Known as the “Mother Temple” in Bali, Pura Besakih is situated 3,000 feet up the slopes of Mount Agung in East Bali. Pura Besakih, considered the most important Hindu temple in Bali, is actually a complex of 23 separate temples that can be explored by tourists. The Pura Besakih temples are thought to date back to the 14th century, however some locals date them back as early as the 10th century.
Constructed on six different levels, Pura Penataran Agung is the epicenter of the temple district. White banners flying around Pura Penataran Agung denote the temple’s dedication to Shiva. Pura Besakih, famous for allowing Hindu followers from any caste to worship, draws worshipers from all over the world.
Pura Besakih made the world spotlight in 1963 when the temple – thought to have been saved by the gods – miraculously survived a devastating eruption by Mount Agung. Pura Besakih was nominated as a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
In Hindu belief, the Eka Dasa Rudra ceremony must be performed every 100 years to purify and save the world. The ritual was scheduled to be performed in 1963 at Pura Besakih. In March of that same year, Mount Agung erupted violently blowing the top 400 feet off the volcano. Thousands are thought to have died on Bali as gas and lava spewed from Mount Agung. Miraculously, Pura Besakih remained relatively untouched on top of the volcano as lava poured down the slopes.
This complex expresses the essential belief of the Balinese known as Tri Hita Kirana, meaning that life on earth must be lived and kept in balance and harmony between man and God, man and society and his fellow human beings, and man and his natural environment.
During a full moon, Balinese and pilgrims throng to the temple. During the festival of Odalan, the temple is most elaborately decorated. Odalan is celebrated on every 210th day.
Besakih is a remarkable and outstanding temple. Looking at the temple from a distance, you can observe an impressive complex of pyramid-like temples, extending up the mountain, with Gunung Agung providing a dramatic backdrop. The setting looks particularly stunning in the clear morning light, and gorgeous at sunset. This temple is also decorated with Bali-style ornaments, doorstep temple, sacred stone idols, and stone carvings.
Away from the loud parties of Kuta Beach, leaving the thrilling waves of Uluwatu behind and the modern facilities of Nusa Dua, then traveling beyond enchanting Ubud, a visit to Pura Besakih is truly a spiritual experience into the heart of Balinese religious and cultural life.
This temple is very easy to find, as most people know it as one of the best tourist destinations in Bali. There are several starting points that you may choose to take:
From Kuta, it takes about 2 hours to get here. Simply head east towards Sanur, then follow the fast coastal route, which is connected to the Kusamba Bypass at Tohpati. Then go north until you find the road sign to Besakih, and after a few kilometers from this point turn north.
If you are staying around Klungkung, then Besakih is about 20 kilometers north of the town center. Take the Bemo – the small public buses– that will take you to Besakih from Klungkung. Bemos are most frequent in the morning, and it is recommended to change bemos at Rendang, halfway between Klungkung and Besakih.
If you come from the north of Denpasar, it is about 25 kilometers to reach Besakih by car. However, if you stay in the eastern part of Bali such as at Tirta Gangga, Candidasa, or Amed, you can reach Besakih by taking a smaller inland road from Karangasem. This will lead you to the crossroad between Besakih and Klungkung at Rendang, and then turn right to reach Besakih Temple.
During your hour-long drive, you will enjoy beautiful views traveling through forests, villages, and rice fields. If you are willing to make a short stop in one of the villages, you will see how the locals live, and learn a bit about their unique houses.
To reach the temple complex, you have to stroll up a footpath for about 200 meters. On both sides of the path you will find beautiful views, and feel the breeze on your way to the temples. Otherwise, you may prefer to rent a motorbike offered by the locals.
What to See
The great Mount Agung rises to an altitude of 3,148 meters (10,308 feet) in eastern Bali. Perched on its slopes about 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) in altitude is the holy Besakih Temple, Mother Temple of Bali.
Besakih is said to be the only temple where a Hindu of any caste can worship. Surrounding three main temples dedicated to Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu are 18 separate sanctuaries belonging to different regencies and caste groups.
Stairs ascend through a monumental split gate to the courtyard of the main temple, Pura Panataran Agung, where the central shrine dedicated to the Hindu trinity of Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu is wrapped in cloth and decorated with flower offerings.
Two other important temples further up the slope join with the Pura Panataran Agung to symbolize the Hindu trinity: the Pura Panataran Agung in the center flies white banners for Shiva, Pura Kiduling Kreteg to the right flies red banners for Brahma; and Pura Batu Mddeg, on the left, has black banners for Vishnu.
