The island of Bali is full of wonderful temples that are great to visit and admire. The Hindu culture here as developed it’s own unique style over the years and admiration for these aesthetics are one of the islands big draws. Balinese gates and statues are particularly famous and a highlight of the Southeast Asia region. This post takes a look at 8 Balinese Temples that are really worth a visit.
Balinese Temples – a quick overview
The island of Bali follows it’s own distinct form of Hinduism. Historically the island remained a bastion for Hinduism, even whilst other parts of Indonesia converted to Islam or Christianity. Many Hindu Monarchs actually moved there base from Java to Bali when that island converted to Islam in the 14th to 16th centuries. It is this isolation that helped create the Balinese culture and traditions. Additionally the island has incorporated it’s past animist beliefs into it’s religion, helping shape it’s uniqueness. Balinese Temples are a prime example of this, visually showing the islands belief systems and acting as centres of worship.
In the modern era over 83% of Bali’s inhabitants identify as Hindu. This in contrast to Indonesian as a whole, which is over 87% Muslim. The island celebrates Hindu festivals and you can find offerings to the gods all around. Balinese Temples are well revered by the local populace and are great to explore for any visitor to the island. Remember to dress respectfully in terms of what the local culture expects. Beachwear is a big no in temples, don’t wear clothing that is too revealing. Usually you will be instructed to wear appropriate clothing when you enter and they will give you a sarong or headscarf if they require it.
To be clear, these are just my personal 8 recommended Balinese Temples to see. They are based on what I have seen myself. There are many more and i’m sure I’ve missed out some great ones! Bali is a large island and there is a lot to cover when you visit, so give yourself time to do what you want. There are a lot of tour agencies that will take you between different sights, shop around a bit to make sure you get a fair price.
8 Great Balinese Temples
The ‘temple of death’ is found in central Ubud and often hosts a traditional Kecak dance in the evening. They were developed around the 1930’s and are a popular attraction today. These Balinese music and dance drama’s tell the Hindu mythological tale of Ramayana. It focuses on Rama, one of the major Hindu deities.
It’s well worth visiting here in the day though, away from the crowds that accompany the dance. In fact because it’s so popular in the evening’s it’s actually relatively quite during the day. There are many interesting statues in this temple. You can see all kinds of skulls and demonic figures here. Particularly of Rangda, the Demon Queen in Balinese mythology. I have used an image of her as the ‘featured image’ for this post.
This is actually my favourite of all the Balinese Temples I have visited. I just really loved all the imagery here, it’s so demonic. The way moss has grown over some of the statues (such as the skull pictured above) gives the temple a spooky feel too. The statues of Rangda are also a great example of how themes from Balinese mythology have been incorporated into Balinese Hinduism.
Another of the Balinese Temples found in central Ubud, Saraswati Temple is most famous for it’s lotus ponds. It is dedicated to Saraswati, a Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, art, wisdom, and learning. Despite it’s central local next to Ubud’s busy main streets, it’s is actually quite peaceful and quite. Consequently it’s a good place to visit in the morning before you head of to explore more of Ubud. Or stop by here in evening on your way back to rest.
Unsurprisingly it’s a popular one with the Instagram crowd, don’t be surprised to see lengthy selfie sessions underway when you visit. The lotus flowers in bloom are very beautiful. They really give the temple an artistic and peaceful feel.
This temple is famous for it’s location on the clifftops of South West Bali. It has some spectacular views over the cliff edges. It was established around the 10/11th centuries. These days it is a great place to watch a traditional Kecak Fire Dance as the sun sets. There is a theatre set up here where they cram people into watch it. Get there early to get a good spot. That’s in the main temple complex, but as the photo above shows you can also walk along the cliff edge and enjoy the scenery.
Be aware of the monkeys when you visit here. They are everywhere and will steal glasses and other items from you, should they get the opportunity! It’s because they know how to batter and do this to get food. Therefore there monkey logic is a such – take your glasses, and if you don’t give them food then no glasses back. Furthermore whilst I only saw them taking sunglasses I have heard of them stealing mobile phones in the past, so take extra care with those selfies!
