Water Temples of Bali Indonesia – Taman Ayun, Tirta Empul

Bali island of Indonesia is known for its beauty, peaceful environment and picturesque beaches. Anyone among you who has visited Bali must have experienced this. Those pleasant memories must still be haunting your mind. But perhaps your attention might not have gone towards the terraced paddy fields. I would like to tell you that these paddy fields and water temples of Indonesia are an important part of the cultural landscape of Bali. These landscapes have been recognized as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

Actually, I had many reasons behind visiting Bali. The most important intention among them was to visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Till now you must have known Bali only as a tourist destination full of natural beauty. However, the cultural heritage form of Bali will surprise you. The UNESCO website declares the Subak irrigation system for paddy cultivation as a heritage site, considering it a cultural landscape. Only one temple of Bali is shown on this website. Apart from this royal temple named Taman Ayun, no other temple has been mentioned here. However, during the visit to the water temple named Tirtha Empul in Bali, information was received about it also being a heritage site declared by UNESCO. The basic element of these heritage sites of Bali is the water management system here. Therefore, I would like to mention here all those water temples of Bali Indonesia which in my opinion, being a part of the cultural landscape of Bali, come under the World Heritage Site.

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Hindu temples of Bali

Bali is a Hindu island of thousands of Hindu temples. Therefore, Indian Hindus have a special emotional connection with Bali. You will find more statues of Hindu Gods and Goddesses in public places in Bali than in India. The names of the streets of Bali are also of Indian origin. Many of these names are derived from the names of famous characters from mythology, like Bhima, Hanuman etc. You will be amazed to see Ramayana displayed here. I still wonder how those artists were able to create music even without instruments.

But there is another aspect to all this. The temples of Bali are different from most of the temples in India. There are no statues of gods and goddesses in the temples of Bali. Rather, offerings are made on the platform located there itself. Only Balinese Hindus are allowed to enter most temples. Other Hindus are not allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum. Entry of non-Hindus is completely prohibited. Even though I assured them that I was a Hindu, I was not allowed to enter some temples. In my desire to enter, I also wore their traditional clothes i.e. serong and waist belt. But I could not enter inside most of the temples. Even if I got entry somewhere, I was looked at with suspicion. Despite all this, whatever I saw and learned about these temples in Bali was so rich that I do not particularly regret the entry ban.

Subak Irrigation System – Bali’s traditional water management system

Bali’s traditional water management system is Tri-Hita-Karan . This word, which is made up of three Sanskrit words, is the basis of Bali’s Subak irrigation system. Tri means three, Hit means welfare and Karan means to do. This is a principle that benefits all three, you, your neighborhood and the environment . Its basic principle is everyone’s equal right to water. That is, to supply water to you and your fields without harming the environment. This system ensures equitable distribution of natural resources. Since water is an important natural resource, the entire community benefits from this system.

Bali’s Subak irrigation system has a special arrangement for paddy fields, because paddy fields require plenty of water.

Citizens who violate the Subak system are heard in the temple. This is a perfect social control system to achieve the larger objective of public welfare and environmental protection. You can get information about Subak water irrigation system from this website of Bali. You can’t help but admire this extremely well-designed system. I learned that Subak is not a system of only one sect. But it has many social and cultural dimensions. All the farmers come together and pray to the goddess for fertility and abundance .

Indonesia’s water temple for subak arrangement

There is a water temple associated with each Subak system arrangement. If you wish, you can get the necessary information about the working of the Subak system in the Bali Museum.

Under the Subak system, forests, paddy fields, canals and other water transport means, temples etc. are included. There are over a thousand such subak systems in Bali. Each Subak may include 50 to 400 farmers.
This subak system is declared a world heritage site by UNESCO. This includes-

  • The entire Ulun Danu Batur situated on the banks of Lake Batur – it is considered to be the original source of water for the whole of Bali.
  • Subak landscape of Pakerisan drainage area – This is the most ancient irrigation system in Bali.
  • Subak scenario of Chatur ang Baturkaru – This Subak system has been mentioned in inscriptions from the 10th century.
  • Pura Taman Ayun – the temple of the royal family where the largest Subak system is installed.

However, during my visit to Tirtha Empul, I also saw UNESCO inscriptions displayed there which are the water temples of Indonesia.
After this brief introduction, let us discuss the water temples of Bali which are an important part of Bali’s culture-rich landscape.

Pura Taman Ayun – The largest water temple in Bali, Indonesia

Pura Taman Ayun is a Balinese royal temple. The beautiful extensive gardens and lotus pond of this temple established in a large area are indicative of it.

I reached a trail bisecting a picturesque lake in the middle. Here I met two orange women who were holding fresh flowers in their ears. The entrance of the temple was built in the typical Balinese style. Passing through this entrance, I reached a spacious garden in the middle of which there was a small square pond. A fountain decorated with amazing artwork was built in its middle. There was a lovely umbrella in one corner of the garden. The maintenance of the garden was adding to the beauty of this temple. After that the trail took me to some stairs which were taking me to the temple. The temple was established within the boundary wall. In one corner of the temple complex I saw the peak of a double roof.

As soon as we climbed the stairs, a tall temple appeared in front of us. One special feature of the temples here that came to my attention is that whether it is a staircase or an entrance, Dwarpal statues are installed on both sides. Entry is not allowed inside the temple. However, you can definitely circumambulate the temple and admire its excellent artwork.

An ornate balustrade was built on both sides of the walkway at the back of the main entrance, the upper part of which was made in the shape of a snake. There was a relief carving of a monk on the wall of the balustrade. On one side of it, a man playing an instrument was carved and on the other side, a woman sitting amidst a group of foliage was carved.