This grand temple complex has been revered as a holy place since ancient times. The first recorded mention of its existence comes from an inscription dating back to 1007 AD. It is known that since the 15th century Besakih was regarded as the central temple of Hinduism in Bali.
Pura Penataran Agung, or the “Great Temple of State” is the center of the temple complex and is is Bali’s main place of worship, a complex comprising twenty-two temples on six rising terraces set on parallel ridges.
There are many other temples to explore at Besakih, but many of their inner courtyards are reserved for worship and closed to visitors.
Visiting Pura Besakih
Pura Besakih and other loosely-connected Hindu temples around Mount Agung can be explored on a day trip from Ubud or Denpasar. Tourists can wander from temple to temple; each site differs according to deity and purpose.
The Pura Besakih temple complex is extremely active; scores of different Hindu ceremonies are held throughout the year. Pura Pentataran Agung and other temples may be closed to tourists during special worship days – ask in Ubud before making the journey to Pura Besakih. While tourism has caused the region around the temple complex to explode in growth, the popularity has attracted a horde of guides, touts, and hawkers hoping to relieve visitors of extra cash.
Before exploring this temple, you have to rent and wear a sarong and sash at the main entrance of the temple to respect the Balinese tradition, as Besakih Temple is a holy place of worship. The sarong and sash are special clothes Balinese wear when praying at temples.
When you reach the complex, you will see the first group of temples on your left. This is sacred temple dedicated to royal ancestors is known as Pura Dalem Puri. Balinese store the ashes of the dead after the cremation known as the Ngaben ceremony. From here, walk up the flight of stairs that will lead you to Pura Penataran Agung. The locals believe that Pura Penataran Agung is the center of devotion to the Gods. Next to the main temple are two other important temples. These are Pura Kiduling Kreteg on its right and Pura Batu Madeg on its left.
The colors of the banners denote which God the temple is dedicated to, the three representing the Hindu Trinity. The white banner is dedicated to the temple of Shiva (Pura Penataran Agung), the red banner is for the temple of Brahma (Pura Kiduling Kreteg), while the black banner is for the temple of Vishnu (Pura Batu Mandeg). When there are no festivals or events taking place here, visitors may be allowed inside to look around the temples. This is the best spot to take pictures.
If you wish to explore the more remote part of the temple, head to Pura Pengubengan, which is situated some 2 kilometers at the northern end of the complex.
Where to eat
There are many roadside stalls called warungs along the footpath before you reach the gate of the temple complex. You need not worry about getting ripped off, as prices are reasonable here.
What to buy
You can buy some unique souvenirs of Bali for your family members or loved ones. Bali is best known for its unique hand-made crafts, paintings, sculpture and carvings. There are also many vendors outside the temple complex selling trinkets and handicrafts.
Fees to enter Pura Besakih
Besakih Temple is open to visitors all year round during the official opening hours between 8 a.m. up to 5 p.m.. The entrance fee is 10,000 IDR; parking fee 1,000 IDR; camera use submission 1,000 IDR, and video use 2,500 IDR.
- If you have not been to Besakih Temple before you may want to engage a guide, who will help show you around the temple. The guide fee is about 25 USD. Still, if you do not find it necessary to hire a guide, you can walk around on your own.
- Prepare yourself with a pair of comfortable shoes, sunglasses, a hat, and a light t-shirt.
- It is recommended to invite a Balinese friend to accompany you or hire a driver to visit Besakih temple in the daytime.
- Please feel free to report to the temple guards if you meet with any problems.
Avoiding Scams Around Pura Besakih
The numerous scams and excessive hassle around Pura Besakih ruin the entire experience for many tourists. The temple is sadly exploited as a way to shake tourists down for money; people will literally be lined up as your car or bus arrives in the parking lot – be prepared!
Some tips for avoiding scams around the temple complex:
- Guides are not necessary: Locals will tell you that certain temples are “closed” or that you must hire a guide to see “sacred” parts of the temple. Nearly all of the Pura Besakih temple precinct can be explored independently. Unofficial guides may demand a tip to continue halfway through your tour.
- Take your own sarong: Proper dress is expected inside of Hindu temples; men must cover their legs with a sarong. Sarongs can be rented at the entrance of each temple, however purchasing your own in Ubud is a better idea.
- Do not overdo donations: Upon entering each temple, you will be pressured to give a donation. A logbook of previous guests will show exorbitant amounts of $10 – $40. A typical donation to other Hindu temples in Bali is typically around $1.
- Expect Inflated Prices: Food, drinks, and souvenirs around the temples are outrageously priced – wait until you return to Ubud to enjoy delicious Indonesian food.
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