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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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