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Bali Temple

A Sacred Space for God and Man

Bali has been called the "land of a thousand temples" what an understatement! Bali might be a small island, but there are many, many more than a thousand temples. Every village has at least three temples, a family compound has one, each rice growing cooperative (subak) has a temple, and even corporations have them. Some are simple affairs, others are elaborate sprawling complexes of major and minor temples, incorporating pagodas and shrines.

Above all the Balinese temple is a sacred space in which the deities are honored with rituals and offerings. Whether a simple enclosure with only one or two tiny shrines, or an elaborate complex with scores of sacred structures, the basic function of each temple is the same - to serve as a site where the Balinese pay reverence to the spiritual powers that play such a large role in their lives.

Temple Types

There are literally tens of thousands of temples in Bali, and new ones are being constructed all the time. Throughout much of the year they lie eerily deserted, but on the date of their anniversary festival they come to life in a brief but glorious burst of activity, as the congregation adorns the temple with beautiful ornaments and arrives bearing elaborate gifts, dressed in their finest apparel.

Although no two temples are the same, many do share similarities in design. Most temples have three courtyards, each with a split gate entrance, known as a candi bentar. The first courtyard is open and spacious with a number of small pavilions (bale) where people assemble for prayer and ceremonial preparations. The second courtyard is much the same, while the inner sanctum is the abode of the gods. Leading to the inner courtyard is a set of doors. Open the doors and a wall prevents you from moving forward - you can step either to the left or to the right. The wall is an aling aling and it prevents spirits from entering the courtyard, because it's thought that spirits have great problems negotiating comers! Within this courtyard are a number of meru shrines which line the northern and eastern walls. The multi-tiered meru have odd numbered roofs, depending on the god to which they are dedicated. Located in the northeast comer is the lotus throne. This is a padmasana, the seat of Ida Sanghyang Widi, the supreme god. If there are three thrones, they are dedicated to the supreme god's manifestations as Brahma, Wisnu and Siwa.

For non Balinese just have one word for temple, but the Balinese distinguish two important types. A sanggah (merajan in the refined language) refers to private or family temples, generally translated as "house temples." Each family compound has one, containing shrines to the family's deified ancestors (sanggah kamulan). Thus there are several hundred thousand house temples in Bali.

The other word for temple in Balinese is Pura, originally a Sanskrit term referring to a town or palace. In Bali, the word Pura has come to refer to a temple in the public domain, generally located on public land. These cannot always be neatly classified, but there are generally three types associated with the three most important foci of social organization on Bali - locale, irrigation cooperative (subak) and descent group.

Within the group based on locality are temples of the local village, as well as temples of greater regional and island-wide significance. Irrigation cooperative temples can belong to a single subak or to a whole group of subaks. And within the group of temples based on descent are temples supported by "clans" of greater or lesser degrees of ancestral depth, variously known as Pura dadia, Pura kawitan and Pura padharman. Altogether there are at least 10,000 temples on Bali belonging to these various types.

Three village temples of special significance are the kahyangan tiga ("three sanctu
aries") - the Pura puseh ('temple of origin"), at the upper end of the village, the Pura desa ("village temple") or Pura bale agung ("great meeting hall temple") in the village center, and the Pura dalem (death temple or "temple of the mighty one") lying near the cemetery and cremation grounds at the lower or seaward end of the village. These temples are linked with the gods of the Hindu Trinity: the Pura puseh-with Brahma the Creator, the Pura desa with Vishnu the Preserver, and the Pura dalem with Siwa the Destroyer.

The famous temple sites that tourists visit are regional or island-wide temples. These include the "Mother Temple" of Besakih, high up on the slopes of Mt. Agung, as well as the major temples of Ulun Danu (Batur), Lempuyang, Goa Lawah, Uluwatu, Batukau, Pusering Jagat (Pejeng), Andakasa and Pucak Mangu. These are nearly all mountain or sea temples, marking the primary poles of the sacred landscape in Bali.

Lesser regional temples, numbering in the hundreds, are sometimes called Pura dang kahyangan or "temples of the Sacred Ones" because they are associated with legendary priests who brought Hinduism to Bali from Java. Their supporting congregations are drawn from a wide area, and in the past such temples were often supported by local princely houses. Nowadays regional governments have taken on the same role. Important regional temples include Pura Sakenan, Pura Tanah Lot, Pura Kehen, Pura Taman Ayun and many others

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