One of Bali’s most popular and spiritually significant religious complexes, the nine-temple Pura Ulun Danu Batur has a vital association with Danu (Lake) Batur, a volcanic crater lake, but it is uncertain when it was built. It is Bali’s guardian temple of water supplies, since it controls the irrigation system of much of the island. From a distance, the temple’s silhouette can be seen on the rim of the vast Batur caldera.
Animism, ancestor worship, and a sense of the supernatural permeate Balinese life. The term sekala niskala (visible-invisible) sums up the idea that the physical world interacts with a sprit world. Loosely described as “gods” and ‘demons,” the spirits are believed to dwell in natural objects such as stones or trees. Shrines are built for them and they are honored with offerings of flowers and other materials. Ancestors are deified in complex rituals and venerated at temples. Guardian spirits, such as the Barong, are invoked in sacred performances to restore a village’s cosmic balance.
THE GAMELAN ORCHESTRA
In Bali, and neighboring Lombok, traditional music is performed by a gamelan orchestra, a percussion ensemble consisting largely of bronze metallophones (instruments with tuned metal keys), led by drums (kendang). Bronze gongs of various sizes form the heart of the orchestra. Struck with mallets, they produce resonant sounds that punctuate the keyed instruments’ melodies. There are also a few wind and stringed instruments, including bamboo flutes (suling). Most villages own a set of gamefan instruments for ritual occasions; some are sacred and played only at religious ceremonies. Temples have a pavilion called a bale gong to house the instruments.
BALINESE TEMPLE ARCHITECTURE
A Balinese pura (public temple) is a sacred enclosure where Hindu deities are periodically invited to descend into pratima (effigies) kept in shrines. Their arrangement follows a consistent pattern, with structures oriented along a mountain-sea axis. The outer courtyard and central courtyard have secondary shrines and pavilions, including the kulkul (watchtower), which houses a drum that is sounded when the deities have descended. The jeroan (inner courtyard) contains shrines to the temple’s core deities, and often to deities of the lakes, sea and mountains, too. The padmasana, or lotus throne shrine, in the temple’s holiest corner, has an empty seat on top signifying the Supreme God. The meru shrine symbolizes the mythical Hindu peak, Mount Meru.
The great timber doors of the main temple gateway are reserved for the use of priests on important religious occasions.
The inner courtyard is the most sacred. Three gateways lead from one courtyard to the next.
Deities and mythical beasts are often depicted in rich colors on the temple’s flags and sculptures.
The figure of Garuda, a bird from Hindu mythology, is depicted in this stone relief on the courtyard wall.
This tall, slender gate, built in a combination of brickwork and paras stone decoration, leads to another temple.
This pavilion houses the temple’s set of gamelan instruments, including a great gong believed to have a magical history.
The great quadrangle, shown here occupied by a festive structure of bamboo and straw, is the occasional setting for ritual dances.
In Bali, Odalan (temple festivals) are anniversary ceremonies where deities are honored with offerings, prayers, and entertainment, creating a carnival atmosphere that generally lasts for three days.
OFFERINGS TO THE LAKE GODDESS
Devotees present offerings at this temple, which is dedicated to Ida Betari Dewi Ulun Danu, the goddess of Lake Batur. The respect accorded to the goddess is reinforced by events in the temple’s history. At its original site, closer to the lake, the temple was saved from destruction in a volcanic eruption in 1917 when the lava flow stopped just short of its walls. After another eruption in 1926, the villagers relocated the temple to its present site.
1917: Pura Uluri Danu Batur is miraculously unharmed during a volcanic eruption.
1926: The temple is almost completely buried in another volcanic eruption.
1927: The temple is rebuilt at its current location.