Ubud is the center of spirituality in Bali and you won’t have to go far to learn about beautiful Balinese traditions. Ubud was originally called Ubad, which means healing place. The location was considered sacred by early villages due to its proximity to Mount Agung which is the center of spiritually. Balinese believe that the Gods reside on the mountain. Some even say the current Mt. Agung volcanic activity is a punishment for Bali allowing westerns to disgrace their cultural and religious practices.
There are dozens of temples to visit in Ubud but my favorites were those in Tampaksiring. Fortunately, Agus and Bonita from my homestay in Sebatu Village accompanied me to a few nearby temples. Discovering these sacred spaces with locals was an unforgettable experience. They shared the stories of the temples, both that they learn in school, and the tales they’ve learned from family members. With their guidance and expertise, I was able to explore some of the most important Hindu places in Bali with a greater understanding than if I’d gone solo.
Save this map to easily temple hop in Tampaksiring to ancient holy sites:
- Pura Tirta Empul
- Pura Mengening
- Pura Gunung Kawi
- Pura Tirta Dawa Gunung Kawi Sebatu
CLEANSE YOUR SOUL AT PURA TIRTA EMPUL
I was lucky to have Bonita with me at Pura Tirta Empul. She guided me through the purification ceremony and explained the importance of what we were doing. Her commitment to Hinduism and rock-solid beliefs in the energy of Pura Tirta Empul, the spirits that linger here, and the importance of cleansing our bodies and minds was simply captivating. For an immersive experience book a spiritual cleansing with one of Bali’s most famous healers, Cokorda Rai from Puri Negari Ubud who will take you to Tirta Empul in Tampak Siring.
Bonita explained the process step-by-step: to properly cleanse yourself with the holy water at Pura Tirta Empul you follow four simple steps. As you approach each fountain you raise our hands in a prayer formation to your forehead and wish for your body and mind to be purified. Make a bowl-like shape with your palms and splash your face with the holy water three times, pour the water over your head and down your body three times, and then drink the water three times. Before moving on to the next fountain raise your hands again to prayer position to show gratitude for the cleansing. Repeat at each fountain, except for those reserved for pregnant women and babies. Throughout the ritual ask that the holy water cleanse your body of any ailments and rid your mind of any negativity.
After we concluded the purification process Bonita and Agus invited me to enter the private area reserved for prayer. Luckily, they had taught me how to pray in Balinese style with flowers before so I was able to keep up and follow the ritual in a respectful way. A High Priest prayed with us and sprinkled us with more holy water and gave us rice which is placed over the third eye and neck to concluded the prayer.
Locals and travelers have been visiting the sacred pools at Pura Tirta Empul for over a thousand years. I visited Pura Tirta Empul right before my birthday which was an unforgettable way to close out a year and start a new one. I left feeling refreshed, renewed, and incredibly grateful for this transformative experience.
PONDER ANCIENT SOCIETY AT PURA MENGENING
This gorgeous water temple leaves much to the imagination as it’s quite unkempt and there are many destroyed statues, crumbling relics, and decaying buildings to be discovered. I’m always attracted towards places that are a bit mysterious, they leave me wondering about their glory days and imagining what life would have been like them. To reach the temple you stroll through a long walkway with a sheer cliff on one side and rice terraces on the other. The occasional kingfisher swooped past into the lush green valley as its calls echoed off of the ancient structures.
PAY RESPECT TO QUEENS AND KINGS AT PURA GUNUNG KAWI
Pura Gunung Kawi is believed to be Bali’s oldest and largest monuments. As it’s the burial ground for royalty it is also fair to say it is one of the most important temples on the island too. Arriving at Pura Gunung Kawi is a wonderful experience on its own. The temple is nestled deep below the entrance in a valley surrounded by massive trees and a rushing river. To reach the temple an ancient stone stairwell with 270 steps cuts down the cliff through neverending rice terraces and the occasional artisan shop. As you cross the river to reach Gunung Kawi you may notice yellow cloth nestled upon sharp rocks that protrude from the river. They’ve been placed there for worshipers who’d like to meditate in the sacred place in particular spots that are believed to have an incredibly strong source of energy.
Gunung Kawi is over a thousand years old. It’s astonishing to imagine how members of the ancient society were able to carve 10 23-foot-high candi, or shrines, out of the cliff rock without modern tools. Local legend states that the carvings were done in a single day with a man’s bare hands and fingernails. Each of the moments memorializes a member of the 11th-century royal family that is buried in the adjacent structure.
EMBRACE SOLITUDE AT PURA TIRTA DAWA GUNUNG KAWI SEBATU
Although this temple is located nearby the vastly popular Pura Tirta Empul and Pura Gunung Kawi it is rarely visited by tourists. It’s a shame as Pura Tirta Dawa Gunung Kawi Sebatu is one of the most beautiful temple complexes I visited, and easily the most tranquil. The temple is built around water gardens such as ponds, fountains, purification baths and holy water springs. It was erected to honor the Hindu God, Vishnu, which will come as no surprise as he is the ruler of water in Balinese Hindu beliefs.
WITNESS A BALINESE HINDU CEREMONY
Daily life in Bali is bursting with color and energy. If you happen to visit a temple during a ceremony keep a respectful distance and watch the festivities. One of the most sacred events of the year is the Nyepi, or day of silence. Respect any signage that declares that an area is reserved for prayer or locals. Don’t enter the temple complex until the celebration is over and always ask before taking portraits of locals. Balinese people are extremely welcoming and its likely someone will be willing to explain the purpose of the celebration, and may even invite you to participate. A local village was conducting a ritual at Pura Tirta Empul. Here are a few of my favorite moments that I captured.
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