Balinese Temples

Balinese Temples

You may be surprised to notice the inclusion of two separate sections – RELIGION and TEMPLES – when discussing life in Bali. In a discussion of religion in Australia or the USA, for example, much of its practice would be centred around the church. However, in Bali the temple is only used for particular ceremonies and festivals, sometimes only once in the 210 day cycle, when the temple’s birthday (odalan) ceremony is held. As well as a huge number of large temples, estimated to be over 20 000, each household has a family temple, and innumerable altars have been erected in such places as the rice fields, at crossroads, at water sources, etc. Thus, any visitor to Bali can clearly see the importance of religion in the everyday life of the Balinese.

A number of the larger temples have become included as a ‘tourist attraction’ for visitors to Bali, relating a great deal of the history of Bali. However, one must remember when visiting these places that they are to receive the same respect as any other holy site. A number of regulations are generally found to be posted at the entrance to a temple, requiring a visitor to wear a selendang (scarf tied around the waist) and a sarong. Often a donation is asked for to help in the everyday maintenance of the temple grounds. It should also be noted that a woman should not enter the temple during menstruation because she is considered sebel (unclean) at this time. Other people considered sebel include those with a recently bereaved family member, and those that are sick.

Often a man dressed in white will be found in the vicinity of the temple. He is the pemangku (village priest) who tends to the everyday needs of the temple. The pedanda (high priest) is more aloof from the people, only being called on for major ceremonies, and being in a highly respected position in Balinese society. The pemangku can be chosen from any caste, but the pedanda only comes from the highest caste, the Brahmanas.

Although each temple has its own individual differences, a diagram of a ‘typical’ Balinese temple has been included to help visitors understand the significance of the numerous structures that they will see within the temple walls.

While most villages will have three temples uniting the village, Bangkiang Sidem because of its small number of residents, and because of its historical connection as an offshoot of the village to the north, Sebali, has only one, the Pura Dalem (Temple of the Dead), dedicated to Siwa, at the southern boundary of the village. Every 5 Balinese years (about 7 calendar years) a mass cremation for members of this village that have died in this time period is held. The last of these mass cremations was on 19 August, 2002, where 14 people or their effigies were cremated. The other two temples, the Pura Desa (Village Temple), dedicated to Brahma, and the Pura Puseh, dedicated to Wisnu, are located in Sebali. Other community temples found in Bangkiang Sidem are the Pura Suci (Holy Temple) and Pura Dugul (Temple for the Subak – irrigation community).

The standard of the buildings within a temple compound generally reflect the economic standard of the village supporting it. Thus you can see a startling difference between the temples in Bangkiang Sidem compared to those in Ubud.