The neighboring villages of Batubulan, Celuk and Singapadu are the first in a series of surprising art and craft centers than one encounters going north along the main road from Denpasar toward Ubud. These villages have garnered fame for a variety of skills; Batubulan for its barong dance and stonecarving, Singapadu for its gong saron and gong gede music, and Celuk for it’s silver and gold smith.

Batubulan : home of the barong

Ten km northeast of Denpasar, Batubulan is a village known throughout Bali for its ornate door-guardian statues, carved of soft paras volcanic tuff. Until these became popular for secular use earlier in this century, the carving were only used in the temples or palaces, but this art form has spread extensively in recent years and is today found in homes and public buildings.

Batubulan is also home of three famous Barong Dance troupes who perform seven times a week at 9.30am on their own stages before bus-loads of enthralled tourists. The development of these groups parallels that of tourism in Bali, but even so the Batubulan barong troupes are relatively young. The first, the Danjalan Barong Group, was established in 1970, while the Tegaltamu and Puri Agung groups were formed later. The three troupes also perform on a large stage that was constructed especially of Pura Puseh Bendul in 1986.

While in the neighborhood, Pura Puseh Batubulan  is well worth visiting. Four statues of Wisnu poised on carved pedestal embellished with Tantri tales guard the temple.

Goa Gajah

The first major site encountered coming from the south or from Ubud, just 2 km east of the Teges intersection, is the complex known as Goa Gajah -the famous “Elephant Cave.” It overlooks the Petanu River and consists of a Siwaitic rock-cut cave, a bathing place, rock-cut stupas and statues, and several foundations. It received its name from the archeologists who discovered it in 1923, because there is a giant head with floppy ears above the entrance which was at a first glance thought to represent an elephant.

The entrance to the cave itself is 2 m high and 1 m across, with a head sculpted above it that in fact resembles a man with bulging eyes, hairy eyebrows, protruding teeth, and a kind of long moustache. He is surrounded by sculpted ornaments in which little creatures-men, animals and gruesome heads – are depicted. It is as if they refer to a story, but it is not known which tale this could be.

The grotto inside is T-shaped, containing 15 niches hewn out of cave walls which may have served as benches to sleep on. For this reason, it is thought that the cave once served as a hermitage. A four-armed Ganesha (the elephant-headed son of Siwa) and a set of three lingga, each surrounded by eight smaller ones (representing the eight points of the compass and the center), were found at the ends. The cave may date from the second half of the 11th century. There are pavilions to both sides of the entrance, in which ancient statues are placed. One is Hariti, the Buddhist goddess of fertility and protectress of children.

The bathing spot behind the cave consists of three compartments which where were discovered and excavated only in 1954. The central one is small and holy, the left one is for women, and the right one is for men. They are all sunken, flush against a wall, the top of which is level with the courtyard in front of the cave. Each side basin has three statues of women holding urns, from which water pours into them. It seems a statue in the central basin has disappeared.

South of the complex a path leads down to a small stream. On the right are the remains of a hermit’s cave with a small pond in front. Past a bridge, the path climbs the opposite slope. The remains of an enormous relief depicting some stupas, once adorning the rock face high above, were found in a ravine on the left. Two meditating Buddhas, probably dating from the 8th century, were found here also. Unfortunately, one was stolen in the late 1980s, and the remaining one is head-less. From here a path leads up to the site of Yeh Palu.

Mountain of the poet

From Pejeng, the road begins a slow but steady ascent of Mt Batur. About halfway to the top, just near the source of the Pakerisan River, are two sites of great antiquity. The first, near Tampaksiring, is a famous complex of rock-cut monuments dating from the late 11th century and known as Gunung Kawi – the “mountain of the poet.” The poet in this case is none other than the god Siwa. In the ravines, on both sides of the river, royal tombs, a hermitage and monk’s caves have been cut out of solid rock. The main entrance to the site can be reached via a steep footpath that begins by a large parking lot lined with souvenir stalls on the east side of the road.

As one enters the site, to the left is a rock-cut monument consisting of four facades. In the bases of all these, holes have been made which once contained little stone boxes divided into nine squares, corresponding to the eight quarters of the compass and the center.

The monuments are connected with the youngest son of the powerful East Javanese King Airlangga who lived in the first half of the 11th century, and was of Balinese descent via his father Udayana. Twenty-seven edicts are known to have been issued by him between A.D 1050 and 1078. The central monument of the five may be devoted to him, because there is an inscription in Kadiri square script at the top reading: “the king monumentalized in Jalu.” By Jalu, the name of the site may be meant.

Next to the monuments is a rock-cut monastery complex, consisting of several caves with a free standing building hewn out of the rock in the center. Characteristics are the large, rectangular apertures and oval shaped entrance, with grass. On the other side of the ravine, to the right of the entrance, another cave has been discovered.

