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The Sacred Rituals of Besakih ~ And the Gods came down to Bali… A photo essay.

The Sacred Rituals of Besakih ~ And the Gods came down to Bali… A photo essay.

Putu and I have been working tirelessly on getting the plans secured for our wellness retreat center here in Bali. It seems to be a Sisyphean task as we progress forward, only to uncover six other undertakings that need to be accomplished. That being said each day brings new opportunities, blurring the focus but bringing excitement. You speak with 10 notaries (notaries are a bit like lawyers back home), and you get 10 different solutions. But progress is being made and with this upcoming week chock full of meetings, we will have a much clearer picture.

Balinese wellness sacred ritualsAn inquisitive little girl looks back at me during prayers at Besakih Temple

In these pursuits we have taken counsel with a dear friend and experienced hotelier Mas Ngurah. We arrived at Mas Ngurah’s home to find his wife Dian preparing dozens of ornate offerings. I asked if there was a particular ceremony approaching and she told us Ida Batara Turun Kabeh was next week and asked if we would like to come.  I had never been, so I jumped at the chance to witness one of the holiest rituals in the Balinese Hindu calendar.  The sacred ceremony is observed on the full moon of the tenth month in Balinese Hindu calendar called Purnama Kedasa.

Here is short video of the day's events.

Bali Besakih wellness villaThousands of Balinese Hindus flock to the six holy temples on Ida Batara Turun Kabeh

It is said that all the Gods come down to earth on this auspicious day and reside at the six holiest temples on Bali.  Chief among these are of course Pura Besakih, or The Mother Temple on the slopes of mighty Mount Agung. Besakih is Bali’s largest, highest and most holy temple. It is perched 3142 meters above sea level on the active Gunung Agung volcano.

Leading up to the ceremony, several rituals are performed at Pura Besakih. Most notably is the exorcism rite called Tawur Agung Kesanga, which is held on the black moon, or Tilem Caitra, of the ninth month in the Balinese calendar.

Bali tour Besakih cultureOur first stop on Ida Batara Turun Kabeh, Pura Batur

First stop ~ Pura Batur Temple

Before we headed up the narrow roads of the volcano we stopped to give offerings at one of the other holy six temples called Pura Batur.  It was utterly packed with devotees waiting hours to enter the temple grounds. It was as if someone said, “Hey! I have an idea, why doesn’t everyone on the island go to a tiny temple way up in the mountains on the same day?” People were passing out waiting in the heat as thousands crammed up the steps and through the narrow temple gates to get a chance to present their offerings and pray. In fact, I was the only one in our group able to negotiate the throngs and make it into the temple. I guess my finely honed skills developed over years of sneaking up to the front row at packed rock concerts paid off. I bequeathed my offerings and partook in the prayers, but when the group of several hundred were ushered out to allow for the next group to be let in, I veiled myself behind the huge piles of offerings and was able to linger inside and document the next group being led in prayer by the Mangku (High Priest).

Bali travel temple wellness retreatA handsome young fella smiles back at us while we wait to enter the main temple at Pura Besakih

On to Pura Besakih, Bali's Mother Temple

After reconnecting with the group, we ventured off to the main event at Pura Besakih. This was no simple task as the traffic on the small snaking mountain road was backed up for miles. While this is a major event and a profound experience, it may not be for the average tourist as ones patience is genuinely put to the test. It may be best to visit Besakih at a time other than a sacred ceremony in order to avoid the vast multitudes and delays. I saw only a handful of bule (fellow ‘crackah’ or more properly, Caucasian) amongst the possibly tens of thousands the whole day.

Bali culture wellness tourBalinese Hindus make their way up the famous steps of Pura Besakih, The Mother Temple

Since the traffic was not moving, I decided to head out on foot so I could document the event.  Much to my surprise, the pilgrims were not as densely packed as they were at Pura Batur.  There were still thousands of worshipers but given Besakih’s immense size, the masses were not as dense.

Mas Ngurah led us up Besakih’s famed steps to his clan’s private temple dedicated to their ancestors. There are 21 other similar temple complexes on six terraces that surround the main temple known as Pura Penataran Agung.

