard. And finally, to get to the third courtyard, you must again overcome the stairs. The territory of the courtyard is arranged in the form of terraces, one above the other. Here are the meru, the traditional religious buildings in the form of towers, resembling pagodas. One of them, by the way, serves as a treasury of the temple. It also contains documents and chronicles related to the Besakih.

You may notice that the measures in the temple are of different heights, and they have a different number of tiers. This is because each meru is dedicated to a particular god. The higher this or that god is worshipped, the higher the tiers of the measure, which is devoted to him. For example, the 11 tiers of the meru were built as a tribute to Shiva.

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The third courtyard also houses the temple of the blacksmiths, Pande Vesi. And on the very evening terrace there are two enclosed buildings. One of them is dedicated to the god Shiva, and the other to the ancestors of the former Raja of Klungkung, who were also regarded as deities.

During religious festivals, the temple grounds are usually decorated. If you find yourself here on one of the festive days, you will probably notice that four colors – white, red, black, and yellow – dominate among the others.

These colors symbolize certain deities:

  • White is the color of the god Shiva.
  • Red is the color of Brahma.
  • Black color corresponds to Vishnu
  • Yellow belongs to the supreme god named Ida Sanhyang Vidi Vasa

The same colors are used in other sanctuaries during major festivals. In general, the festivals at Pura Besakih are an important part of temple life. Galungan, the festival of victory of good over evil, is traditionally celebrated here. It ends with Kuningan – a meeting with the spirits of the ancestors at the festive table. On the first full moon after the New Year, the temple annually celebrates Bhatara Tu r un Kabeh, this festival usually falls in March or April and lasts about 10 days. On these days you can see ritual dances, shadow theater and various performances, as well as hear a traditional Balinese orchestra and witness local ceremonies.

The remoteness from populated areas, a certain inaccessibility and a special, sacred location make Besakih extremely interesting to all who wish to engage in meditation. It is believed that the Balinese themselves sleep with their feet toward the sea, where the evil spirits reside, and their heads toward Agung, which “cleanses” the negative energy currents. The landscape of the temple encourages meditation and unity with oneself: unusual vegetation, amazing panoramas, opening from its walls.

Besakih is a common temple, that is, accessible to all Hindus. As for visitors of other faiths, they are usually allowed only near the temples, that is, in the courtyards on the ground level, without entering the religious buildings. However, and such visits are often delayed for several hours.

How to get to the temple of Besakih

Route to Besakih Temple from Denpasar

From the resort areas here there is no public transport. So you will have to take a rented vehicle or a cab to get here. I will describe for you in detail the way from Denpasar and from the northern resort of Lovina. From southern resorts like Sanur, Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Nusa Dua and Jimbaran the road goes through Denpasar, so you can use the first route.

From Denpasar (1, 5 hours, 53 km)

  1. Exit the city east to Jl. Prof. Dr. Ida Bagus Mantra.
  2. Go straight ahead. After about 17 kilometers there will be a turn to Jl. Raya Takmun g . In front of it there is a noticeable green sign showing the direction to Takmung. You need to turn left.
  3. After the turn you will find yourself in Semarapura town. Head towards its northern exit, the Jl. Raya Besakih road.
  4. Take this road for about 14 kilometers, until the turn to the temple. There is a signpost there. But if you miss the right turn, there will be several more.
  5. Turn onto Jl. Kedu g ung Besakih and follow it for another 6 kilometers, after which you will be there.
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Lovina to Besakih Temple route

From Lovina North Resort (2, 5 hours, 90 km)

Bali’s main temple – Pura Besakih

Besakih Temple with Mount Agung as a backdrop

The island of Bali is famous for its many Buddhist shrines and pilgrimage sites that attract tourists from all over the world. The Balinese themselves call their island the “Island of a Thousand Temples”. The objects of worship here are not only temples, but also the sacred mountains, which can purify people on a spiritual level. One of the most revered hills is the island’s highest mountain, Gunung Agung, which reaches 3,142 meters. The mountain symbolizes the incarnation of the supreme God Shiva, so it is a sacred and revered area.

Besakih Temple viewed from the square with Mount Agung as a backdrop

Besakih Temple view from the square with Mount Agung as a backdrop

On the southwestern slopes at the foot of the sacred Mount Gunung Agung, a result of a volcanic eruption, rises the majestic ancient temple complex of Pura Besakih, which is considered the main treasure not only of the island of Bali, but also of the entire Hindu world. It is the largest and most beautiful temple, where you can see the majestic statues of Buddha, Vishnu and Shiva. Locals call it by various names, some “Mother Besakih Temple” and others “Mother of all sacred temples. The name came from the ancient legends that the Balinese still believe in and follow all their principles.