KINTAMANI – Huge crater and a life-giving lake

The mountainous region Kintamani, centering around the spectacular volcanic caldera of Mt Batur with its deep crater lake and bubbling hot springs, is rugged with a high and wild beauty. Wonderful mountain air and dizzying views in all the most memorable stops on the Bali tourist itinerary.

A drive-in volcano

Nearing Kintamani, the land rises steadily toward an almost featureless horizon – with only the mountain of Mt Agung and Mt Abang in view to the east and northwest, respectively. Suddenly, you crest a ridge to find yourself perched on the rim of a vast crater, measuring some 14 km(9 ml) across. Down in the crater sits the blackened cone of Mt Batur, surrounded to one side by the long, blue waters of lake Batur, and on the other by lava field and cultivated onion patches.

The great of the crater implies that Mt Batur was once a much bigger mountain (as big perhaps as Mt Agung) which blew its top thousands of years ago. The volcano is still active – the last eruption accurately in 1994, springing from the lower western flank of the mountain and leaving a vast field of black, needle-sharp lava rock. Much of the crater, though, is now being farmed. Although rainfall is slight, farmers irrigate their crops (mostly cabbage and onions) with water from the lake.

Lake Batur, Bali’s largest lake, is the source that feeds an underground network of springs throughout the southern-central flanks of the mountain. Homage is paid here to the life-giving grace of the lake at Pura Ulun Danu Batur. The original temple is down by the lake, but during the 1920s it was built anew the town of Kintamani.

Six very old settlements around the lake are called desa bintang danu (“stars of the lake”): Songan, Abang, Buahan, Trunyan Kedisan and Batur. People will tell you that these are “Bali Aga” villages, which some people take to mean “original Balinese” while others say it refers to the myth of Markendya, a legendary saint-sage who led several bands of settlers to Bali from Desa Aga on Gunung Raung in East Java. In any case, the term is in popular use, and there are a number of “Bali Aga” villages throughout the mountains around Kintamani. They are distinguished by their unusual layout and the uniformity of the house – as if they all adhere to a single design. The traditional mountain architecture is very interesting – steep bamboo shingle roof and walls of clay, woven bamboo or wide wooden planks – but in many places this is disappearing as houses are re-built using modern materials.

A paved road follows the crater’s rim around its southern and western circumference. From the south, the first stop is Penelokan, which means “look-out,” and indeed the views from here are stunning. Enterprising people are capitalizing on the panorama, and there are swarms of peddlers and a string of shops, restaurants and small hotels along the road to Kintamani.

BESAKIH – Bali’s lofty ‘ Mother Temple’

Driving up to Besakih from Menanga, the silver-grey cone of Mt Agung looms above, its summit still bare from the ravages is the highest peak on Bali, and a major locus of divine power in Balinese cosmos. The huge temple located here, Pura Besakih, is the greatest of all Balinese sanctuaries – the most sacred and powerful of the island’s innumerable temples. For this reason, it has always been associated also with state power. It lies at an altitude of 900 meters on the southwestern slope of the mountain, offering spectacular views over the whole of southern Bali.

Pura Besakih is not a single temple but a sprawling complex consisting of many separate shrines and compounds, united through ritual and history into a single sanctuary. There are 22 temples in all, spread along parallel ridges over a distance of than a kilometer. The highest of these, Pura Pengubengan, lies amidst beautiful groves in a state pine forest. Most of the temples, however, cluster around the main enclosure, Pura Penataran Agung.

In this same area there are many ancestral temples (pura padharman) supported by a particular clan group. Four public temples also form a district sub-group (catur lawa or catur warga) and are associated with certain kin groups. Local kin group of Besakih villagers also have temples here.

It is busy almost every day at Besakih. Balinese often come in order to obtain holy water for ceremonies back in their home villages as a symbol of the god’s presence. For most major ritual, the witness of the god of Gunung Agung / Pura Besakih is required. Balinese come to Besakih also at the end of the long series of funeral rites, after the post-cremation purification of the soul has taken place, to ready the soul for enshrinement in the family house temple. In all cases, the worshipper is sure to pay reverence at the triple lotus shrine of the Pura Penataran Agung.


The symbolic center

Pura Penataran Agung, the “great temple of state” is the symbolic center of the Besakih complex. Originating probably as a single prehistoric shrine, its six terraces suggests a history of successive enlargements, the latest being in 1962. In all, there are 57 structures in the temple, about half of which are devoted to various deities. A study of these provides a glimpse of important development in the history of the temple.

