Useful Tips for Visiting Temples in Bali

With more than 50,000 temples (including those present in houses, caves, shops, restaurants, nightclubs (!), hotels, markets…), Bali deserves its nickname of “the island of the Gods”. Here are useful tips for visiting temples in Bali.

Some consider the island to be a high place of spiritual energies in Indonesia! So much so that many expats-dressed-in-sari will tell you that Bali is located at a point of convergence of particularly powerful energies!
So “spiritual energy” and “particularly powerful energies”, sincerely, I don’t know, but on the other hand what is certain is that the island is located in a very active seismic and volcanic zone and for once very powerful !

Finally, in any case, a visit to Bali would be incomplete if you failed to visit some of its temples. Indeed, the main religion on the island – Hinduism – is an integral part of the Balinese soul. It is so rooted in the culture that it is what gives rhythm to the life of the island, from the offerings placed in the early morning, to the processions to the temples at the end of the day…

And one of the strengths of the Balinese is their deep respect and attachment to religious traditions.
So much so that Bali is today the only place on earth where, for 36 hours, the inhabitants remain cloistered at home, just like tourists who are prohibited from leaving their hotels. The streets – like the beaches, mountains and rice paddies – are deserted. The island finds itself isolated from the world: no plane lands or takes off from the airport, no boat enters or leaves the ports.
And absolute silence reigns over the island…
This unique event in the world is called Nyepi: it is the Balinese New Year.

Read also: Tanah Lot Bali | Temples Bordering the Indian Ocean

It is also impossible to open a business without celebrating a blessing beforehand (as explained in this article: Blessing Urbi and Bali); or in any case, it is not recommended at all!

Finally, for many visitors visiting a temple in Bali (or “temples” for that matter, it’s true… why restrict yourself?) is one of the best things to do during your stay (it’s also widely recommended by the Lonely Planet guide) and you should read this useful tips for visiting temples in Bali.

Besakih Bali Indonesia Pura-Besakih-03
Seen from the temple of Besakih at the foot of the Mount Agung. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

“The Pura”: The Temple in Bali

Pura Uluwatu, Pura Ulun Danu, Pura Tirta Empul… So you guessed it: “Pura” (pronounced “Poura”, rolling the “r”) is therefore the name for the Temple in Bali.

Of Sanskrit origin, the word literally means “space surrounded by a wall”.

And while many temples are visible (and again, “many” is an understatement), their construction and meaning are no coincidence because, as with many things in Bali, many small details reveal big symbols.

Thus, the temple is always oriented along a mountain-sea axis; the part facing the mountain contains the sacred heart of the temple, while on the opposite (so, if you follow correctly: facing the sea) is the entrance to the temple.

The mountain they face is Mount Agung, Bali’s sacred volcano.

The temple, like the conception of the Universe in Balinese culture (note also that the houses follow the same architectural scheme), is organized in 3 levels with, from the outside to the inside:

1 > The “Jeroan”

Facing Mount Agung, it is the highest, holiest and holiest (hence the most important) part of the temple. It represents the World of the Gods, or Superior World (“Swah”).
It is here that the ceremonies are organized, that the Balinese come to pray and place the offerings on altars.

2 > The “Jaba Tengah”

Separated from the Jeroan by a large door (“Kori Agung”), this central part of the temple symbolizes the world of Men; the Intermediate World, or Center of the World (“Bwah”), therefore situated between that of the Gods and that of the Demons.
It is in this part of the temple that the Balinese meet to prepare the ceremonies.
Under the “Balés”, the beach (the Balés are a kind of shelter on stilts covered with a roof of tiles or palm leaves), the women make decorations and offerings which will then be deposited in the “Jeroan” during ceremonies.
There is also cooking, and secondary ceremonies can take place there.

3 > The “Jaba Pisan”

Separated from the Jaba Tengah by a door called “Candi Bentar”, it is the part which symbolizes the Lower World (“Bhur”), that of the Demons, outside the temple (although it is inside the walls…). It is therefore the part facing the sea and the lowest part of the temple.
In this area, there are mainly flower gardens, free areas that can be used for religious dances and Bale.
The Balinese also gather there to have lunch together, to play and to organize cockfights (even if they are officially prohibited).
Thus allowing to pass from one part of the temple to another, the different doors (“Candi Bentar” and “Kori Agung”) thus serve as a symbolic passage between the different “worlds” and represent the separation between the material world and the spiritual world.

The Candi Bentar gate would be a representation of Mount Meru, which would have been separated into 2 symmetrical parts by the God Shiva, thus becoming Mount Agung and Mount Batur (the 2 volcanoes of Bali).

