Brahma formed the bones, flesh, nerves and body temperature
Wisnu formed the blood, marrow, fat, glands and body fluids
Siwa formed the breath, the link between body and soul
A Balinese origin story how God created man

It is often said that there are more temples per square mile in Bali than anywhere else in the world. There are family temples, village temples, royal temples, rice temples, mountain temples, river temples, water temples, market temples, temples to particular gods or goddesses, and, temples to the crafts such as mask and jewelry temples. Other places can also become holy such as trees and rocks.

Pura means temple. Each pura represents a particular social unit and offerings will be made on a regular basis to the gods linked to it. It will have a shrine to the principal deity, but possibly also smaller shrines to other deities that are connected in some way. So, for example, the principal deity in a market pura is Maya Sih, who is the mistress of illusions. But there will also be smaller shrines to Dewi Sri, the Rice goddess.

State Temples: Sad-Kahyangan or Six Great Temples

There are six state temples, all ancient historical sites, in which all Balinese have an interest, as they protect the entire island and the Balinese people as a whole. These six great temples reinforce the notion of the oneness of Balinese civilization despite the so-called caste system that the Balinese people are one.

Pura Besakih, is the Mother Temple, the most important temple in Bali and is the spiritual and religious centre of the universe, where Brahma, Wisnu and Siwa are worshipped, as well as many kings and princes of the past, who have become divine ancestors.

Pura Uluwatu, sits on a cliff in the most southern tip of Bali.

Pura Goa Lawah, the bat cave temple, near Kusamba on the coast where you can witness part of the cremation ceremony where the ash is tossed into the ocean.

Pura Lempuyang Luhur in the Karangasem district in East Bali.

Pura Batukau, on the slope of Batukau mountain in the Tabanan district, is said to be the oldest temple in Bali, because Siwa sent seven of his children from Mount Semeru in Java to the sacred places in Bali and the gods arrived at Batukau first as they were coming from the west.

Pura Pulaki the second largest temple in Bali, in the Singaraja district in North Bali.

Village temples: Kahyangan Tiga

There are the following three temples in nearly every village. They are called the Kahyangan Tiga, the Three Great Temples, and are said to have been initiated by Empu Kuturan, the legendary Javanese priest in the 11th century. All members of the village, regardless of caste or status, may visit the village temples.

Pura Puseh, Origin or Navel Temple is in the mountain or kaja area devoted to the founders of the village and dedicated to Wisnu, god of water.

Pura Desa in the centre of the village is dedicated to the Banjar (village) male members who meet to discuss the affairs of the village. It is dedicated to Brahma. A wantilan or meeting hall for cockfights is usually very near and a huge sacred banyan tree often shades the area.

Pura Dalem in the seaward or kelod area, devoted to the souls of the dead but not yet cremated. It is dedicated to Siwa or his wife, Durga, and is called the Death or the Underworld Temple.

Family temples:

Each large family group or clan has its own temple, the Pura Dadia, where family members pray to the founders of the family. Smaller temples are located in every household. This temple is always surrounded by a wall and built in the sacred northeast, kaja-kangin, corner of the family compound. In it will be shrines, about ten feet tall on chest-high carved plinths, mostly devoted to deified family ancestors. Offerings are usually placed there daily and always on important days. There is always a roofed shrine in the family temple with three compartments devoted to Brahma (on the right), Wisnu (on the left) and Siwa (in the centre). It is called the Sanggah Kemulan, sometimes also the Shrine of Origin. It is a holy place and the central place of worship.

Each temple, private or public, has an anniversary celebration, usually every Balinese year, which is every 210 days. These odalans are major events, usually with music and dancing. A few temples fix their odalans by reference to the lunar calendar and then they take place either at full moon, Purnama, or new moon, Tilem. Most odalans last three days.

Public temples layout

Temples are divided into three sections and gates divide the sections. Between the furthest, holiest part and the middle part is a gate called the Kori Agung, on top of which is usually a carving of a bulbous head, called a Bhoma, who protects the inner sanctum. In front is a free standing wall called the Aling Aling, which is to prevent evil spirits entering, evil spirits being able only to walk in straight lines. Private houses usually have Aling Aling too. Between the middle section and the outer section of the temple is usually the famous Balinese split gate, called a candi bentar, which some believe symbolizes Mount Meru, the world mountain.

Structures within temples

Drum: Kulkul

Public temples have a hollow log, a kulkul, with a hammer hanging beside it, used to call the villagers to ceremonies or to warn them of disasters, like fires or emergencies or the discovery of a thief. The double sounding of the kulkul followed by a rapid striking means that there has been a robbery. It is usually in the corner of the middle part of the temple in a special pavilion or bale (gazebo).

Empty seats: Padmasana

Padmasanas, the empty seats or thrones are found in public and family temples. They are regarded as the throne of Siwa. Siwa sits in the centre of a lotus, surrounded by four petals with much symbolism: the directions, north, east, west and south; the dieties, Wisnu, Iswara, Mahadewa and Brahma; and each associated with a particular colour, day, part of the body, weapon, metal, magical syllable and form of supernatural power. At the base is Bedawang Nala, the turtle that supports the world with the two snakes. In the centre is the world of man, where his daily activities are sometimes carved and various aspects of God are displayed at the top.

Phallus: Lingga

Linggas are oblong rocks, rounded at the top, which represent Siwa’s phallus. Thanks to it, he established his superiority over Brahma and Wisnu. They are found in temples and sacred spots. Several are in the Elephant Cave in Bedulu near Ubud.

Pagodas: Merus

These shrines are symbolic of the mythical world mountain, Mount Meru at the centre of the world, which is the home of the gods. Merus are likewise the homes of the gods when they visit during temple ceremonies. They descend to the temple down the open shaft, which is the centre of the meru.

Merus have an uneven number of tiers, one to eleven, which get smaller the higher they get, resembling a pagoda, thatched with black sugar palm fibre. The higher the meru, the higher the status of the god within the meru and to whom it is dedicated: eleven roofs for Siwa and nine for Brahma and Wisnu. You can also tell the rank of a temple by the height of its merus. You cannot tell by the style of architecture. There are eleven-storied merus at Besakih and Mount Batur Temples, the two most important temples in Bali. There is a beautiful meru in Campuan Temple, opposite Murni’s Warung in Ubud. The height of the merus in family temples indicates the family’s caste. The commoners, Sudras, have one to three roofs, high-caste have five to nine, consecrated kings, eleven. Kings have divine ancestry and so are entitled to eleven.


There is always a roofed shrine called Taksu on the kaja north side devoted to the god of one’s art or profession. A performers will make offerings at this shrine for as long as the person performs. Great performances are said to have taksu. There will be a high throne-like altar in the auspicious northeast corner called a padmasana. It is orientated towards Mount Agung. If a member of the family cannot attend a particular temple ceremony, he will pray at this shrine instead. There is also always a roofed single compartment shrine in the family compound, but not in the family temple, the Sanggah Pengijeng, whose spirit protects the property. It usually stands in the centre of the compound. Kitchens and wells always have small shrines, often high up out of the way, devoted to Brahma, god of fire, and Wisnu, god of water.