Beyond the Beaches: Cultural Highlights of Bali
Beyond the Beaches: Cultural Highlights of Bali
With its tropical climate, white sand beaches and crystal blue waters, it’s no wonder the Indonesian island of Bali has boomed as a leading destination for luxury, sun and sand in recent years. Sun worshippers, scuba enthusiasts and surfers flock to Bali every year, seeking out what this island has become famous for: resplendent beaches. From hidden gems like Dreamland beach to more visited areas such as Sanur, visitors have endless choices of where to play and work on their tan.
But this volcanic island also has a great deal to offer in the way of culture. From timeless artistic trades to picturesque and architecturally marvellous temples, Bali is a thriving hub of history and religion with something to offer everyone looking to get something meaningful from their journey to the island.
According to Hindu legend, the deity Indra was in the midst of battle with the powerful demon Mayadanawa, who poisoned Indra’s soldiers. In order to revive his soldiers, Indra pierced the earth and created a fountain of immortality, and thus, Tirta Empul, or the Holy Water Temple, was created. It is said that the springs at the site can purify the body and soul from negative influences and energies.
The location of a temple on the site is recorded as far back as the 10th century AD, and for more than a thousand years, pilgrims have made an offering within the temple before seeking out the healing and purifying waters.
Described as the cultural heart of Bali, Ubud is steeped in tradition, art and history. If Balinese traditional music and dance is of interest to you, Ubud is the place to go, as local displays and temple festivals are regular occurrences.
The Ubud Art Market is a bustling assemblage of sights and sounds, offering everything from typical tourist trinkets to Balinese arts and crafts and island style decor. Ubud Art Market has a reputation for selling higher quality items in a greater variety than other, more touristy markets such as Kuta. The majority of stalls are run by local craftspeople from the surrounding villages with wood and stone carvings, gold and silver work, hand-woven fabrics and popular paintings.
Ubud is also popular for those seeking to experience a little bit of Balinese spirituality or religion. Visitors are able to take part in local healing therapies as well as meditation. For those keen to take part in sacred Hindu or Buddhist meditation, Goa Gajah, or the Elephant Cave, can be found just outside of Ubud.
This historical site dates back to the 11th century as a place of meditation. Visitors enter the cave through the mouth of a startling, grimacing stone carving of a face, which is thought to depict an elephant. Spend your time at the site deep in meditation, or wandering the ruins of the courtyard and pools with beautiful waterspout fountains.
This little utopian village tucked in the Northwest corner of Bali is growing in popularity as a luxury destination. The village is known for its relaxed vibes and serene location, beautiful beaches and ocean activities. It’s a popular place to try traditional Balinese healing and visit a number of notable temples, like Pura Pulaki with its band of friendly monkeys who have taken up residence.
But the area is also rich in certain aspects of traditional Balinese culture, like dance. Balinese dance is deeply intertwined with religion, and different dances are used as a way to communicate with the gods and ask for rain or to give thanks. Different dances and rituals can be seen here, and visitors can even take part in traditional Balinese dance lessons.
Pura Besakih Temple Complex
Nestled high on the volcanic slopes of Mount Agung looms the sprawling Pura Besakih temple. The complex is comprised of 23 separate but linked temples whose origins are uncertain, though it is thought to date back about 2,000 years.
The complex leads visitors up a series of terraces and stairs that lead further up the mountain, which is considered sacred. The main temple within the complex is Pura Penataran Angung, or the Mother temple, which is the most holy site in all of Bali.
Each year there are more than 70 festivals and celebrations held at Pura Besakih, which makes it a popular destination for tourists eager to experience Balinese spirituality at the source.
Hall of Justice at Kerta Gosa
While the name “Hall of Justice” may bring to mind images of a local courthouse, what you’ll find at Kerta Gosa is anything but typical. Kerta Gosa actually forms part of an ancient royal palace, which showcases excellent examples of traditional Balinese architecture and art.
The ceilings within the Hall of Justice are adorned with Balinese style paintings depicting different traditional stories concerning spiritual guidance or tales from ancient Balinese lore.
Last but certainly not least on our list of Bali’s cultural highlights is the iconic temple situated on a rock in the sea, Tanah Lot. Another historic and religious site shrouded in legend, it is said that the temple was formed when a priest shifted his meditation spot out to sea in order to save it from a local chief.
Though visitors are not actually allowed to enter the temple grounds, it’s well worth a visit to cross the rocks at low tide to see the natural Tirta Pabersihan fountain, which is the source of holy water for every temple in the area. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Tanah Lot on the temple’s anniversary date, you can witness the heirloom pilgrimage, a festive parade not to be missed.
Many thanks to David Pettitt writing on behalf of Pettitts. Click here to learn more about visiting Bali.