Pura Bukit Sari and the Tale of Talking Monkeys

Explore Bali | Written By, Life on the Island |

This temple is so magical that it is said that the monkeys inhabiting it and the trees surrounding it also have magical powers – they can talk and walk. This is the tale of Pura Bukit Sari, otherwise known as the Sangeh Monkey Forest. 

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The 13-hectare forestland of Sari Hill in Mengwi is a protected grove of nutmeg trees where tribes of monkeys dwell. The sanctuary is considered sacred, where the macaques inhabit both the woods and the centuries-old Pura Bukit Sari, the biggest out of four temples located deep within the forest. It was once a ruin until the Mengwi kingdom ordered for its restoration and even the expansion of the temple. But we’re not going to talk about how the restoration of the temple went. Instead we’re going to tell you how Pura Bukit Sari was built, because, just like many other temples we feature here, it involved magic.

It was in the 17th century when Anak Agung Anglurah Made Karangasem Sakti, the adopted son of the King of Mengwi, received a heavenly message to build a temple on Sari Hill in Mengwi. When he first arrived and saw this place for the first time he worried that perhaps his divine message was really a wrong number. This was the most barren place he had ever seen in Bali – totally void of foliage – a real disaster area with not a tree, bush or anything green anywhere in sight.

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His obedience towards God’s order has turned the once barren place with no plants at all into a green wonderland surrounded and protected by trees. It is said that all the greeneries were supernaturally teleported by the God Ida Bhatara from his holy volcano, Mount Agung. However, that wasn’t the only magic occurring that day, for hundreds of monkeys were also ‘sent’ to the temple’s area to compliment the trees – hence it’s nickname today, Sangeh Monkey Forest.

These monkeys immediately started occupying their positions as protectors inside and around the temple. Some faithful elders in this area claimed that they can verbally communicate with these monkeys – but only when they are praying and focused. However, the elders did reveal that just about anybody can also communicate with these monkeys. If we are in a highly-focused state, then it is said that we can hear the monkeys talk to us – and that we are able to talk back to them – and see the trees walking around, guarding the area.

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Due to its abundance of trees and monkeys, this holy place is also referred to as both Puri Bukit Sari and the Sangeh Monkey Forest. Many Balinese people consider Sangeh as the real Monkey Forest in Bali – not to be confused with the famous one located in Ubud.

In addition to the monkeys, and the tall nutmeg trees that shade the temples, Sangeh is also home to a special tree specimen which locals usually refer to as Lanang Wadon. Meaning “male and female”, the tree has a hole on the bottom with a down-pointing branch – resembling genitals – and it’s actually Milkwood pine (Alstonia Scholaris), whose wood has many uses, including being used as the material for the Balinese scared masks that are normally used in important ceremonies.

The monkeys that inhabit the forest area each has a ring leader, with the ‘big boss’ occupying the Pura Bukit Sari. And to this day, Pura Bukit Sari remains as an homage to God Ida Bhatara.

Pura Bukit Sari is located at Bukit Sari Hill in Sangeh village, approximately 20 kilometres north of Denpasar. It takes around 30-minutes drive if you go there through the Denpasar-Pelaga road. As the whole area is considered sacred (not only the temple), women on their periods or those who are mourning the loss of a deceased family are forbidden to access the forest area.

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