The meru or pagodas were probably introduced no earlier than the 14th century, whereas the lotus throne (padmasana) dates from about the 17th or even 18th century. With the introduction of the padmasana, the ritual focus of the temple seems to have shifted from the upper terraces to the second lower terrace. The padmasana is now the ritual center of Pura Penataran Agung and of the Besakih complex as a whole. The three seats in the lotus throne are dedicated to the godhead in his tripartite form as Siwa, Sadasiwa, and Paramasiwa or, more commonly in the popular tradition, to Brahma (right), Siwa (center), and Wisnu (left). These deities are black respectively. Behind the padmasana lies the Bale Pasamuhan Agung where the gods of the Besakih temples take residence during major ritual. Of all the present structures in the temple, only one or two predate the great earthquake of 1917. Although visitors are normally not allowed inside the main courtyard, there are several vantage points from where one can get good views of the shrines.


Temple categories

A dual structure underlies the Besakih sanctuary as whole through a division of the sacred areas into two parts. Pura Penataran Agung is the main temple “below the steps.” Its counterpart “below the steps” is Pura Dalem Puri, the “Temple of Palace Ancestors.” This small but very important temple, associated with an early dynasty of the 12th century, is dedicated to the goddess identified as Batari Durga, goddess of death and of the graveyard, as of magic power.

The Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Wisnu and Siwa is the basis of a three-part grouping that links the three largest temples. Pura Penataran Agung, the central temple, honors Siwa; Pura Dangin Kreteg (“Temple East of the Bridge”) honors Brahma, and Pura Batu Madeg (“Temple of the Standing Stone”) honors Wisnu. On festival days, banners and hangings in their colors represent these deities. Pura Batu Madeg in particular has a fine row of meru.

A five-way grouping links these temples with two others, each being associated with a cardinal direction and a color. Pura Penataran Agung is at the center. Surrounding it are Pura Gelap (east/white), Pura Dangin Kreteg (south/red), Pura Ulun Kulkul (west/yellow) and Pura Batu Madeg (north/black). This five-way classification, the so-called panca dewata, is extremely important in Balinese Hinduism. At Besakih, however, it seems to have been a relatively late development, as it not mentioned in Besakih’s sacred charter, the Raja Purana, which probably dates from the 18th century.


The gods descend

The unity of the complex of 22 public temples becomes manifest, above all, in Besakih’s great annual festival, the Bhatara Turun Kabeh or “Gods Descend Together” rite. This falls on the full moon of the 10th lunar month (purnama kedasa), in March or April.

During this month-long festival, the gods of all temples on Bali take up residence in the main shrine at Besakih. Tens of thousands of people from all over the island come to worship at the triple lotus throne, and solemn rituals are conducted by brahmana high priests.

In terms of numbers of worshippers, the annual ritual at Pura Dalem Puri is also quite remarkable. Within the 24-hour period of this festival, soon after the new moon of the 7th lunar month (around January), vast crowds pay homage here, presenting special offerings with which to insure the well-being of family members whose death rites were completed the previous year. But these great rituals are only the most important out of a total of more than 70 held regularly at the different temples and shrines at Besakih. Almost every shrine in Pura Penataran Agung, for instance, has its own anniversary, almost all of which are fixed according to the indigenous Balinese wuku calendar. The most important festivals, however, follow the lunar calendar. These include rituals conducted by brahmana priests at four of the five main temples, and also a series of agricultural rites culminating in two of Besakih’s most interesting ceremonies – the Usaba Buluh abd and Usaba Ngeed, which center around the Pura Banua dedicated to Bhatari Sri, goddess of rice and prosperity. With the exception of brahmana rituals mentioned above, most ceremonies at Besakih are conducted by Besakih’s own pemangku.


State and temple

The performance of rituals and the physical maintenance of the temples demand considerable resources, and throughout the temple’s history these have been at least partly provided by the state. During pre-colonial times, the relationship between state and temple was expressed in a largely Hindu idiom of religion and statecraft, but in the course of the 20th century this changed to one couched in legal and constitutional terms.

The earliest history of Besakih consists of legendary accounts that associate the temple with the great priests of the Hindu traditions in Bali, beginning with Rsi Markendya. In the 15th century two ancient edict inscribed on wood, now regarded as god-symbols Agung, indicate heavy state involvement.

The Gelgel and Klungkung dynasties (15th to early 20th centuries) regarded Pura Besakih as the chief temple of the realm, and deified Gelgel rules are enshrined in a separate temple here, called Padharman Dalem. Through the turmoil and shifting politics of the 19th century, which saw the rise of Dutch power on the island, the temple was seriously neglected. The great earthquake of 1917 completed its destruction, but at the same time galvanized the Balinese, who then rebuilt the temple with Dutch assistance. Control was maintained by the princely houses, who were responsible for rituals and maintenance. After independence, the regional government of Bali took over responsibility. Only in recent years has the Hindu community itself taken on a greater share of the burden involved in the temple’s upkeep.

