At the foot of the great Gunung Agung mountain sits the most sacred of all Balinese temples; Pura Besakih. A more spectacular location for this huge temple complex would be hard to find. If you are lucky to visit on a clear day you can see Gunung Agung (3.142 m), a background that can give anyone a religious feeling.

Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih, on the slopes of Mount Agung. There are 22 temples in the complex. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih, on the slopes of Mount Agung. There are 22 temples in the complex. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

There has been a temple here for more than one thousand years, it is first mentioned in an inscription from 1007 BC.

Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih, on the slopes of Mount Agung. There are 22 temples in the complex. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih, on the slopes of Mount Agung. There are 22 temples in the complex. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Today’s role as the “mother temple” were achieved during the 15th century, when Bali became independent from Java and got it’s own ruler; Batu Renggong. He ordered the construction of nine temples, of which Besakih was the central one. Since then there has been continuous expansions and Besakih now consists of about 30 different smaller temples.

Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih, on the slopes of Mount Agung, is the most important, the largest and holiest temple on Bali. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih, on the slopes of Mount Agung, is the most important, the largest and holiest temple on Bali. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

The largest temple is Pura Penataran Agung, which has a large shrine in honor of the holy Hindu trinity Brahma, Wisnu and Shiva. Symbols of this trinity can be found in temples all over Bali. The most important ceremony in Besakih is called Eka Dasa Rudra, which is held once every hundred years according to the Balinese calendar, that is 115 years after our calendar. Last time, in 1963, it had to be cancelled due to a major eruption of Gunung Agung.

Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih. A stairway leads up to a split gate. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih. A stairway leads up to a split gate. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

About 2.000 people lost their lives during this eruption, but miraculously Besakih was almost undamaged. A new ceremony were held in 1979, this time with more success.

Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih, on the slopes of Mount Agung. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih, on the slopes of Mount Agung. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

The site is open daily, try to visit early in the morning before the mist is too dense. The best time to visit will probably be during one of the many ceremonies, when hundreds of Hindus in lovely traditional cloths and carrying offerings meets to honor the gods.

Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih, on the slopes of Mount Agung. There are 22 temples in the complex. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih, on the slopes of Mount Agung. There are 22 temples in the complex. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Even if the Besakih complex is huge, each single building is not so impressive on it’s own. In front of the entrance you will find the inevitable souvenir stalls, where you can by a sarong which you need to be allowed inside, or you can rent one by the entrance.

Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih, on the slopes of Mount Agung, is the most important, the largest and holiest temple on Bali. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih, on the slopes of Mount Agung, is the most important, the largest and holiest temple on Bali. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Many so-called guides will offer their service, it is perfectly ok to say no, in any case agree about the price in advance. It is no problem to explore the site on your own, but be aware that most of the temples are closed for entrance by none-Hindus.

Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. A small statue along the road to Besakih. Rice fields in the background. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)
Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. Bali, Karangasem, Besakih. A small statue along the road to Besakih. Rice fields in the background. (Photo Bjorn Grotting)

Besakih is a good starting point for a hike to the top of Gunung Agung, you can hire a guide for the walk here. There are no high standard hotels around Besakih, but you will find some restaurants and simple accommodation.

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Bjørn Grøtting

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Photographer based in Norway. See a collection of my best photos in the portfolio. Licensing of images is done through Photoshelter or alamy.
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