Pura Besakih Complex, the ‘Mother Temple of Bali’, is the largest and holiest temple of Hindu religion in Bali and is a place of special pilgrimage for the Balinese as they believe that the spirits of their ancestors live here. It is a grand complex of 23 separate but related temples spread over 3 sq kilometers on the slopes of Mount Agung. The temples vary according to their status and function.
The precise origins of the temple complex are unclear but its importance as a holy place almost certainly dates from ancient times. In the late 8th century, Javanese sage, Rsi Markandaya, started to build homes for people here. Shrines were gradually added and Pura Besakih became a major temple complex around the 14th century. It underwent several major renovations in the 20th century as all but two shrines were destroyed in the earthquake of 1917. During the 1963 eruption on Mont Agung, the lava flows passed the temple complex by only meters. The saving of the temple is believed by the Balinese people to be a miraculous sign from the gods that they wanted to demonstrate their power but not destroy the holy place their devotees had built for them.
Pura Besakih Complex features three temples dedicated to the Hindu trinity: Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu. Pura Penataran Agung [Great Temple of State] in the center is dedicated to Shiva, the destroyer. This temple is the spiritual core of the Besakih complex. The terraces at the entrance to the temple are on echo of the Indonesian stepped pyramids. Only worshipers are allowed to use the entrance stairway decorated with carved figures from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Visitors can view the temple by walking along footpaths and looking over the low walls that surround it. Pura Kiduling Kreteg [Temple South of the Bridge] on the right side is dedicated to Brahma, the creator. In this temple is held the ‘Aci Ceremony’, a ceremony held as a plea for world happiness. Pura Batu Madeg [Temple South of the Standing Stone] on the left side is dedicated to Vishnu, the preserver. A stone within this temple suggests the areas religions origin from ancient times.
Behind Pura Penataran Agung, it is worth climbing further up the mountain towards Pura Gelap [Temple of Lightning and Thunder]. This temple offers an impressive sight with its towering dragon staircase. It also provides breathtaking views of the temple complex and its dramatic location.
Know Before You Go
You must wear a sarong and sash for visiting the temples.