One of the landmarks I was eager to see in Bali was the Besakih Temple also known as the Mother Temple. It looked so surreal in all the photos I saw. And I was so curious to climb up the ancient steps.
The guide took me to one of the sarong workshops where women painted beautiful patterns onto textiles. In order to enter any Hindu temple in Bali, you are supposed to be dressed appropriately, meaning you should wear a long-sleeve top and cover your knees with a sarong and a sash tied around your waist. It’s possible to rent sarongs and sashes, but I thought that the genuine sarong would actually make a lovely souvenir.
I strolled around the workshop and learned about the technique of making those beautiful batiks, and chose one with lovely large flowers. I was also told that these and the ones you can find on every corner of the island are quite different, because the street goods were poorly painted, and quite cheap. (So true, be careful how you wash both. More about it in articles to come.)
Anyway, I was ready for the Besakih Temple visit.
It was raining again, as it often does in March. (See the previous post for more about the Bali weather.) The sky was pretty clear in the morning, I even had my morning swim. But by the time we took off, bought the sarong, and visited the workshop, dark clouds have thickened up above, announcing another one of the frequent rainstorms. But you don’t mind getting wet when temperatures are pleasant and when you know that the sky is going to clear up in an hour or so.
Up the Mount Agung
We were driving up, reaching Mount Agung where the Besakih Temple was located. You can’t but admire the scenery along the way. People were walking in the rain, barefoot with huge banana leaves above their heads instead of umbrellas. It made me wonder – how much does a man actually need?
This seemed so simple but sufficient, people were just in accordance with their surroundings. And the tourists, we were the foreign objects here, the ones that bounced off the scene, worrying about our “brand new sneakers”, plastic umbrellas, expensive bags, and backpacks that shouldn’t get wet, because we have all sorts of tablets, batteries, chargers, and cables inside. Oh, how complicated!
It shows, even more, when you get to the Besakih Temple.
Let me tell you a few things about the place. What makes it even more surreal is the fact that it is located in the mountains at an altitude of 1,000 meters, on the slopes of Mount Agung. Do you know that this is the biggest temple in Bali? Yep, it’s one of the holiest, built in the 11th century.
It is a unique complex that includes at least 86 temples. Just imagine those beautiful constructions made out of black stone, placed on the hill overlooking the green rice paddies. The contrast of decoration colors is breathtaking. Along black walls and sculptures, you will see huge parasols, white, gray, red, and yellow, and sarongs and flags in different colors. Imagine the gray sky above all that and that was the scene before me. Such a powerful mixture of man-created structures amidst the beautiful landscape!
(Well, just look at what I chose as the site’s feature image and you’ll understand how impressed I was by the Besakih Temple. These parasols in different colors that now represent my travel blog on all social media, originate from Bali’s Mother Temple.)
Be prepared to take many stairs up and walk among the numerous temples of different types and functions. Pura Besakih features three temples dedicated to the Hindu trinity. The one in the center with white banners is dedicated to Shiva, the Destroyer. The one on the right has red banners for Brahma, the Creator, and the third one represents Vishnu, the Preserver, with its black banners. Many of the other temples’ inner courtyards are closed to the public and reserved for pilgrims.
The Dragon Deity
The Pura Besakih area was regarded as a holy place since ancient times. A part of it is built by the 8th-century monk who called it Basuki, referring to the dragon deity Naga Besukian, believed to inhabit Mount Agung. The name in time turned into Besakih. Other shrines were added in time.
Even though the place had several restorations due to earthquake damage in 1917 and a series of Agung eruptions in 1963, the complex still stands in all its beauty. They say that the lava flow passed by Besakih Temple and it’s believed to be a miraculous message from the deities who demonstrated their power this way.
Different areas of the complex represent the seven layers of the universe, each with its own shrines. It would take you about 30 minutes to go up the stairs in order to reach the temple closest to Mount Agung’s peak. The place is vibrant throughout the year since there are at least 70 ceremonies or religious celebrations held here, as each shrine has its own anniversary. The best time to visit is in the mornings or in the evenings, even though it’s usually crowded all day long.
Enjoy the view
As I said earlier, you can rent a sarong and a sash here, or you can even buy one in front of the Besakih Temple given that there are a lot of stalls at the entrance. Still, try to exchange money in the city you are coming from. If you are visiting alone, you can hire a guide here, or stroll around by yourself and admire this fascinating complex. Also, women are not allowed in during their menstrual period. All in all, you will have one memorable experience.
When I think of the Besakih Temple now, I often evoke the scene of glancing down at my feet from time to time, trying not to slip climbing the stairs in the rain. Then I looked up, holding the umbrella in one hand and sarong edges in the other, passing by beautiful statues, vibrant fabrics, and parasols. And then I reached the top temple. The view from up there… Wow!
Next: OTHER TEMPLES (4)
The full Bali SERIES