Gunung Kawi Temple in Bali
Gunung Kawi Temple complex, locally referred to as Pura Gunung Kawi, is one of Bali’s most unique archaeological sites, comprising a collection of ancient shrine reliefs carved into the face of a rock cliff. The main site overlooks the sacred Pakerisan River, which also flows by the Tirta Empul Temple a kilometre up north. Across the river from the ancient reliefs is a temple courtyard featuring old Hindu shrines in a more contemporary architectural style, which is attended by pilgrims especially during its ‘piodalan’ temple anniversaries.
Gunung Kawi Temple is a popular stopover on itineraries through the central uplands of the Gianyar regency. The temple complex is easily located, only a few hundred meters east from the Jalan Raya Tampaksiring main route, from where you continue down on foot to a paved walkway that is lined with art shops and small local warungs. Along the further 300 steps towards the river, lush paddy terraces and gorgeously green valley.
Gunung Kawi Temple consists of 10 candi (shrines) – memorials cut out of the rock face in imitation of actual statues. Part of a region nominated for Unesco Heritage status, they stand in awe-inspiring 8m-high sheltered niches cut into the sheer cliff face. The views as you walk through ancient terraced rice fields are as fine as any in Bali.
Each candi (shrines) is believed to be a memorial to a member of the 11th-century Balinese royalty, but little is known for certain. Legends relate that the whole group of memorials was carved out of the rock face in one hard-working night by the mighty fingernails of Kebo Iwa.
The five monuments on the eastern bank are probably dedicated to King Udayana, Queen Mahendradatta and their sons Airlangga, Anak Wungsu and Marakata. While Airlangga ruled eastern Java, Anak Wungsu ruled Bali.
The four monuments on the western side are, by this theory, to Anak Wungsu's chief concubines. Another theory is that the whole complex is dedicated to Anak Wungsu, his wives, concubines and, in the case of the remote 10th candi, to a royal minister.
Across the river and beside the first rock shrine complex is the functional temple courtyard that the locals essentially refer to as Pura Gunung Kawi. Inside is what you would commonly find in any other Balinese temple courtyard, complete with various shrines surrounding the temple’s main grand pavilion or ‘bale’. Since this temple nominated for Unesco Heritage status, there are several Bali tour packages have put this temple as one of the stop point in the itinerary.
As with any other temple visit in Bali, proper attire comprising a sarong cloth with a sash around the waist is required, and women during their periods are not permitted entry into the Gunung Kawi Temple complex. The sash and sarong are available for rent with the ticket purchase at a booth before the stairs down to the valley. The temple is decorated during its ‘piodalan’ temple anniversary every year following the Purnama Katiga or ‘third full moon’ on the Balinese calendar, allowing for a more festive and exotic setting for photographs.