Meru – Water Temple of Indonesia

The Taman Ayun temple complex consisted of several tall structures built on square platforms. Each spire-like structure had several layers of chhatris of decreasing size. There were moats filled with water around the main temple. Perhaps that is why it is called water temple.

There were platforms made in the temple for making offerings. Divine idols were also placed on some small platforms. Beautifully made slanting thatched roofs covered these platforms. A replica of Vajra was installed on every roof. Divine statues were also installed on the pillars around the stage.

I saw many other supernatural statues in the temple, due to the restrictions of language, neither did I know their names nor the background of their legends. Many statues were wearing wings and were richly decorated with ornaments. If you have any information regarding these, I would definitely like to know.

Pavilion – Water Temple of Indonesia

There was a pavilion outside the main temple with pillars installed around it. Many divine statues were engraved on these pillars also. Among these, I could recognize only one statue which I guess was of Saraswati Maa holding a veena. I could not get information about other statues. They are still a mystery to me.

Another pavilion had a cockfight scene carved on it with horses carved on either side.

On the platform situated in a corner, I saw pictures of agitated and furious divine souls. Due to language barriers, not much information could be obtained about these statues from the Balinese people present nearby.

Adding to the information I gave about the history of Pura Taman Ayun Temple, I would like to tell you that this temple is the temple of the Mengwai royal family which ruled till the end of the 19th century. This means that the Subak water system in Bali remained in use until the 19th century. Although this temple was established in the 17th century, however it has been renovated in the 20th century.

The Pura Taman Ayun temple was quite large. Although I did not inspect the internal parts of the temple, yet the entire one hour was spent in observing the external parts of the temple. It is my wish that the system of darshan along with the tour guide should be started here. At least one plaque should be installed which provides detailed information about this temple, especially about the water management system here.

Tirta Empul – Bali’s most active water temple

Tirta Empul is the busiest and most active temple in Bali. There is a lot to see and understand within its huge complex.

There was a huge tree at its entrance itself. Offerings are made on the platform built around it and worship is done. Let me remind you again, if you are not a Balinese Hindu then you cannot climb on this platform. You can only move around the stage. Only Hindus of Bali are allowed to worship it.

Tirta Empul literally means sacred source in Balinese language. Built in the 10th century, this temple is set around a water source. This water source is the source of Pakarisan river. This temple has been named Tirtha Empul after this source.

The water of the water source was coming out from many mouths and gathering in a huge pond. It seemed that this water reservoir was the center of attraction for the visitors of Tirtha Empul because there was a long queue in front of each water mouth. They were waiting for their turn to take a purification bath in that holy water. Many visitors were also sitting waiting on the platform near the pond.

Offering – Water Temple of Indonesia

In the temple, I saw many visitors going towards the temple with very elegant and beautiful baskets in their hands. The visitors wearing white tilak on their forehead and wearing traditional clothes were looking very pleasant. Some bundles were kept in their baskets. After looking carefully, it was found that the visitors were taking these baskets to the temple to offer them as offerings. I had the privilege of seeing the complete summary of Bali’s Hindu culture in this temple.

On one side of the Tirtha Empul temple there was a square pond full of fishes. A wall was built around it in the temple style. I sat there and started looking at those fishes for a few moments. He had become addicted to the food given by the visitors. Wherever they saw people, they would swim towards them and gather there.

The main temple was lined with many platforms. Some platforms were very elegantly carved on which divine images were installed. Other platforms were made in simple manner on which devotees used to make offerings. I got to see a unique scene at Tirtha Empul. Visitors used to place their offerings on these platforms and sit around them. After that the priest used to go there and perform the rituals as per his wish.

Tirtha Empul was the only temple in the whole of Bali where a proper Shivalinga was installed. Wrapped in white and yellow clothes, this Shivalinga was decorated with devotion. It seemed that the devotees of Bali had worshiped it with full respect.

There was also a pond in the back part of the temple, in the middle of which many small temples were built. This appeared to be a relatively quiet part of the temple.

Outside the temple, vendors were selling flowers, bananas etc. as offerings. He was the first to give people a banana for free to taste. Thereafter they were requested to buy. This seemed a very unique custom to me.

There was also a huge market outside the temple complex from where you can buy special Balinese items as souvenirs.

Gua Gajah Temple – Water Temple of Indonesia

Gua Gaja: Temple i.e. cave temple in the form of elephant whose facade was extensively carved. There were relief carvings of many terrifying creatures and demons on it. The front of the cave is considered to resemble Gajmukh. However, the face of the cave did not appear to me to be a gazelle from any point of view. In Balinese language, Gua means cave and Gajah means elephant. For this reason this cave was named Gua Gajah.

There was a water pond at the entrance of the temple which was divided into two parts by a footpath. Each part of the pond was filling with water coming from three springs located on the main wall. In my opinion, there must be a means of drainage in the pond to keep the water level stable.

There were many platforms built around the water pond which were being used by the Hindu visitors of Bali for worship.

For a few moments I kept staring at the front of the cave with awe. After that I entered the cave. I felt as if I was entering the mouth of a monster.

As soon as I entered the cave, I saw a porch on both sides. The left porch took us to the idol of Lord Ganesha and the right porch took us to three Shivalingas. There were also some additional niches on which nothing was placed. Perhaps statues might have been installed on these at some time.

Outside the cave I saw the broken remains of some pots. But some information about them was not available there.

Gua Temple is a small cave which does not take much time to visit. The facts regarding inclusion of Gua Temple in the list of water temples of Bali were not available. However, the water pond present outside the temple was forcing me to consider it as a water temple.

Out of curiosity to know about Subak water irrigation system, I visited some water temples of Bali. They attracted me so much that I still have a strong desire to visit Bali again and visit the water temples of the rest of Indonesia.