Pura Besakih - Besakih Bali's Mother Temple

Pura Besakih or Besakih Temple, known as Bali’s ‘Mother Temple’ for over 1,000 years, and sits 1,000 metres high on the southwestern slopes of Mount Agung, in the eastern part of Bali. Besakih is an artistic and unique complex that comprises at least 86 temples which include the main Pura Penataran Agung (the Great Temple of State) and 18 others.

Besakih Temple is the biggest and holiest of the island's temples and is surrounded by breathtaking and scenic rice paddies, hills, mountains, streams, and more. Perched nearly 1000 meters up the side of Gunung Agung, it is an extensive complex of 23 separate but related temples with the largest and most important being Pura Penataran Agung.

Pura Besakih Temple

The temple is built on six levels, terraced up the slope. The entrance is marked by a candi bentar (split gateway), and beyond it the Kori Agung is the gateway to the second courtyard.

To the Balinese, visiting the temple sanctuaries is a special pilgrimage. Mount Agung’s high location gives it an almost mystical quality. Many stairs lead up to the sacred mountain, leading to the many temples that vary according to types, status, and functions.

Besakih Temple features three temples dedicated to the Hindu trinity. Pura Penataran Agung in the centre 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. You can visit other temples in Pura Besakih , but many of their inner courtyards are closed to the public as they’re reserved for pilgrims.

Besakih Temple is the only temple open to every devotee from any caste groups. This is because of its nature as the primal centre of all ceremonial activities.

Pura Besakih History

Pura Batu Madeg, containing a central stone, indicates that the area of Pura Besakih was already regarded a holy place since ancient times. In the 8th century, a Hindustani monk had revelations to build homes for people during his isolation. Throughout the process, 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. The name eventually evolved into ‘Besakih’.

Other shrines were gradually built and Besakih Temple was made the main temple during the conquering of Bali by the Majapahit Empire in 1343. Since then, Pura Besakih has had several restorations as earthquakes in 1917 and Mount Agung’s series of eruptions in 1963 damaged the complex. The lava flow passed by Besakih Temple and it 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. And this temple is always figure in the itinerary of Bali tour package.

Besakih Temple Highlights and Features

The largest temple in the complex, Pura Penataran Agung, has different areas representing seven layers of the universe, each with their own shrines. Pura Pasimpangan on the downstream side (on the east of the main street) and Pura Pangubengan upstream are approximately three kilometres apart.

Located on higher ground, the closest to Mount Agung's peak, Pura Pangubengan has great vistas and it’s about a 30-minute walk from the main Pura Penataran Agung. Around 10 minutes to the east of Pura Pangubengan is Pura Batu Tirtha. It is where holy water is sourced for the ‘karya agung’ ceremonies at Besakih Temple and Pekraman villages.

Besakih Temple

Four temples in the complex reflect four forms of God at compass points: Pura Batu Madeg in the north, Pura Kiduling Kreteg to the south, Pura Gelap in the east, and Pura Ulun Kulkul in the west. ‘Batu ngadeg’, literally ‘standing stone’, is found in the shrine of Meru Tumpang Sebelas at Pura Batu Madeg. This is where Vishnu is believed to descend. Still in the courtyard of Pura Batu Madeg, in front of Meru Tumpang Sebelas is the Pesamuan shrine (quadrangle-shaped with two lines of 16 poles) as a symbol of how Vishnu’s power interrelates with the world.

At least 20 minutes to the northwest from Pura Batu Madeg, down the footpath to the valley and along the river, is Pura Peninjoan – erected on a tiny hill. The beautiful views from here include all the shrines of Pura Penataran Agung, beaches and southern Bali in the distance. 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.

On the northern side of Pura Ulun Kulkul is Pura Merajan Selonding where the 'Bredah' inscription mentions a king in Besakih, and a set of ancient gamelan called ‘Selonding’ are kept. Pura Gua, located on the eastern side of the main street, is the home of the dragon deity. There’s a big cave at the canyon of the river on the east that has its mouth closed due to erosion, but people still sometimes practise yoga there.

Pura Jenggala, southwest of Pura Penataran Agung, is also often called Pura Hyang Haluh by the local devotees. 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 Puseh Jagat is located southeast of Pura Penataran Agung, the main foundation of Besakih Temple.

Good to Know about Pura Besakih

Pura Besakih was nominated as a World Heritage Site in 1995, but as yet remains unvested. There are at least 70 ceremonies or religious celebrations held each year here, as each shrine has its own anniversary, plus the big holidays based on the 210-day Balinese Hindu calendar system.

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 how a temple must be built.

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. Sarongs and sashes are available for rent. They’re also available for purchase at the many stalls outside, and bargaining is recommended.

Besakih Temple Entrance Fee

Visits to the Besakih Temple are subject to an entrance fee of IDR 30,000 for domestic tourists and IDR 60,000 for foreigners. Visitors must wear a sarong and a sash, as well as appropriate clothes common for temple visits. Women on their periods are forbidden entry.

How to Get Pura Besakih

Pura Besakih is very easy to find, as most people know it as one of the best tourist destinations in Bali. There are several starting points that you may choose to take:

From Kuta, it takes about 2 hours to get here. Simply head east towards Sanur, then follow the fast coastal route, which is connected to the Kusamba Bypass at Tohpati. Then go north until you find the road sign to Besakih, and after a few kilometers from this point turn north.

If you are staying around Klungkung, then Besakih is about 20 kilometers north of the town center. Take the Bemo – the small public buses– that will take you to Besakih from Klungkung. Bemos are most frequent in the morning, and it is recommended to change bemos at Rendang, halfway between Klungkung and Besakih.

If you come from the north of Denpasar, it is about 25 kilometers to reach Besakih by car. However, if you stay in the eastern part of Bali such as at Tirta Gangga, Candidasa, or Amed, you can reach Besakih by taking a smaller inland road from Karangasem.

This will lead you to the crossroad between Besakih and Klungkung at Rendang, and then turn right to reach Besakih Temple. During your hour-long drive, you will enjoy beautiful views traveling through forests, villages, and rice fields. If you are willing to make a short stop in one of the villages, you will see how the locals live, and learn a bit about their unique houses.