Besakih Temple, known as Bali’s ‘Mother Temple’ for over 1,000 years, sits 1,000 metres high on the Mount Agung. Besakih is the biggest and holiest of the island's temples and is surrounded by breathtaking and scenic rice paddies, hills, mountains and streams. Besakih is a unique complex that comprises of at least 86 temples. It incudes Pura Penataran Agung, the Great Temple of State. Pura Besakih is the only temple open to every devotee from any caste groups.
Goa Gojah (Elephant Cave) dates back to the 11th century, built as a spiritual place for meditation. The cave is shallow; inside are three stone idols each wrapped in red, yellow and black cloths. The main grounds are down a flight of steps. Upon reaching the base you will come across a large ‘wantilan’ meeting hall and an assortment of large old stone carvings, some restored to their former glory. The pool, excavated in 1954, features five statues depicting Hindu angels holding vases that act as waterspouts. Some relics feature elements of Buddhism dating to the 8th century.
The Tirta Empul Temple is built around the sacred spring in Tampak Siring. The main attraction here is a long rectangular pool carved of stone, filled with koi and fed by the sacred spring via 12 fountains. For more than a thousand years, Balinese worshipers have been drawn to Tirta Empul Temple whose sacred spring is said to have been created by Indra and to have curative properties. The tradition continues almost unchanged at the temple today. Over 1000 years old, the temple and its two bathing places have been used by the people for good health and prosperity because of the spring water's powers.
Bali Art Center is also known as Taman Budaya or Bali Culture Park. The sprawling complex encompasses an art gallery, indoor theatre and outdoor amphitheater. Covering more than three hectares of land, the center is actually a park with magnificent structures in the middle surrounded by coconut trees. There is a small pond and a stream flowing across the park, creating an atmosphere of peace and quiet for those who are visiting the place. The popular Bali Arts Festival is held from mid-June to mid-July each year, when the center hosts various cultural performances, including dancing and music, from around the island of Bali.
The performance of Kecak is based on the famous epic Hindu story of the Ramayana about a woman who is stolen from her husband by a demon. The narrative follows the challenges and tasks the young prince and his brother must overcome to rescue her. The thirty or so Indonesian men sway with the rhythm of the hypnotic, trance-like, chant. They’re sitting on the ground in a circle – and in the middle the drama is unfolding. Two young princes, a demon king, a damsel in distress, a mischievous monkey play their parts in the ring of unceasing cantillation.
Batik Popiler is among the most familiar names in batik manufacturing on the island. From its base in Tohpati, just outside Batubulan, Popiler showcases full range of batik pieces in various forms of clothing and raw textile collections. Visitors may gain insight into the complex process of making these beautiful textiles by hand and tour the section of the warehouse where batiks are made. Also available for purchase are heritage pieces of wayang (traditional shadow puppetry) and framed batik paintings.
Balinese wood carvers produce thousands of items for the tourist industry from teak figurines, animals and mythical creatures to functional, carved wooden furniture. Just as paintings and other art forms, masks in Bali were solely produced for sacred dances in the temples. Today they are still worn during temple dances where the Balinese teach each other epic stories of their Hindu religion and the celebration of the various stages of life. Carvers use various wood to make modern masks and figurines that tourists buy. Bali wood carvings are finished in natural wood tones or hand painted with intricate detail and dazzling colors.
A body in a black coffin is placed into a recess in the glittering red and gold decorated tower. Tower is carried to the cremation site where the coffin is moved into the hole in the back of a black and gold painted bull. The bull is wheeled onto the unlit funeral pyre consisting of thick criss-crossed palm tree trunks. Brief speeches are made, followed by chants. The bull is then set on fire. Ashes are later collected and buried in a family grave.
To the Balinese, visiting the temple sanctuaries is a special pilgrimage. Mount Agung’s high location gives it an almost mystical quality. Many stairs lead up to the many temples that vary according to types, status, and functions. Pura Besakih features three temples dedicated to the Hindu trinity. Pura Penataran Agung in the center has white banners for Shiva, the destroyer; Pura Kiduling Kreteg on the right side has red banners for Brahma, the creator; Pura Batu Madeg represents Vishnu, the preserver, with its black banners. You can visit other temples in Pura Besakih, but many of their inner courtyards are closed to the public as they’re reserved for pilgrims.