The interior walls of the door being smooth, the Candi Bentar door would crush the demons who would like to enter the sacred part of the temple…
– Do you know the story of “Paf le Demon”?
– Uh no…
– So, it’s the story of a demon who wanted to enter the temple and bang the demon” (Balinese variant of “Bang the dog… here, here, here… Sorry!”).

Thus, the most sacred temples are built on the highest parts of the island, therefore in places corresponding to the Swah, or the World of the Gods.

And thanks to the trees, the flowers, and the various offerings placed, the temples are very colorful and fragrant. Symbol carriers, parasols and various fabrics add a little more color. Symbols of the Hindu trinity, 3 colors dominate moreover:

Red, which represents Brahma, the creator God of the universe
Black, which symbolizes Vishnu, the guardian God, the one who maintains and protects the universe
White, which is the color of Shiva, the destroyer God of the world but obviously also of recreation and fertility.
There is also Yellow, to symbolize the God Iswara (it is he who would have given birth to Vishnu, according to Hindu mythology… but at this level, I am a little lost in their Gods and their roles).

Throughout the temple, there is an interwoven black and white checkerboard fabric, the “Poleng”.

Decorative, the Balinese use it to surround, among other things, trees, altars, temples… This motif symbolizes the fact that in life, good and evil, splendor and evil are closely intertwined.

And so for harmony to reign, it is important to maintain a balance between the 2 forces.

Finally, there are also many umbrellas whose color is just decorative white.

Parasols and yellow and white sheets in a temple

Originally, the temples were built of red bricks and white stones. For a long time they were maintained using the same materials. But techniques, materials and technologies are evolving… But now red bricks and white stones are being replaced by new materials: lava stones! These have the significant particularity of being much more resistant to time. But they are also much darker (the aesthetics of the temple is therefore not the same, while the symbolism remains the same).

This is also part of a founding principle of the Hindu religion: construction – maintenance – and destruction (to then be rebuilt)… A symbolism carried by the 3 Gods.

The Meru (towers) of the Temple

In addition to the altars, one of the most important buildings of the temple, and particularly visible (often from outside the temple) is the Meru (pronounced “Meru”, yes, like the fish).

Located in the most sacred part of the temple, the Jeroan, it is a wooden tower erected on a square base built of bricks. Like an arrow pointing towards the sky, the tower is made up of multiple overlapping roofs, made of palm fibers. It symbolizes the mythical Mountain of the Gods of the Hindu religion: Mount Meru.

The number of roofs is always odd and varies according to the importance of the God or the person to whom it is dedicated. This goes up to a maximum of 11 floors. It is located at the Ulun Danu Beratan Temple and is dedicated to Mount Agung – the Sacred Volcano of Bali – and to Shiva (while the Gods Brama and Vishnu are only entitled to 9 floors).

In temples, the Meru is therefore dedicated either to the Supreme Gods of the Hindu pantheon, or to a deified local personality. According to the Balinese, the Meru serves as a “temporary palace” for the gods when they visit for certain ceremonies. However, one does not find in the temples of the statue of the God, or the Goddess, venerated.

Finally, because of its sacred character, the construction is erected on a very, very solid base to prevent the Meru from blowing up (yes, I know, I already made that joke in a previous article, but I got involved in an ecological approach: I recycle the jokes…)!

And as “life is a celebration and a disaster” (Jean d’Ormesson) and the temples in Bali are considered as living beings, each temple celebrates its “semi-anniversary” every 6 months. This is the Odalan ceremony, during which multiple activities celebrate the descent to earth of ancestors from the Odela (uh… beyond, sorry!).

In addition to family temples, each village has 3 types of temples:

1. The Temple of Origins (Pura Puseh), the most important, dedicated to God Brahma (the Creator God) and to the founders of the village. It is located towards Mount Agung.
2. The Village Temple (The Pura Desa), dedicated to Vishnu (the Protector God) is located in the heart of the village; the inhabitants come there to venerate the spirits who protect the community.
3. The Temple of Death (the Pura Dalem), located at the end of the village, towards the sea. It is also the temple of “evil” spirits (not those who make jokes in bad taste) and demons. Indeed, the Balinese also respect the demons in order to maintain a balance between positive and negative energies. It is dedicated to Shiva, the destroyer and regenerator God.

Surprisingly, temples in Bali never have a roof that covers the entire structure. Indeed, the temple is a link between the beyond and the world of the living: it therefore allows the Gods and ancestors who would like to visit the living, to come directly from the beyond. Where a roof would therefore cut communication…

There are also more important temples: some are located in the mountains (like the temple of Besakih, called the “mother” temple, because it was built on one of the slopes of Mount Agung) and others located by the sea (like by example Uluwatu, or even Tanah Lot), which therefore create a kind of spiritual protection that encircles and protects Bali.

