Bali's oldest, largest, most impressive
and austere temple complex sits one-third the way up the
slopes of Gunung Agung. Besakih, actually consisting of
three temple compounds, is the Mother Temple of Bali and
the most important of the island's Sad Kahyangan religious
shrines. It's Bali's supreme holy place, the essence of
all Bali's 20,000 temples, a symbol of religious unity,
and the only temple that serves all Balinese. It's still
Besakih was built on a terraced site where prehistoric
rites, ceremonies, and feasts once took place. Perhaps it
was here where the spirit of the great, angry mountain,
which loomed menacingly above the island, received pagan
sacrifices. Certain timeworn megaliths in some of the bale
are reminiscent of old Indo-Polynesian structures.
Hindu theologians claim the temple was founded by the 8th
century missionary Danghyang Markandeya, a priest credited
with introducing the tradition of daily offerings (bebali)
and the concept of a single god. His son, Empu Sang Kulputih,
was the temple's first high priest.
Besakih is a very complex architectural structure venerating
the holy Hindu trinity. Via a series of long stairways,
the temple group ascends parallel ridges toward Gunung Agung,
the honored birthplace of Bali's deities, tantamount to
heaven. The temple is continually enlarged as municipalities,
regencies, and wealthy honored Brahman families add more
shrines. In fact, each caste and kin group, as well as various
sects, artisan guilds, and aristocratic families, maintains
its own temple inside the complex.
About 22 separate sanctuaries contain a befuddling array
of over 60 temples and 200 distinct structures (a map is
posted at the top of the road leading from the parking lot).
Given the Balinese passion for covering surfaces with carving
or paint, it's remarkable most of Besakih's sanctuaries
are constructed simply of wood.