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There are hundreds of temples on Bali, but none compares to Pura Besakih. It’s the largest and holiest temple on the island, and is referred to as the Mother Temple. Let’s learn a bit more about this important temple and how you can visit it.
Pura Besakih is actually a complex of 23 temples, all located 1,000 meters up the southern slopes of Mt. Agung. When the volcano erupted in 1963, the lava flow missed the temples by just a few meters. This was taken as a sign from the gods and has added to the importance of the temple. It’s built on six terraced levels moving up the slope of the volcano.
The main temple is called Pura Penataran Agung (the Great Temple of State). This is the center of the complex and the main place of worship on Bali. It’s dedicated to Shiva, the destroyer god in Hinduism. There are other temples in the complex dedicated to Vishnu and Brahma as well to complete the Hindu trimurti.
The Besakih complex is constantly bustling thanks to the countless ceremonies that take place there throughout the year. Each of the many temples has its own odalan (temple festival), based on the 210-day Pawukon calendar. There are also big ceremonies for the full moon each month as well as major holidays.
During these ceremonies, you’ll see large crowds dressed in traditional clothing and several different kinds of offerings. You have the usual canang sari offerings that you see all over the island. You may also spot animal heads and carcasses. That’s right – that’s a dead cow you see under all those flowers and banana leaves.
It’s possible to visit Besakih on a long day trip from the beach towns in the south, but you’ll spend a lot of time in the car. You’re better off visiting from places like Ubud or Amed. Consider visiting as part of a tour, as tourists have been known to be hassled and ripped off here. From being convinced to give excessive donations to being forced to hire unnecessary guides, there are all sorts of scams aiming to separate you from your Rupiah. If you decide to visit on your own, keep a few things in mind:
Although visiting Pura Besakih can be a bit frustrating and can be a hassle, it’s definitely worth a visit. This is especially true if you manage to make it there on the same day as a major ceremony. While you’re more than welcome to be in the complex at this time, just be sure to be respectful. That means wearing the proper clothes, staying out of the shrines, and not pointing your camera in peoples’ faces. If you ask kindly, many people will be happy to pose for photos. Some will even want to take one with you on their cell phones!
Spending a few hours at the Mother Temple can be a fascinating cultural experience, and the surroundings are absolutely beautiful. Let’s just hope they deal with the issues regarding tourism here before too long to ensure a more pleasant experience for all.