This temple dates from the 15th/early 16th century. Find it on the west coast of Bali, north from Kuta and Seminyak. It was built by Dang Hyang Nirartha. A Hindu traveller, he is famous for being the founder of the Shaivite priesthood in Bali. The main deity worshipped here at Tanah Lot is Dewa Baruna. Also known as Varuna, he is the god of oceans in Hindu legend and scripture. The big thing you will notice when visiting Tanah Lot is it’s location. It is on top of rock formation quite literally located in the sea.
When visiting this temple be sure to check out Pura Batu Bolong too. It is actually a separate temple but due to it’s proximity is often included as part of a visit to Tanah Lot. The main attraction is it’s location on top of a sea arch. It’s also a very popular sunset spot.
Taman Ayun was historically the royal palace of the Mengwi Kingdom. This was one of 9 Balinese Kingdoms that vied for control of Bali from the late 1800’s until the coming of European powers in the 19th century. The temple itself is said to have been built in 1634 by the ruler of the Mengwi Kingdom at this time. It has undergone several restorations since then. 1937 was the most extensive of these.
The modern temple complex is set across a peaceful beautiful garden. Water is a big feature here. The temple entrance is surrounded by a moat and you need to cross a bridge to get in. Once inside there is another moat, around the main pagoda areas. There are actually several pagodas here of varying height. Another feature here is it’s quite wood space at the back of the temple, where you can walk round and reflect on your thoughts.
Often known as the ‘Elephant cave’ this is a sanctuary dating from the 9th century. The cave entrance is the main attraction here and why it has it’s nickname. The mouth is said to resemble an elephant’s but this is often debated. Some say it’s more like a demon! When I visited the locals where preparing for festivities, hence the decorative wrapping you see in the photo above. There were also many locals making offering’s for the Hindu gods.
You will see both Hindu and Buddhist imagery on display at Goa Gajah. This is reflective of the regions religious make up at the time of it’s construction. It is actually quite common across Southeast Asia to see imagery from these two religions intertwined. Cambodia is of course a famous example of that, with it’s Khmer temples. Look for bathing temple too, nearby to the cave entrance. It features statues of women holding water pitchers. These are representative of the 7 holy rivers of India. A good example of the religious link between Bali and India.
Gunung Kawi is an 11th century Hindu temple. It also serves as a funeral complex for a past Balinese Monarch, believed to be of the Udayana dynasty. It has some very impressive carvings here, cut into 2 cliff faces. They are across a river from each other. There are also many statues and small buildings, as you can see above.
There are also some spectacular views to be found here. Look out for them as you head down towards the temple area. The lush green side of Bali is definitely on display here. As a result even though it’s a popular site the temple can still be very peaceful and pleasant to visit. I found it very enjoyable to walk around and explore all the different parts of this complex.
Founded in 962 CE this temple is dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu. Most noteworthy here is the option to bathe in the temple’s holy water, which Balinese Hindus do for ritual purification. Tourists are welcome to join in and consequently many do. I didn’t bathe myself but there were plenty of non-locals doing it, so take appropriate clothing and towels with you if you plan to get involved.
Additionally there is also scenic fish pool and other Hindu decorations. Certainly there is a lot to see at this temple. Don’t spend all your time by the pools, make sure you check out the other parts too. Finally should you wish to shop for souvenirs there are many market stalls as you head out of the temple complex.
Take note that the last 3 on this list on Balinese Temples are all around the island’s central interior. As a result they are often visited as part of a day tour from Ubud. These can be really good value if you check around and make sure you are getting a good one. It’s not guaranteed but often the tours offered in hostels are a bit cheaper than by the tour agencies on the streets. The advantage here too is that you can check the hostel reviews on booking dot com or hostel world and see of people mention the tours at all to get a good idea of if they are worth it.
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