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Balinese Temples

Bali Island :: Island of Thousands Temples

Why Bali is called "The Island of Thousands Temples"? It is not surprising that Bali is called the "Island of Thousands Temples". Everywhere you go you see a temple. There are so many temples that the government does not bother to count them. There are small temples, very small temples with only a very few shrines; there are large temples, very large temples with more than 50 shrines, such as the temples of Besakih, the mother temple of Bali. There are even lonely shrines in the oddest place where one does not expect them at all. Every family, every compound, every clan and or society has a temple; you mention a society or organization and it has a temple. In the compound where the family lives, there is the family temple. The desa, the village itself, must have at least three temples; Pura Puseh, Pura Desa and Pura Dalem each clan has its own temple. Each Subak, or irrigation organization, has a temple, called Pura Subak or Pura Bedugul.

Everyplace where the water to irrigate the rice field is divided has a temple or at least a shrine. Bali as a whole has a temple, Pura Besakih or the Mother Temple, within which every sect and nobility have theirs own temple. The Balinese people have been ancestor worshippers from ages past. The family does this in the family temple or house temple. The village does this in Pura Puseh and all Bali does this in the temple of Besakih.

In southern Bali, the house temple is always in the north-east corner of the compound in regions south-west of Mount Agung. The reason for this is that the top of Mount Agung is the highest spot in Bali and the highest position is reserved for God, Ida Sanghyang Widhi. Because the people should pray towards God and God lives on the top of Mount Agung as the highest spot in Bali, and Mount Agung happens to lie in the east, that is why in southern of Bali, all house temples are in the northeastern corner of the compound. In northern Bali, house temples are built in the southeastern corner of the compound.

The number of shrines in the house temple depends on the wishes of the family as well as where the family originally comes from. That is why the visitors in one house temple may see only a few shrines and in another, right next to it, many more. In any house temple there must be at least two shrines: the "Sakti Kemulan" (the Kemulan os for God and the purified ancestors and the Sakti is for the producing power of God). No mater how poor the compound, there will always be a house temple. This house temple can be very temporary built only of bamboo, but it can also be very elaborate; in some, the shrines are very intricately carved and decorated with gold leaf. Only the purified dead, or dead who have been cremated, can join God in the Kemulan shrine in the cemetery. Near it the Pura Dalem is built. This is the proper place for the Pura Dalem because it is the temple of death or the temple for the dead. Of course Lord Shiva, the Destroyer, resides and is worshipped there. The site of the three main temples is in accordance with the deep beliefs of the Balinese that the mountains are for God; the plains, the center of the country, are for the people and the sea, the lowest part of the country, is for the demonic forces. Besides the three main temples, there is the clan temple, called Pura Ibu, Pura Pemaksan or Pura Panti. Outside the village in the rice fields is the Subak temple, maintained by the organization of irrigation and farmers, where naturally Dewi Sri, the Rice Goddess is worshipped.

House temple, with some high caste people, the family makes shrine for every ancestor who in his life had done a great service to the family, and accordingly in the house temple of such a family there is more than one ancestral shrine. Near the entrance to a compound there is always a guardian shrine in front of or behind it. Sometimes there are two shrines in front of it facing each other. The guardian shrine is for the spirit that always guards the premises.

In full-fledged village, there have to be at least three temples:
Pura Puseh, where the founders of the village are worshipped, always lies in the Kaja sphere, towards the mountains, so it lies on the highest spot in the village; Lord Brahma the creator's, resides there.

Pura Desa, the village temple, is built in the center of the village, where Lord Wisnu, the maintainer, is worshipped. In Pura Desa, the activities of the village manifest to maintain the welfare of the entire villages and its inhabitants. In old societies, Pura Desa always had a Bale Agung, a long wooden building where the villagers came's together monthly to discuss village matters. The Bale Agung is also the place where the Ngusaba ceremony is held to honor Dewi Sri, the rice Goddess, A Pura Desa with a Bale Agung is called Pura Bale Agung, because not very Pura Desa has a Bale Agung. In the Kelod area, towards the sea and therefore on the lowest part of the village, lies the ceremony is over and they carry their offerings back home and have a feast later. Only a small tray with petals of flowers is left behind.

In most cases, on the day before the anniversary ceremony begins the temple deities are taken to a holy spring for a cleaning bath. In a beautiful and colorful procession "Pratima" carved wooden animals, seats of Gods, are carried by colorfully dressed girls to the springs. At the head of the procession, boys walk with the paraphernalia of Holiness, such as spears, flags, and umbul-umbul, followed by girls carrying offerings. Then comes the girls with the "Pratima". The procession is closed by the musicians who make it all a joyous affair.

Pratima are carved animals of all kind which serve as the mounts or seats of the Gods. Sometimes one see one or two statuettes perched on them. These statuettes represent the Gods. The Balinese say that the gods like to have bath, a cleaning bath, or "musician" in Balinese.

When the procession return and before the deities are entered into the temple, a welcoming ceremony takes place in front of the temple gate. People spend the whole night in the temple. To entertain them or to keep them awake, there are dance performances, free for everyone to see. A cock fighting although a from of outlawed gambling has to be allowed. It is an unwritten obligation for the villagers to keep fighting cock to contribute them to the cockfight that follows every religious ceremony in the village.

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