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Bali: The Land of Temples
The Land
of Temples

Temple by the Sea

Inseparable from the religious rituals of the Balinese are the temples. Just like cathedrals in Europe, temples are the most ubiquitous architecture in Bali. Every house has its own little shrine, usually a dedication to their ancestors. The rice field has a little shrine dedicated to Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice. Each village usually has three temples. For the entire island, the Mother Temple of Besakih, situated on the slope of Mount Agung, is the most important of all temples.

To the Balinese, temples and their various structures are not worshipped. Temples are meant to be pleasant resting place for the gods on their stay on the island. As such, entertaining the gods or appeasing the goddesses or most of religious rituals through endless festivals will take place in the three village temples:

  • Pura Puseh: a temple dedicated to the ancestors of the village.
  • Pura Desa: a temple used for official celebrations of the village community.
  • Pura Dalem: or the temple of death, dedicated to the deities of death and of cremation

Architecture of a Temple

The word for temple in Balinese is Pura, which comes from a Sanskrit word that literally translates into a place surrounded by walls. A Balinese Pura typically consists of walls surrounding two or three courtyards. The huge, elaborately carved entrance gate is usually a split gate, known also as Candi Bentar. Candi Bentar is usually guarded on both sides by statues of temple guards. Sculptured figures can be found in various locations in a temple.

The outer courtyard is separated from the inner courtyard by another wall, and the entrance is a covered gateway called Padu Raksa. The walls surrounding the courtyards are usually heavily decorated with bas-reliefs, depicting stories that can range from traditional Mahabrata mythology or as simple as daily events of a Balinese. In the middle of the inner court, usually imposingly stands a waringin or frangipani tree. Inside each courtyard you will find several interesting structures:

  • Bale
    Each courtyard may have several little pavillions called bale. These bale may be as simple as a roofed structure supported by four pillars with cement or stone floors. For a village temple, the orchestra will be housed in one of these bale.
  • Meru
    Meru is the tiered roof structure that you can find atop a little pavillion dedicated to a god or goddess. You can only have an odd number of merus, and the highest is 11, signifying the greatest respect. The goddess of rice, Dewi Sri, for example, will have eleven-tiered merus dedicated to her.
  • Kulkul
    Kulkul is a hollow log that functions similar to a church bell; it is used to call together the village community. In a village temple, it is usually housed in a tower whose base is elaborately decorated with carvings. Sounding the kulkul has its own language; different rhythms of hitting the kulkul will communicate different reasons for the gathering of the village.
  • Shrines
    A temple may have a number of shrines dedicated to the various gods and goddesses. The village women will present their offerings on these shrines.


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