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The Temples of Bali

                                        The Temples of Bali

Driving around Bali you will see
many temples. In fact, would you believe, there are literally 20,000 temples in Bali. These range from small irrigation and village temples to large historic temples.  The most common word for temple is pura, derived from the Sanskrit word for town or palace.  A pura is a temple built on public land.

One of the things you may first notice, is that some temples look unused or neglected, however temples are an important foundation for both the community and its individuals.

It is believed the basic form of the Temple originated during the Balinese Neolithic period, about 2500 BC.  The early Balinese also had the same belief that their ancestors lived at the top of the mountains.

The layout of temples follows the same design and organization as most traditional Balinese architecture. They are laid out on the kaja-kelod axis (north-south, remember kaja = toward the mountains, and kelod = towards the sea). Temples are constructed so they are higher on the ocean (kelod) side. This is from their prehistoric past when stepped terraces formed sacred sites.

The Mother Temple, Besakih, exemplifies this, as it was built on the site of ancient terraces with the Northern and most sacred courtyard on the top terrace.  It is interesting to note, that even temples built on flat ground, the inner courtyard will be raised in its construction.

Balinese temples in the 16th century were laid out in a system called "Sad Kahyangan".  This was brought to Bali by a priest from Java and uses the Lotus flower of the Indian Hindu religion as its basis. The mother Temple was the center of the flower and eight temples were laid out on the eight petals of the Lotus. The idea was that a separate aspect of god would inhabit each of the temples. At first they were Indian Hindu gods, then later Balinese deities became worshiped there.

As you tour through Bali, you may notice that some of the temples may look abandoned or neglected. Balinese temples are not visited regularly. When a religious ceremony is about to take place the temples come to life. This is especially true on a temples' anniversary ceremony --odalan, which takes place every 210 days. This ceremony lasts three days and it invites the temples' deities' to visit and receive the people's devotion.

There are three main categories of temples, this helps to explain each temples' significance.

The categories are:
Local Temples - these range from village temples to temples with great Balinese significance

Descent Temples - these temples belong to particular clans.

Irrigation-Association Temples - small temples or shrine in rice fields to larger temples. 

Within the village there are three temples (kahayangan tiga). These are arranged on the kaja - kelod axis. 

The village's Temple of Origin (pura dalem) is located at the mountain (kaja) end of the village and is dedicated to Brahma. In the center of the village is the (pura bale agung), or the "Temple of the Great Assembly Hall", which is where village meetings are held. This temple is dedicated to the god Wisnu.

The third Temple in the village is the ”Temple of Death" (pura dalem) or "Temple of the Mighty One".  It is dedicated to Siwa and his consort Durga.  This temple is always located at the ocean (kelod) end of the village. This is usually near the cemetery and cremation grounds.

In addition to these temples each family has a family Temple, located in the

Northeast (kaja kangin) corner of the family compound. Often this is little more than a walled off area containing several shrines, mainly dedicated to deified ancestors. However some families have very beautiful and extensive temples in their compounds.



Some common characteristics of temples:
1. Temples are enclosed by walls.
2. Most will have three courtyards. Some may appear to only have two courtyards, where the outer courtyard (jaba) is not walled and it's just a recognized area.
3. The inner courtyard (jeroan) is the most sacred and lies nearest to the mountains.
4. The middle courtyard is called jaba tengah.
5. Courtyards are considered to be a reflection of the universe.
6. The innermost courtyard represents heaven, the outermost represents hell, and the middle is an
intermediate area.

You enter a temple from the south through a split gate or candi bentar. This architectural feature is very important in Bali. You will see it incorporated into the design of many hotels and public buildings.  These candi bentar  look like a tower that has been cut in half and the two sides pushed apart. The origins of this unusual feature are really uncertain.

One Balinese legend says they represent the two halves of the mystical Mount Meru, which was split by Siwa to become Bali's two primary volcanoes, Gunung Agung and Gunung Batar. Another scholar believes they are linked to the funeral temples of former Kings. This candi form appears repeatedly in Balinese rituals symbolizing the universe. Another explanation is that it is symbolic of the splitting of the material world, allowing the physical body to enter the spirit world. Another thought it represents the duality of male and female, and so the stories go.  This candi form appears repeatedly in Balinese rituals symbolizing the universe.  Even the airport uses this candi bentar to welcome you at the airport.

The outer courtyard (jaba) is a place of assembly.  It's where offerings will be prepared, meetings can be held, a place to prepare food, rest, and where cockfights may take place. It contains several open-sided pavilions (bale) with roofs. There is usually a special pavilion for a large wooden drum called a kulkul which summons people to meetings or as an alarm in times of danger. There may also be a small rice barn to store the grain from the temple's own fields. Next the entrance to the second courtyard is usually entered via a gate called a candi kurung, which resembles the candi bentar except that it has a pair of wooden doors.  Sometimes these doors are intricately carved. The courtyard of the village temple usually consists of a village conference center and other pavilions to house the instruments of the village gamelan.  This courtyard is a place where everything is made ready for the gods.

 The inner courtyard (jeroan) is entered through another gate called a kori agung.  This is a more monumental structure, it's raised off the ground and is accessed by a series of steps. The gate has a roof and is narrower. Above the gate, the round face and bulging eyes of Boma, son of Siwa, and Ibu Pertiwa, or Mother Earth, look down.  Boma symbolizes the middle world, along with this world's vegetation and fertility.  On either side of the stairs are two raksasa, or guardians, whose task is to scare away the demons.  Some temples have a wall (aling-aling) which prevents one from seeing inside, however its real purpose is to prevent evil spirits from gaining access. It's believed evil spirits can only move in straight lines and therefore cannot turn the corners to get into the temple.

The inner courtyard (jeroan) contains all the shrines and alters. The most sacred are placed along the furthest wall in the direction of the mountain. The most significant feature of the shrines is there towering tiered roofs, known as meru, which symbolize the cosmic Hindu-Buddhist Mount Meru. The tiers, or roofs, of the meru are always uneven in number, between three and eleven. The more important gods have more tiers on their shrines.  Siwa has an eleven tiered meru. Unlike shrines in Java, most Balinese shrines do not contain images of the deities nor do they reside there permanently. They descend through a vertical open shaft to their seat when invited to attend ceremonies.

What you can't see is very important too. There are little iron, gold, and silver implements buried under the structure, also a container of nine precious stones inscribed with magic words and concealed in the rafters of the highest roof, however, the most important element of the jeraon is a throne (padmasana) of stone for Surya, the sun god. It stands in the most sacred position of the courtyard the uppermost right-hand corner and with its back always oriented towards Gunung Agung.  It is here that Siwa, in the form of the sun god, descends during the temple festivals. The throne represents the universe.  The stone base may be shaped like the mythical turtle Bedawang, with two coiled serpents resting on his back, thus forming the foundation of the world.   In some temples, Siwa is equated with Sanghyang Widi Wasa, the supreme deity. In such cases, his image is carved on the back of the throne.  

Enjoy your temple visits.

Information gained from several sources including but not limited to:
Stories from personal guides in Bali
Insight Guide

Photos by
Judy Berry and
various other contributors

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