Besakih Temple is a pura complex in the village of Besakih on the slopes of Mount Agung in eastern Bali, Indonesia.
It is the most important, the largest and holiest temple of Hindu religion in Bali, and one of a series of Balinese temples. Perched nearly 1000 meters up the side of Gunung Agung, it is an extensive complex of 23 separate but related temples with the largest and most important being Pura Penataran Agung. The temple is built on six levels, terraced up the slope. The entrance is marked by a candi bentar (split gateway), and beyond it the Kori Agung is the gateway to the second courtyard.
The precise origins of the temple are unclear but its importance as a holy site almost certainly dates from prehistoric times. The stone bases of Pura Penataran Agung and several other temples resemble megalithic stepped pyramids, which date back at least 2,000 years. It was certainly used as a Hindu place of worship from 1284 when the first Javanese conquerors settled in Bali. By the 15th century, Besakih had become a state temple of the powerful Gelgel dynasty.
The temple is on the southern slopes of Mount Agung, the principal volcano of Bali. Pura Besakih is a complex made up of twenty-three temples that sit on parallel ridges. It has stepped terraces and flights of stairs which ascend to a number of courtyards and brick gateways that in turn lead up to the main spire or Meru structure, which is called Pura Penataran Agung. All this is aligned along a single axis and designed to lead the spiritual person upward and closer to the mountain which is considered sacred. The main sanctuary of the complex is the Pura Penataran Agung. The symbolic center of the main sanctuary is the lotus throne, or padmasana, which is therefore the ritual focus of the entire complex. It dates to around the seventeenth century.
A series of eruptions of Mount Agung in 1963, which killed approximately 1,700 people also threatened Pura Besakih. The lava flows missed the temple complex by mere meters. The saving of the temple is regarded by the Balinese people as miraculous, and a signal from the gods that they wished to demonstrate their power but not destroy the monument the Balinese faithful had erected.
An Odalan is a Balinese village temple festival in Indonesia. It is an occasion when the Hindu village community comes together, invite the gods to visit them for three or more days, perform religious services together offering refreshments and entertainment. It is a periodic event, one that celebrates Balinese Hindu heritage and performance arts. The Odalan celebrations are a social occasion among Indonesian Hindus, and have historically contributed to the rich tradition of theatre and Balinese dance forms.
An Odalan marks the founding of a particular Hindu temple, and is celebrated on its birthday according to the Pawukon – the 210 day Balinese calendar. Since Bali has thousands of Hindu temples, with at least three in each village, several Odalan are celebrated in some part of Bali almost everyday of the Gregorian calendar. The celebration rituals are called Dewa Yadnya (Sanskrit: Deva Yajna), includes processions, decorations of the village temple, entertainment and dancing in the temple courtyard, the village community pools its resources and observes it together.
The Odalan at a few large temples, such as the Pura Besakih – the biggest Hindu temple in Bali, has major cultural importance beyond its location. It is an island wide event, and therefore celebrated with major preparations once every 100 Balinese years. Each of the individual temples in Pura Besakih has its own odalan, or temple festival; you’re almost certain to come across one being celebrated whenever you visit the temple complex. But for the biggest temple festivals in Pura Besakih, you should time your visit to one of the following dates:
Batara Turun Kabeh: the eve of the tenth lunar month marks the high point of a full month’s festivities, the name of which translates to “the gods descend together”. The Balinese believe the gods of all temple shrines on Pura Besakih simultaneously descend to earth during Batara Turun Kabeh, and villagers from all over the island converge to offer them sacrifices and celebrate. Watch the purification pilgrimage, where Balinese make a slow procession bearing heirlooms and holy objects, all to be sanctified in the temple’s holy waters. The date corresponds to the Balinese saka calendar, and occurs on the following dates relative to the western Gregorian calendar: 2020: April 4, 2021: March 28.
Odalan of Pura Penataran Agung: the odalan (temple festival) of Besakih’s biggest single temple occurs every 210 days. Come for the spectacle of thousands of Balinese converging on the stairs ascending the terraces, and praying facing the largest temple bearing altars to the Hindu trimurti. The date corresponds to the Balinese pawukon calendar, and occurs on the following dates relative to the western Gregorian calendar: 2020: January 31, August 28, 2021: March 26, October 22, 2022: May 20, December 16.
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. Pura Besakih is open from sunrise to dusk, however tour buses begin to pour in around 9 a.m.
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.
An small entrance fee is charged at Pura Besakih, however an additional donation is expected. Trivial fees are also charged for parking, cameras, and video cameras. Other temples in the area may charge additional entrance fees; always pay directly at the entrance and not to the numerous people loitering around the temple to exploit tourists.
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.
Pura Besakih is located in East Bali on the southern slope of Mount Agung, around an hour by car from Ubud. Public transportation including buses and bemos (minivans) is available from both Denpasar and Ubud, however many people choose to join a tour or hire a private driver. The last bemo back to Denpasar leaves the temple around 3 p.m. Pura Besakih can also be reached from the Kintamani region in North Bali by driving south along the road to Rendang and Klungkung; the scenic drive takes around an hour. If comfortable enough on a motorbike, scooters can be rented in Ubud for around $5 per day. Having your own transportation is a big plus for exploring the various temples and scenic drives along the slopes of Mount Agung. Always be careful whenever you go and don’t forget to always obey the rules that locals give to you. The locals or the guide will tell you what you can do and cannot do.