History of the origin of the temple of Pura Besakih

The temple of Pura Besakih was erected more than a thousand years ago, but the first mention of it can be attributed to 1284 when it was discovered by expeditions from other countries. Local residents believe that the shrine was built before the VIII century, and not by ordinary people, namely the Gods, who until today dwell in the upper parts of pagodas, protecting the island of Bali from evil spirits and all misfortunes.

Ancient Besakih temple historical photo

Ancient Temple of Besakih historical photo

During its existence, the temple of Pura Besakih experienced many different disasters, however, was able to survive and now delights with its extraordinary beauty not only the local Balinese, but also tourists from all over the world. The first tragedy is mentioned in 1917 when there was a sudden eruption of the volcano Gunung Agung and the red-hot magma destroyed most of the shrine. The next eruption in 1963 was less destructive, so for half a century it was still able to rebuild, collecting almost piece by piece.

Legends associated with the temple

Legends associated with the appearance of the temple of Pura Besakih set. With great pleasure they are retold by local residents and guides arriving tourists. One of them says that the temple was built by the will and forces of many different gods and their kingdoms. Therefore, on its territory there are many different sculptures, strikingly different from each other.

Besakih Temple - Daily Hindu Ceremonies

Besakih Temple – daily Hindu ceremonies

According to the Balinese, the gods still reside in the temples, namely in the higher tiers of the pagodas, and accept people’s donations . This is why there are daily Hindu ceremonies attended by hundreds of Balinese.

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Features of the structure of the temple and the surrounding area

The Pura Besakih complex includes 22 separate temples, each with its own special purpose and name, as it represents a particular deity.

Peculiarities of the structure of the divine territory:

  • The total area of the temple buildings and courtyards has more than 3 square kilometers;
  • 18 main temples and 4 auxiliary temples;
  • Many-meter high staircases that allow you to understand the higher level;
  • On each level there are tents with benches where you can relax a little;
  • on the first level is the Gamelan orchestra;
  • baskets of flowers and other decorations for the spirits.

Because the sacred buildings are located on the slopes of the mountain, from a distance it looks like a multi-level structure with grand rectangular vaults reaching upward, staircases and divine statues immersed in luxuriant greenery.

Mysterious Besakih Temple

The enigmatic temple of Besakih in the low clouds

The most significant and largest structure in the complex is considered to be the Panataran Agung temple, where God Shiva is worshipped and prayed to, so the walls are dominated by white, which can be seen from afar. The sculptures next to it are decorated with flowers and white sarongs. It is in this temple on the holidays are the most important religious Buddhist ceremonies of the island of Bali, which brings together thousands of pilgrims from around the world. So if you are lucky enough to get to the shrine on a Hindu holiday, any tourist will be spellbound by the surrounding beauty.

What is the best way to get to Mount Gugung Agung?

Mount Gunung Agung is a volcanic mountain located in the eastern part of the island, near the village of Besakih. It is very easy to get to the shrine by renting a moped or as part of a tour group by bus. The parking lot is located a kilometer from the entrance to the temple, so you will have to walk a little, but it does not mean that the way will be boring. All the way to the foot of the mountain is a huge number of shops that offer various souvenirs, jewelry, baskets of flowers to offer to the gods, and of course sarongs, without which the entrance to the temple is prohibited by the Hindu religion, both women and men.

Besakih temple view of the valley

Besakih Temple, temple buildings, view of the valley

IMPORTANT: It is better to go on a tour early in the morning or when the weather is clear, because in the afternoon almost the whole area of the temple complex on the upper levels is hidden in the clouds held by Mount Agung. Being at an altitude of 990 meters above sea level, clouds are a daily occurrence here, so it often drizzles. Many tourists are advised to bring umbrellas, otherwise you will have to buy them from local vendors.

Besakih Temple - surroundings

Temple of Besakih – the neighborhood

Every tourist who visits the ancient temple of the Mother Pura Besakih will not only get an indelible impression of what he sees, but also get a blissful peace, touching the most spiritual creations on earth. After all, this is where the most important and ancient shrines of the world are concentrated.

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