Besakih Temple

The large complex of Besakih, a sanctuary for all Bali is situated on the slopes of Gunung Agung, the Peak of Bali, 1000 meters above sea level (within the territory of Karangasem). Today you can reach it easily by car, (from Klungkung) by way of Selat. Formerly it must have been a laborious expedition for pilgrims from all parts of the island, certainly fitting the idea that visits to a holy place should reflect the difficulties of any devotional act. This still holds for modern Balinese who have not switched over to motor vehicles. It should be noted that Besakih was a worshipping place for the princes of Bali ( Klungkung, Karangasem and Bangli ) and their vicegerents or family members. It was not intended for commoners. The several compounds were formerly cared for by the King of Bali (Klungkung) and the princes of Karangasem and Bangli. Their descendants with most of the other rulers together still maintain temples here. Tabanan, however has an ancestral temple of its own on Mount Batu Kau. Certain prominent families and castes are also connected with the Besakih sanctuary.
Despite modern additions, Besakih has preserved its archaic character even better than the Pura Kehen at Bangli. It has been a highly sacred place from the days of yore up to the present, formerly far away in the mysterious world of mountains and forest, peopled by ghosts and supernatural powers. The names and titles of the gods worshipped in Besakih’s manifold shrines are archaic Balinese if not Old Indonesian (without either Javanese or Sanskrit). This, of course does not apply to the Trimurti gods related with the main complexes as they are nowadays. An old tradition has it that Besakih was founded by king Kesari whom we know from the Sanur pillar inscription. The site may actually have been very much older. Certain crudely shaped linggas exhibited in some of the buildings by their crude shape recall the monoliths of early Indonesian and again late Indo-Javanese monuments located in equally mountainous places. They fully fit in with the site’s archaic character.

In the beginning 15th century the rules of Gelgel made the sanctuary his ancestral temple. Actually descended from the Javanese governor of the island after the 1343 conquest, he was an ancestor of the Deva Agungs of Klungkung (who had changed their residence from Gelgel to this place). Klungkung ever since cared for the central complex, Bangli and Karangesem for the two adjacent compounds.

Along the road leading to the central complex (Pura Penataran Agung Besakih) four shrines mark certain stages on the pilgrim’s route. Somewhat farther away, west of the road are the remains of a Pura Dalem Puri. This is regarded as the essence of the entire island’s Dalem Puris, temples for the dead in princely residencies. The central complex is flanked by two similar but smaller series of terraces: Pura Madeg (Erect Stone, containing the most clearly lingga shaped monolith) and Pura Dangin Kreteg (East of the Bridges). They are situated at the proper left and right (roughly northwest and southeast) of the central complex, respectively. The longitudinal axes of these compounds point in a northeastern direction, straight to Gunung Agung’s sacred peak. The compound’s central part is dedicated to Sive, the other two to Vishnu and Brahma. There are moreover many small shrines in the neighborhood. The various terraces within the compounds are strewn with shrines, seats and merus.

The central complex consists of a series of about six or seven (the sections are variously indicated in descriptions) terraces, one higher up the slope than the other yet successively connected by gates and flights of steps. The stairs leading from the courtyard to the first terrace are flanked by rows of sculptures (monkeys, etc). One of the second terrace buildings contains another of the linggas already referred to surrounded by an offering stand. The higher terraces are reached by passing through those below. There is a separate courtyard with separate entrance on a level with one of the upper terraces (at the northwest). On the opposite side is a larger cluster of courtyards. Further up the mountain lies Pura Gelap (Thunderbolt Temple).