The origins of Besakih Temple

The venerated temple’s name “Besakih” comes from the Sanskrit word “Basuki”, derived from the word “Wasuki” meaning Salvation. Sanskrit then became the basis for much of Bahasa Java and then into Bahasa Indonesia. Also, in Samudramanthana mythology, the same name “Besuki” refers to the Dragon-God “Naga Besukian”, who lived inside Gunung Agung volcano.

Bali vacation culture templeThe Mankgu or Balinese Hindu High Priest leads the faithful in prayer during Ida Batara Turun Kabeh The first recorded mention of the temple’s existence comes from an inscription dating back to 1007 AD. It is known that since the 15th century Besakih was regarded as the central temple of Hinduism in Bali and remains so until this day.

Bali villa wellness besakihThe masses in sacred prayer during Ida Batara Turun Kabeh at Bali's famed Mother Temple

Tri Hita Kirana ~ The fundamental concept of The Balinese Hindus

The prevailing Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Kirana is expressed in the temple’s architecture. This essential belief of the Balinese people teaches that life must be kept in balance and harmony between the triumvirate consisting of man, God and the natural environment.

wellness retreat center BaliThe inquisitive girl finally takes her turn to pray

We eventually filled into the main temple for our turn to pray along with the thousands of others on this fascinating and mesmerizing day.  Thanks to Mas Ngurah’s family for a reenergizing respite from our task at hand here in Bali and now back to getting this wellness center off the ground.

Kindly leave your comments and thoughts below and contact us so we can help you make the most out of your Balinese vacation.


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Reader Comments (11)

Thank you for posting this Michael!!! It so brings back memories!!! Was that the same Temple we went to on my tour? It looks like it to me....Looking forward to my next adventure to Bali and spending time relaxing at your Wellness center!!!!

April 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Cardinale

Hello Linda and thanks so much. I don't think we did go to Besakih on your tour but there are architectural aspects to it that are quite similar to the ones we visited. Putu may have taken you there without me though. We cant wait for you to return and the wellness center will have a special relaxation spot for you. Love to the kids and hope you are well!

April 29, 2012 | Registered CommenterMichael Doliveck

it was such a hectic day but was totally worth it:)

April 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaryam Doliveck

Another beautiful world - Thanks for sharing it :)

April 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterleslie mark

Thank you Leslie and thanks for all your love and support. We were thrilled you and your family got the chance to come visit Bali- the island misses you. I remember swimming with the turtles with you guys in The Gilis. Please say hello to Nat and tell her Bali is not the same without her.

April 29, 2012 | Registered CommenterMichael Doliveck

Hi M & M, Missing you here, and it's great that we can share some of your experience this way.....I am so pleased we were able to go to one of these temple worships....forever grateful for all you shared with us in visit to a beautiful land with the most beautiful people....definitely want to visit your wellness center when it is completed.....

May 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKathe Kellett

Salamat pagi Kethe!
Thank you so much for the kind thoughts and we were overjoyed to have you come to Bali and experience it's beauty, culture and wonders.
Indeed, we are working hard to make a wonderful retreat center and we cant wait for you to return to Bali. We miss you and hope all is well. Love to Conrad and all our friends there. We will see you in July.
Much love and thanks again.
Michael and Maryam

May 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterMichael Doliveck

What a nice ritual to take part in! Glad you fought your way through the crowds to actually spend some time in the temples. I love how everyone is in white too.

May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuzy

Thanks Suzy,
Yes, it was trying at times but I was definitely up for it as the experience was fantastic. I have been to scores of rituals and ceremonies here over the years but this one had a special feel to it. The odelons are quite amazing as well and even more of a visual feast with the more elaborate offerings. Thanks for your posts Suzy as they are a big help to us. Glad you enjoyed it and happy travels,

May 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterMichael Doliveck

Wow. Powerful images. Bali loks like a fascinating place.

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephen

Thank you Stephen
Thats an understatement. The power and magnetism of the island is hard to describe. Too many freaky occurrences and stories that I would not have believed had I not witnessed them. Its a magical place, full of beauty and wonder. You owe it to yourself to come check it out.
Warm regards from Paradise,

May 9, 2012 | Registered CommenterMichael Doliveck

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