Temples by the Sea

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The story goes back to the 14th century when the Majapahit Kingdom, a Hindu-Buddhist empire that ruled the Nusantara, was on the edge of collapse. Their great commander, Gajah Mada, was sent to a little island on the east of Java, known as Balidwipa, to conquer the island so that it could be transformed into a sanctuary for the people of Majapahit whose position was getting more and more desperate because of…

Text and Photos by Kartika D. Suardana

The story goes back to the 14th century when the Majapahit Kingdom, a Hindu-Buddhist empire that ruled the Nusantara, was on the edge of collapse. Their great commander, Gajah Mada, was sent to a little island on the east of Java, known as Balidwipa, to conquer the island so that it could be transformed into a sanctuary for the people of Majapahit whose position was getting more and more desperate because of the invasion by the Sultanate Malaka, an Islamic kingdom in the western part of the archipelago. 

At the time, the people of Bali were under the rule of the Bedahulu Empire which was located in Bedahulu, now part of Gianyar Regency. In that period of time, the natives believed in animism and dynamism.  This can be seen from the discovery of ancient statues and menhir which resemble temples; a symbolic place to worship ancestral spirits and other spirits in nature.

The beginning of the 16th century was marked by the collapse of the Majapahit Empire which left two Hindu kingdoms; the Sunda Kingdom in the west and the Blambangan Kingdom in the east. Some of the Hindus in the east fled to the mountain regions such as Bromo and Semeru, and some fled to Bali for a sanctuary.

Meanwhile, Gajah Mada and his troops defeated the Bedahulu Kingdom. With the fall of the Bedahulu Kingdom, Majapahit assigned a new king to rule and the kingdom was relocated to Gelgel. It wasn’t only the military troops from Majapahit that made a visit to Bali; Dang Hyang Nirartha, a high priest from Majapahit left Blambangan for Gelgel. He came to Bali after he had received a vision during meditation at the summit of Mount Mahameru. The priest arrived in the western part of the island and started his journey on the island following the coast toward the south. 

On the way, he stopped in a number of places where his soul was touched by the sanctity of the area; later people built temples in each of the areas he had visited and meditated in. The priest also introduced Shaivism teachings, a belief in Lord Shiva as the Supreme Being and also spread the Hindu-Shiva teachings in Bali. The soulful journey of the priest and the fall of the Majapahit Kingdom had a strong influence on the island. Not only through the shifting of beliefs and changes in way of life, but also with new architecture.  Temples by the sea were built, some of which are now very popular tourist destinations in Bali because they offer enchanting panoramic beauty. 

tanah lot

The temple that is now known as Tanah Lot, is considered one of the most sacred places in Bali. Although not accessible for tourists, superb views of the temple in the glowing sunset can be seen from many points nearby. Lines of souvenir shops and cafés serving Es Kelapa Muda (Fresh young coconut with ice) and a variety of food and beverages are good spots from which to view the famous temple. Some cafes even have panoramic sunset views from their terraces. 

When it is low tide, crowds are usually gathered on the beach between the rocks, (where the temple is perched), and the cliff of the mainland. The caves around the cliff are also becoming a famous attraction of the site. It is said that a giant snake lives in one of the caves. It is also believed that at the base of the rocky island there are poisonous sea snakes guarding the temple from evil spirits and intruders. The myth says that the snake was the scarf of Nirartha.

uluwatu temple

On his arrival at the Southern tip of the island, Nirartha meditated on the edge of the cliff and experienced a sacred vision about the sanctity of the area. Then a temple was built and called “Uluwatu,” “ulu” means “land’s end” and “watu” means “rock”. Pura Luhur Uluwatu, is one of the Sad Khayangan (the six most important temples in Bali). It is dedicated to Rudra, the God of the Storm, the Wind, and the Hunt. The temple and its surroundings are considered one of the most sacred sites on the island. 

The southern tip of Bali is famous for its magical sunset, which can be seen from the temple’s compound. 5pm is the perfect time to visit the temple as visitors can witness the dramatic changes that occur in the sky as well as watching the “Kecak” fire dance performance. The “Kecak” performance at Uluwatu temple is a spectacular one as the performance takes place on the cliff with a beautiful ocean backdrop, when the sun sets, it’s also the time for Hanuman, the White Monkey King, to be burned by the Rahwana’s army. Find out how good defeats evil while watching the horizon swallow up the orange sun. The temple is officially open for tourists; a small amount needs to be paid at the entrance where you can also rent sarongs. 

bat cave

7km from Padang Bay, one and half hours from Kuta, a bat cave is tucked away in the inner compound of a temple called Goa Lawah. To be more specific, Goa Lawah, which means bat cave, is located on the border of Klungkung regency and Karangasem regency. 

The shiva shrine at the entrance of this temple has been worshiped since around 1000AD. Rsi Markandya, a holy priest from Java, found this holy place. This sacred place is designated to honour Dewa Maheswara, the God that rules in the southeast direction. 

Entering the main compound, the smell of guano and burned scented sticks can’t be avoided. The squeaking sound of thousands of bats creates a mystical atmosphere. It is popular amongst the Balinese that inside the cave, besides bats, also lives a gigantic snake, which does not show itself to people often. Additionally, a story has spread widely that the Prince of Mengwi once hid in the cave for protection and he followed the cave’s tunnel system which took him to Pura Besakih located on the slopes of Gunung Agung. However, due to the snake story no attempt to follow the tunnel has taken place.  

gajah mada temple 

Menjangan Island, located in North-West Bali, is actually famous amongst divers. The area around the island offers amazing diving, including deep diving alongside the island’s wall, drift diving and unique encounters with pelagic marine life. 

It’s not only the seascape around this tiny island which is intriguing but also the presence of the temples on the island which attract pilgrims from Java and Bali. On the island, which is part of Buleleng Regency, the relation between Java and Bali is evident as well as the Chinese influence on Bali. A Chinese – style temple, to worship the Goddess Kwan Im, stands next to the Gajah Mada temple. Kwan Im is the Goddess of prosperity and Gajah Mada is the warlord of the Majapahit Kingdom who made a vow that he would unite all the islands of the Nusantara archipelago. Gajah Mada came to Bali to conquer Kebo Iwa, a warrior of the Bedahulu Kingdom who was infamously “unbeatable,” due to magical powers. 

 

Next to the Gajah Mada temple is a stunningly huge Ganesha Statue, an elephant head deity with four hands, the Lord of Success and the destroyer of evils, popularly worshipped as a remover of obstacles, (though traditionally he also places obstacles in the path of those who need to be checked). According to the priest who takes care of the Gajah Mada and Kwan Im temple, the statue was built after he received a holy voice during his meditation that a Ganesha Statue had to be built on that spot because The Lord Ganesha was coming to save the earth from downfall. 

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