Contributed in part by Veronica Siwi
Besakih is a town located part-way up the side of Mount Agung, the tallest volcano in Bali. What makes Besakih so special, and so awesome, is the Pura Besakih, the Mother Temple which is actually a multi-level compound where eight districts of Bali have their 'representative' temple. On Hindu holidays the temple will be flooded by people who bring their offerings. On most other days, the temple is flooded by tourists hoping to enjoy a clear view of the mountain. Be forewarned, though, tackling the Pura requires that you are in excellent physical condition -- there's a lot of climbing involved ... and a lot of walking. The parking area is at the bottom of a steady climbing road, with about a five hundred meter walk to the base of the temple.
Our visit to Besakih was on the day of a Hindu holiday, so it was a prime opportunity to observe some of the customs. We arrived just as the parade was ending, with all the men walking in a column, wearing white headbands and yellow sarongs (the long cloth that wraps around the lower body). White and yellow are significant colors in the Hindu religion -- representing two different gods, but I admit to not remembering which god was which color.
The first photo shows the village of Besakih, on the way to the temple. A ceremony was on-going, though we could not see it from the main road and we were not permitted to go inside. The men you see were among a dozen or so who were manufacturing "offerings", which are weaved bamboo bowls filled with food items (cooked rice, crackers, and vegetables) that are offered to the gods for protection, luck, and good fortune. Completed offerings are placed on a special altar, prayers are offered, and the offerings are left -- normally to be raided by the local fauna. This is actually desired, part of the theory behind the offerings is that it is pleasing to the gods that the food be used to nourish the animals.
On that note, stray dogs are common among Balinese towns, but they are tame because they are cared for by the villagers. It was amusing to watch as a whole cooked chicken was included in one of the offering bowls, as this was a holiday. As soon as the prayers were over, a mangy but opportunistic hound snatched the chicken and ran happily around in circles with it in his mouth before making off to the woods for a well-earned meal.
The second picture shows you the stairways leading up to the first level (remember there are eight levels -- you didn't believe me when I said you had to put on your climbing shoes, eh?) To reach this point, you actually have to pass through a gate where renting a sarong is mandatory if you are wearing shorts. Exposed legs are not permitted in Hindu temples. I should note that some temples will require a sarong even if your legs are covered.
I found it quite common upon entering a temple complex that we were approached by a local seeking to be our 'tour guide'. The services of a tour guide (sometimes referred to as an 'internal officer') is sometimes mandatory, such as during holidays so that visitors do not improperly disturb the ceremonies. Such services will often cost $2-$10, with places like Besakih being higher as it is a major tourist draw. Usually one can freely walk in the complex, although some temples are closed to the public. As the bulk of tourists are Aussie, German, and Japanese, guides will often be available in each language.
The third picture gives a clearer shot of the inside of these temples. The two-winged structure you see if a common structure that represents a gateway. The covered booth in front is where the Hindus kneel and pray. The smaller structures on either side are the altars, where offerings are placed. I noted two types of altars -- the thatch-covered versions you see here, and the elaborate gray-and-orange cement versions you'll see elsewhere in these travelogues.
Unfortunately, getting a clearer shot of Mount Agung can be more of a challenge. Even during the dry season, the volcano will often be hidden behind clouds and fog, and during the rainy season the whole region of Besakih will be perpetually cloudy. We were lucky on the day we went, though, it was a bright sunny day.
The fourth picture shows a prayer session just beginning. We were permitted to stand here and watch (as long as the guide was with us). Once it was complete, we were permitted to actually join them in another prayer session.
I admit that I felt odd, but it is very common for the Balinese to encourage visitors to pray with them. The Balinese are known for their tolerance of other religions, and for wanting to demonstrate their openness and willingness to teach visitors about the Hindu faith. We were shown the motions of Hindu prayer, which I dutifully applied, but as a Catholic, my thoughts were in prayer to my own God for peace and giving thanks for being allowed to visit such a wonderful place.
By that point, we had only hit the second level, and there were still several others to go. We gave up after the third, as the afternoon greeted us with oncoming rain clouds, warning us that we needed to get our butts back to the car or get seriously soaked. (Word to the wise -- they don't call it 'rainy' season for nothing.) At least we were able to get a great panoramic view of the area, as you see in the fifth photograph.
Besakih was a wonderful journey and a great place to be introduced to the beauty and color of the Hindu religion. I definitely recommend it as a full day trip inclusion to any Bali holiday.
Trip taken 17 January 2002 -- Page last updated 28 October 2006