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A Sacred Space for God and Man

Above all, the Balinese temple is a sacred space in which the deities are honored with rituals and offerings. Whether a simple enclosure with only one or two tiny shrines, or an elaborate complex with scores of sacred structures, the basic function of each temple is the same - to serve as a site where the Balinese pay reverence to the spiritual powers that play such a large role in their lives.

Temple types

There are literally tens of thousands of temples in Bali, and new ones are being constructed all the time. Throughout much of the year they lie eerily deserted, but on the date of their anniversary festival they come to life in a brief but glorious burst of activity, as the congregation adorns the temple with beautiful ornaments and arrives bearing elaborate gifts, dressed in their finest apparel.

We just have one word for temple, but the Balinese distinguish two important types. A sanggah (merajan in the refined language) refers to private or family temples, generally translated as "house temples." Each family compound has one, containing shrines to the family's deified ancestors (sanggah kamulan). Thus there are several hundred thousand house temples in Bali.

The other word for temple in Balinese is Pura, originally a Sanskrit term referring to town or palace. In Bali, the word Pura ha come to refer to a temple in the public d main, generally located on public land. These cannot always be neatly classified, but there are generally three types associated with the three most important foci of social organization on Bali - locale, irrigation cooperative (subak) and descent group.

Within the group based on locality are temples of the local village, as well as temple of greater regional and island-wide significance. Irrigation cooperative temples ca belong to a single subak or to a whole group of subaks. And within the group of temple based on descent are temples supported "clans" of greater or lesser degrees of ancestral depth, variously known as Pura dadi Pura kawitan and Pura padharman. Altogether there are at least 10,000 temples on B belonging to these various types.

Three village temples of special significance are the kahyangan tiga ("three sanctuaries") the Pura Puseh ("temple of origin"), at the upper end of the village, the Pura desa ("village temple") or Pura bale agung ("great meeting hall temple") in the village center, and the Pura dalem (death temple or "temple of the mighty one") lying near the cemeter and cremation grounds at the lower or seaward end of the village. These temples are linked with the gods of the Hindu Trinity: the Pura Puseh with Brahma the Creator, the Pura desa with Vishnu the Preserver, and the Pura dalem with Siwa the Destroyer.

The famous temple sites that tourists visit are regional or island-wide temples. These include the "Mother Temple" of Besakih, high up on the slopes of Mt. Agung, as well as the major temples of Ulun Danu (Batur), Lempuyang, Gua Lawah, Ulu Watu, Batukau, Pusering Jagat (Pejeng), Andakasa and Pucak Mangu. These are nearly all mountain or sea temples, marking the primary poles of the sacred landscape in Bali.

Lesser regional temples, numbering in the hundreds, are sometimes called Pura dang kahyangan or "temples of the Sacred Ones" because they are associated with legendary Priests who brought Hinduism to Bali from Java. Their supporting congregations are drawn from a wide area, and in the past such temples were often supported by local Princely houses. Nowadays regional governments have taken on the same role. Important regional temples include Pura Sakenan, Pura Tanah Lot, Pura Kehen, Pura Taman Ayun and many others.

Shrines and pavilions

A temple may contain just one or two shrines within a small courtyard, or it may contain dozens of shrines and other structures within two, or often three courtyards.

The innermost courtyard is the most sacred. Shrines are usually located here in two rows - one lining the mountain (kaja) side and the other lining the eastern (kangin) side. Toward the center of the courtyard is a large structure where the gods gather during rituals. Open pavilions for various purposes complete the arrangement.

Among the shrines lining the mountain ward side one often finds a pair of small closed shrines (gedong) - one with an earthenware dish on its roof, the other with a pointed roof. These honor protective deities of the greatest importance: Dewi Sri, goddess of rice and prosperity, and her consort Rambut Sedana, god of wealth. A small shrine with a deer's head is called menjangan saluwang and honors the legendary priest Mpu Kuturan, or a deity called Bhatara Maospahit.

A particularly striking structure is the meru or Balinese pagoda, which has an odd number of roofs, up to a maximum of eleven. A meru honors a god or a deified ancestor, depending on what kind of temple it is. It was probably introduced from Java during the 14th century.

In the mountain ward-eastward corner, between the rows of shrines, there is often an open seat-type shrine. In its fully developed form, adorned with cosmic turtle and serpents, this is called a padmasana ("lotus throne") and honors the high god Sanghyang Widhi in his manifestation as Siwa Raditya, the sun god. Modern Balinese Hinduism stresses its monotheistic aspect, and the padmasana has recently become more prominent.

Temple festivals are held according to one of two calendrical systems. When it appears on the 210-day wuku calendar, a festival is called an odalan; when it follows the lunar calendar, it is often referred to as an usaba. Various factors, such as local tradition and the size of the ritual, determine whether a festival is officiated by the temple's own priest (Pemangku) or by a brahmana high priest (Pedanda).


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