The temples in Bali are therefore important places for the life of the village: well decorated, adorned with flowers and trees, they are places of rituals where daily processions take place. Through the various temples and the offerings deposited daily, the Balinese thus attract the good graces of the Gods and also appease the Demons.

The Human Body as a Temple

In the Balinese-style Hindu religion, the Human Being is an integral part of the Cosmos, of which he is both a constituent element and a mirror.

Just as the cosmos is divided into 3 parts, the human body is therefore also (and like the temple) divided into 3 parts:

The Head (directed towards the sky, therefore the Gods; the Swah), therefore the purest (this is why it is recommended not to touch someone’s head);
The Trunk (intermediate zone), “neutral” part;
From the Waist to the Feet (directed towards the ground, therefore the Demons, the Bhur), the impure zone (this is the reason why it is recommended to hide one’s legs during visits).
In Balinese culture, the Universe (and therefore the world) is considered as a living whole.

The material (feminine principle) and spiritual (masculine principle) elements are linked there within an eternal transformation process that unifies 3 forces:

– those of creation (via the God Brahma),
– that of balance (the God Vishnu)
– and that of destruction (the Goddess Shiva).

We also find this balance in a symbol very present in Bali: the swastika, or Hindu swastika.

Still according to Balinese belief, the condition of the human being evolves during cycles of reincarnations, conditioned by karma. These cycles of transmigration of the soul, succession of birth, death, then rebirth (the soul finds itself linked to the body) are called: “Samasara”.

In this way, the human being is fully integrated into the process of transformation of the Universe.

The incarnation is therefore experienced as a condition of suffering that man must strive to overcome, to reach the “Moksa”, namely the ultimate deliverance – or revelation – (the equivalent of Nirvana among the Buddhists): soul and body then return in peace to their cosmic equivalent.

The practice of Yoga, meditation and the respect of certain rules would make it possible to reach this awakened state.

Some Tips before Visiting a Temple in Bali | Useful tips for visiting temples in Bali

When visiting temples in Bali, remember that these are sacred places, and that the Balinese consider them to be “alive”. In addition, remain silent during ceremonies, respect water sources (basins, fountains), offerings or any religious artifacts, because religion is extremely sacred for the Balinese and you should read useful tips for visiting temples in Bali.

In order not to offend the Balinese, here are some rules of good conduct and ethics to follow, whatever the temple:
  • Shoulders and upper arms covered (therefore: no bare torso or “marcel”),
  • Knees covered, either by trousers, or otherwise wearing a sarong tied at the waist (no shorts above the knee therefore). The sarong is a kind of sarong to tie around the waist. You can easily buy one in Bali, otherwise you can always rent one at the entrance of the temple (if you don’t mind that it has been worn by several people before you…).
  • Ideally, tie a scarf or shawl around your waist (like the belt of Balinese outfits: the “sash”)
  • Wear shoes or flip flops, but don’t go barefoot.
  • Do not step on the offerings placed on the ground.
  • Of course: do not spit, do not throw your waste on the ground, do not smoke, do not shout or swear.
  • Do not walk in front of the faithful during prayers, to avoid disturbing them and disrespecting them.
  • So stay back, or to the side.
  • Do not place yourself above the priest during the ceremonies, because to put yourself higher than him is a singular lack of respect.
    Finally, if you are a woman, two more specific rules apply to you:
    • During periods of menstruation – which is considered impure (risks inducing an imbalance of the world, according to the Balinese) – it is possible that access to the temple is simply forbidden to you (so calculate your shot ladies to visit the temples at the right period… or in any case between 2 periods!).
      You cannot enter a temple compound if you are pregnant.

Note: during ceremonies and processions, Balinese men cover their heads with an “udeng”. A sort of hat, or turban, it prevents hair from falling and thus defiling the temple.

I hope this information concerning the useful tips for visiting temples in Bali will be useful to you in order to visit the temples in Bali while respecting the beliefs of its inhabitants.

And in a future post we will list my favorite temples, those that I consider essential during your stay in Bali!

Sources: CleverlySmart, PinterPandai, Bali Holiday Secrets

Photo credit: Author: Sean Hamlin from Wellington, New Zealand (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Photo description: the Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih, in the village of Besakih on the slopes of Mount Agung in eastern Bali, is the most important, the largest and holiest temple of Agama Hindu Dharma in Bali, Indonesia and one of a series of Balinese temples.

Best Temples in Bali | You need to visit one of them at least once during your stay in Bali

Ready to book your villa in the heart of lively Seminyak, Bali?

I need more information

Book Your Private Villa


Located in Seminyak Center – Bali, Villa Carissa offers a private swimming pool and enclosed garden to guarantee your privacy. You can book your private pool villa here with us.