Cosmic rites of purification

The involvement of the Balinese with Pura Besakih is at no time in evidence than during the great purificatory rites known as Panca Walikrama and Eka Dasa Rudra. Ideally these are held every 10 and 100 years respectively, but in practice they held in 1933, 1960, 1978 and most recently in 1989.

The Eka Dasa Rudra, greatest of all rituals known in Balinese Hinduism, is an enormous purification rite directed to the entire cosmos, represented by the 11 (eka dasa) direction. Rudra is a wrathful form of Siwa, who is to be propitiated. It has been held twice this century, once in 1963, held at a time of great political tensions, was an extraordinary catastrophe, for right in the midst of the month-long festival Mt Agung erupted with violent destructive force for the first time in living memory. Such a strange coincidence prompted various interpretations, the most common being that the deity of the mountain was angry, perhaps over the rituals timing.

According to certain sacred texts, the rite should be held when the Saka year ends in two zeros. Such was the case in 1979 (Saka 1900), and it was decided to hold the Eka Dasa Rudra once again. The mountain remained calm and hundreds of thousands attended the main day of celebration, including President Suharto. This marked Besakih’s new-found status as the paramount Hindu sanctuary not only for Bali, but for all of Indonesia.

besakih mothe rtemple of Bali


Bali’s most illustrious Kingdom

The town of Klungkung centers around the Puri Smarapura or “palace of the God of love” – former home of Bali’s most illustrious line of Kings. Unfortunately, all that remains now are the great gate and garden, and two pavilions with magnificently painted ceilings. These are the Kerta Gosa Hall of section, and the larger Bale Kambang or Floating Pavilion just behind it.

The rest of this splendid complex was razed to the ground in 1908, during the royal mass suicide or puputan (“ending”) against the Dutch invaders. This event removed the last obstacle to Dutch domination of the island. A monument commemorating the puputan now stands across road.

The Kerta Gosa was a place for the administration of traditional justice in pre-colonial times by a council consisting of the great king and his priests. The painting on the ceiling tell of the punishments awaiting evil-doers in hell, and of the delights of the gods in heaven. Different levels and stations in heaven and hell are described through the story of the hero Bima, who journeys to the underworld to save the souls of his parents. These scenes were used to alternately threaten and cajole anyone who appeared before the court.

Like the Sistine Chapel, the Kerta Gosa presents a whole complex of ideas on the workings of fate and the role of the divine in human affairs. The ceiling themselves have been repainted three times in recent memory. The last complete refurbishment occurred in 1960 under the famous artist Pan Seken, although in 1984, weather damage caused a number of panels to be repaired.

The Bale Kambang in back is actually rather new, having been added to the complex only in the 1940s. The ceiling was originally painted by Wayan Kayun in 1942, and depicts episodes from the story of the Buddhist king Sutasoma, who defeated his enemies through passive resistance. Also portrayed is the story of the commoner Pan Brayut – a coarse man who received great spiritual blessings.

Palaces and priestly estate

Members of the royal family who survived the massacre of 1908 were exiled to Lombok.

They returned in 1929 and settled in a new palace, the Puri Agung to the west of the old site on the other side of the street. Chief among them is Dalem Pamayun, eldest son of the former king, who has become a priest.

To the north of the main crossroads, on the righthand side, is a set of beautiful and important royal temples, with an ancestral shrine dedicated to the great king of Gelgel, Dalem Seganing. Just next to it is the Pura Taman Sari or Flower Garden Temple, consisting of a peaceful garden and most around a main pagoda. In the 19th century, a famous warrior queen of Klungkung meditated and wrote poetry here.

There are many priestly in Klungkung with long histories connected with the royal house. The best-known is Griya Pidada Klungkung, once home to the chief priests of the court. Another residence with long historical associations is the former palace of Lebah, to the east of the city just before the Unda River, just to the west is the Banjar Pande, the blacksmiths’ ward of Klungkung, and the long-established Muslim quarter.

The best time to visit Klungkung is every three days on the Balinese day known as pasah, when the Klungkung Market is In full swing. The market nestles behind a row of shops to the east of the Kerta Gosa, and although it has lost some of its old atmosphere as a result of being re-housed in a new, multi-storied concrete structure, it offers a full range of local delights, including handmade housewares, baskets, fruits, flowers, vegetables and the like.

For those interested in souvenirs, the row of art shops on the main road in front of the market is well-known to antique collectors. The astute old women who own them have been in business since the 1930s, although age is now thinning their ranks. They all complain, however, that nowadays they can only occasionally find the sort of valuable items which used to routinely fill their shops.

kertha gosa

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