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Best of Bali
Arts l Dances l Temples

In every village in Bali, there are several temples and at least one small one in each home. One can therefore safely say that there are more temples than homes in Bali. Most of these temples are shrines and might not be regarded as actual temples, but the number of walled compounds are believed to reach to a total of 10,000. The word for temple in Bali is pura, which in Sanskrit means 'space surrounded by a wall'. Simple shrines or thrones are found everywhere and at all sorts of unusual places. Although many temples are quiet and uninhabited, they are transformed into colorful, active and ornately decorated places of worship when there is a festival. Offerings would be made, while performances of traditional dances and gamelan, cockfighting and gambling liven up the atmosphere.

All temples derive their orientation from the mountains and the sea. Kaja, which is the direction toward the mountains, is the most significant direction. The direction toward the sea is kelod. Sunrise, or kangin, also plays a major part and most secondary shrines are found in this direction.

Temple Types

There are three basic types of temple in every village. Pura Puseh (temple of origin) remains the most prominent and is reserved for founders of villages. It is always situated at the kaja end of the village. In the middle of the village is the pura desa, which is for the spirits that protect and bless the villagers in their daily lives. At the kelod end of the village is the pura dalem or temple of the dead as well as the graveyard. The pura dalem would have representations of Durga, the dark and terrible side of Shiva's wife, Parvati. Both Shiva and Parvati have a creative and destructive side, and it is their powers of destruction that are honored in the pura dalem.

Since rice is such an important produce in Bali, there are temples dedicated to the spirits of irrigated agriculture. These temples are called pura subak or pura ulun suwi. Apart from these local temples, Bali has a few great temples. There are family temples, clan temples, and village temples in the pura puseh. Then come the temples of royalty or state temples.

Temple Architecture

Balinese houses are often beautiful but will never be lavished with the architectural detail reserved for temples. Most of the decorative features and sculpture associated with Balinese buildings are traditionally present in temples. A typical temple should have the basic elements but larger ones may have a few more courtyards and shrines.

Temple Sculpture and Decoration

Balinese temples feature inextricably bound architecture and sculpture. The gateways are covered with intricate carvings in every square inch. A series of diminishing demons' faces glare from above for protection and it is never completed without a couple of stone statues as guardians.

Levels of decoration vary. Smaller or less important temples may have limited or no sculpture at all. Others may be exuberantly detailed with intricate and interesting designs. Sculpture also deteriorates fairly rapidly, but is usually restored or replaced whenever resources permit.

Temple Etiquette

Dress appropriately before entering any temple. Women should not wear shorts or bare their shoulders. Shoes have to be removed while a traditional adat or sash must be tied around the waist. If the temple requires a sarong to be worn, there is always one for hire around the area. Ladies take note; do not enter the temple if you are menstruating. Anyone with a bleeding cut should also avoid entry because there is a general sanction against blood on holy soil. When taking photographs during temple festivals, do not use the flash, stand directly in front of the priest, or walk in front of the kneeling congregation. Your head must never be higher than the priest's, so do not climb on temple walls to get a better view of the proceedings. You must also not remain standing when people kneel to pray. When in Rome, do as the Romans do - the same rules apply to Bali.

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