While it has been established that Hinduism is not just a religion but a way of life, many are surprised to learn that Bali (Indonesia) predominantly follows Hindu Dharma.
Hindu Religion In Bali- A Brief History
Bali had been Hinduized since the 11th century with the arrival of Hindu missionaries from Java after Majapahit, a powerful Hindu kingdom centered in Java in the 13th century, started its decline in the late 14th century due to internal conflicts. The sultanate of Demak in Java began to dominate. Before being finally conquered by Denmark at the end of the 15th century, many Majapahit Hindu aristocrats chose to cross to Bali to retain their rule on the new island.
Most modern Balinese (around 80%) are of Javanese Majapahit descent, while only around 20% are native Balinese (called the Bali Aga people, residing in the highlands of central Bali). The Balinese people develop a new form of Hinduism: a syncretism of Javanese Hindu and local Balinese animistic beliefs. Bali also hosts numerous beautiful temples dedicated to the Hindu Gods.
Pura Besakih, the Mother Temple
Of the many famous temples in Bali is the Pura Besakih temple. The name Besakih comes from the word “Besuki,” derived from the word “Vasuki” or “Wasuki,” which means salvation in classical Sanskrit. Whereas, in the Samudra Manthan, the same name, “Besuki,” in fact refers to the “Vasuki Naga,” who inhabited Gunung Agung, the main volcano in Bali.
Located at an altitude of 900 meters on the slopes of Gunung Agung’s highest peak and the main volcano of Bali, Pura Besakih is believed to be the abode of the gods. It is built in the village of Besakih, in the eastern part of Bali.
This grand temple complex has been revered as a holy place since ancient times, recorded from an inscription dating back to 1007 AD. Since the 15th century, Besakih has been regarded as the central Hindu temple in Bali.
In the 8th century, a monk had revelations to build homes for people during his isolation period. While many of his followers died due to illness and accidents, On its completion, it was called ‘Basuki’, referring to the dragon deity ‘Naga Besukian’, believed to inhabit Mount Agung. Other shrines were gradually built, and Pura Besakih was made the main temple during the conquering of Bali by the Majapahit Empire in 1343.
Earthquakes in 1917 and Mount Agung’s series of eruptions in 1963 damaged the complex so the temple had to undergo many restorations. But the lava flow that passed by is believed to be a miraculous signal from the deities that they wanted to demonstrate their power without completely destroying the holy complex their devotees had built for them.
An architectural marvel and Other Features
Besakih is an artistic marvel comprising at least 86 temples, including the main Pura Penataran Agung (the Great Temple of State) and 18 others. It is considered the biggest and holiest of the island’s temples. Many stairs lead up to the sacred mountain, leading to the many temples that vary according to types, status, and functions.
Pura Besakih features three temples dedicated to the Hindu trinity. Pura Penataran Agung in the center has white banners for Shiva, the destroyer; Pura Kiduling Kreteg on the right side is with red banners for Brahma, the creator; and Pura Batu Madeg represents Vishnu, the preserver, with its black banners.
It is the only temple open to every devotee from any caste group. This is because of its nature as the primal center of all ceremonial activities.
Pura Penataran Agung has different areas representing seven layers of the universe, each with its own shrines.
On the west is Pura Ulun Kulkul, famous for the main and most precious ‘kulkul’ (Balinese wooden slit gong) on the island. Kulkul is a signaling device to summon or convey special messages.
The ‘Setra Agung’ burial grounds is south of the temple. Here are sacred ancient stone statues in the form of the mythical garuda bird.
Pura Basukian, Pura Penataran Agung, and Pura Dalem Puri are the mother of all village’ temples, namely Pura Puseh, Pura Desa, and Pura Dalem. Their shrines contain religious literature referring to how a temple must be built.
At least 70 ceremonies or religious celebrations are held each year here, as each shrine has its own anniversary, plus the big holidays based on the 210-day Balinese Hindu calendar system. The best visiting times of the day are in the early morning and in the evening as the complex is much quieter during these hours.