/ On The Road
On The Road — By Marianne on December 27, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Bali: Abode of the Gods

Pale pink and fuchsia red flower offerings decorated shrines wrapped in red and black-and-white cloths. White and yellow banners fluttered from tall bamboo poles. A turmoil of people, all dressed in ceremonial garb, buzzed about the temple grounds. The women wore lacey, close-fitting long-sleeved blouses, tightly wound sarongs with sashes around their waists, the men white-collared shirts and hip cloths over their sarongs. Children in their ceremony-best frolicked like kittens.

My visit to Pura Besakih coincided with the annual main festival Bhatara Turun Kabeh – All Gods Descend Together – an eleven-day celebration. Pura Besakih, Bali’s largest temple, sits on the slopes of Gunung Agung, an active volcano soaring 3142 metres (10,400 ft) into the sky. The Balinese believe their Gods rest on Gunung Agung’s summit and watch over the island.

Mount Agung Abode of the Gods

Mount Agung, Abode of the Gods

My guide handed me a sarong, obligatory dress for temple visits, and wrapped it round me. I gasped for breath because he wound it too tightly. He showed me the paddy field bordering the temple complex and pointed out the streams that flowed peacefully down from Agung’s summit to water the rice plants. But from the same mountain comes destructive lava, fire and ash as its latest outburst in 1963 proved only too well. My guide was still a boy when this happened but he was convinced that the Gods were particularly disgruntled because the eruption occurred during a purification ceremony held once every Balinese century. (A Balinese year has 210 days.) Ironically, this ceremony was conducted to restore harmony between the forces of nature and man. The Gods were not completely angry because the lava flow stopped short of the temple. The Gods spared Besakih. No wonder the Balinese propitiate the gods with so many offerings.

I followed my guide as he elbowed a way through the multitude. Stalls laden with bright yellow pineapple wedges, spiky rambutan and pungent durian festooned the path. Peddlers paraded through the throng of people with soft drinks in ice boxes. Women devotees zigzagged through the crowd carrying wicker baskets full of flower and fruit offerings on their heads.

We climbed higher and he told me that Pura Besakih is not just one pura but a complex of twenty-two puras scattered over Mount Agung’s southern slope. Like all Balinese temples, they are open-air affairs. Each temple is made up of three courtyards filled with altars and shrines devoted to a number of Gods.

Multi-tiered roofs of Balinese shrines

Multi-tiered roofs of Balinese shrines


My guide pointed at the meru, multi-tiered roofs of Balinese shrines. Three-levelled ones store temple treasures, eleven tiers honour Sanghyang Widhi, the supreme God. He then showed me an open pavilion especially built for the Gods. This is the place where they gather and watch the colourful ceremonies. I inspected it closely but didn’t see any god, only offerings, tiny bamboo caskets woven by skilful fingers and filled with rice, flower petals and burning incense.

The devotees walked up stone stairs and entered the temple through a candi bentar, a split gate guarded on both sides by statues of big-bellied temple guards, an architectural feature unique to Bali. The gate resembled a tower that had been sliced into two. Legend has it that the two sides represent mythical mount Meru, which Siwa split into two, resulting in Gunung Agung and Gunung Batur, the two highest mountains of Bali.

The temple is out of bounds for non-Hindus. Therefore, I watched the procession of women, men and children ascend the stairs and enter the pura. They smiled and did not mind my taking their pictures.


A priest blessed the worshippers with holy water

A priest blessed the worshippers with holy water

We ambled past a wall and stopped at an open temple gate where a large group of worshipers were praying in a courtyard. A white-robed priest blessed them with holy water. Prayer for the Balinese is very much part of everyday life just like breathing, eating and bathing. The pungent scent of incense, the tinkle of the temple bells, the orderly rows of bowed heads waiting for the flicker of holy water from the priest are impressions I will never forget.

Everywhere I walked, I met happy, smiling people; fathers with young sons on their way to be blessed, women carrying woven baskets full of offerings. Not a single rumble from Gunung Agung spoiled my enjoyment. I was glad that the gods rejoiced and enjoyed themselves that day as much as I did. 






Bali is in south-east Asia and one of the 14,000 islands which make up Indonesia, world’s largest archipelago. The island of Bali is relatively small, 150 x 135 km, (93 x 83 miles) with a population of about 3.5 million. The island rises from the sea as a series of volcanic peaks.


Pura Besakih is 22 km (13 miles) from Klunklung and 60 km (37 miles) from Denpasar, Bali’s capital. All tourist resorts in Bali have agents who offer organised tours. See to it that they give at least one hour to visit Besakih, and longer when there are ceremonies.

It is also possible to get to Besakih under your own steam. Bemos (mini buses) ply from Klungklung to Besakih with a change at either Rendang or Meranga. There are lots of them in the morning but very few in the afternoon.

I visited Besakih from Amed in east Bali and hired a car and driver (Rp 450,000 = € 40 US$ or US$ 59). This meant that I could also include a visit to Lake Batur and Pura Ulun Danau Batur, the second holiest temple in Balie.

Entrance fee to Besakih is Rp 100,000 (€ 7 or US$ 10) per person. It is normal practice to negotiate over the price. I haggled down to RP 60,000 (€ 4 or US$ 6). In all temples, sarongs and often sashes are obligatory. If you like you can bring your own.

Opening hours from 8 am – 5 pm

The best time to visit Bali is from May to September, outside the monsoon season. The high season is from mid-June to mid-September and during the Christmas – New Year period.

With more than 20,000 temples, there is a temple ceremony somewhere on the island every day. Ceremonies need preparations, weaving of the baskets, composing the fruit and flower offerings. Religion claims a large part of Balinese life. Every day, morning and evening all year through, the Balinese bring offerings to their family shrines. At full moon they offer in their village or city temple and in-between they attend all kinds of ceremonies. The most amazing thing is that ceremonies have priority over business. Even in the tourist centres, business grinds to a halt on temple festival days.

Women carrying wicker baskets

Women carrying wicker baskets

Bringing offerings for the Gods

Bringing offerings for the Gods

Girls waiting for the ceremony to begin

Girls waiting for the ceremony to begin

photo credits: personal collection
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