Bali is an exception among some 13,000 Indonesian islands as the religion of the Balinese is based on the principles of nature and ancestors. Among the many estilan religious ceremonies in Bali, that are held every year, in long cycles of four and twenty-five years, the Eka Dasa Rudra is the most sacred of all, which is summoned every hundred years to purify the island and all its inhabitants, maintain social harmony and, above all, appease the Agung spirit.
Every object of creation possessed a soul, which implied that every being was bound. Even today the religious sense of the Balinese is expressed through behaviors of everyday life with the certainty through their cults and rituals. So every day they harmonize the world of gods and demons by rice offerings and flowers.
In prehistoric times, a stone monolith in the skirt of the powerful Agung already announced the fear and respect to the volcano of Bali. In the eighth century a priest from Java raised the first Hindu temple next to the pagan monolith, establishing elaborate religious ceremonies to calm the fury of the Agung.
This sacred mountain is to the Balinese what Olympus was to the ancient Greeks, the Cosmic Mountain. Agung is the central point of the celestial and religious cosmogony of the Balinese, the divine mountain which shelters the pantheon of the Gods. The Balinese mystics regard this volcano as the navel of the world, raised in the sky by the divinities to watch the earth and the men below them.
Since then, Besakih, which is the name the complex, has not stopped growing and today has 22 temples, spread over several kilometers above the fertile southern slopes extending to Agung. It is a sloping ground whose top rises to the so-called Pura Batu Madeg (Temple of the Lonely Stone), an old structure of terraces around a primitive megalithic monolith that suggests a cult.
Long back, Mount Agung already housed a sanctuary for the cult of the mountain and was considered a sacred mountain. The Balinese traditionally do not orient to the four cardinal points, but an axis kaja-kelod. Kaja indicates the direction of the mountains, source of blessings of the gods and the water that irrigates the rice terraces from it.
Kelod is the direction of the sea, where lurk the evil gods. The Balinese, accordingly, sleep, if they can, with the head turned to Kaja. This orientation is also that of temples, whose most sacred parts are closest to the mountains. The most revered is Mount Agung (the great mountain), the active volcano and highest point of the island, whose summit, often enveloped in clouds, rises to 3,142 meters.
There are few places on Earth where religion is also present in the lives of the inhabitants. Every day the gods and spirits receive new offerings called bali, filed into the sanctuary at the foot of statues, trees, at the crossroads, at the gates, in offices or on taxi dashboards. Everything in the rich and delicate Balinese culture has religion for primary motivation from gamelan music, dance, theater, which is given in representation for the gods in the innumerable ceremonies that take place every day in the 20,000 temples.
At Besakih come today many more tourists than devotees, but the temple remains exquisite as individual ceremonies take place every day in different altars and calm Agung so that the volcano is pleased. It is a visit that no one should miss when traveling to the Isle of the Gods.
This complex expresses the essential belief of the Balinese known as Tri Hita Karana, which means that life on earth must be lived and maintained in balance and harmony between man and God, man and society and his companions of the Humans, and man and his natural environment.
In faith the Balinese gods live on the tops of mountains and only during festivities they come to visit. Pura Besakih has something very light in itself and at the same time, these temples are a sensation that lives more in your soul than in your head. It is not easy to capture the multifaceted Balinese but in the Mother Temple of Bali you can feel the gates to heaven.
Wherever you are in Bali, you will always see the shadows of the outline of the mountain, as cut out in a giant blue-black paper that dominates the landscape. At his feet lies Pura Besakih, the Mother Temple of the Gods of the Island. When they are dissatisfied, the latter go down there to sow chaos on earth and to fill the forests with stones, ashes and ruins.
Ancient writings report that the sacred mountain of Bali awoke in 1350 AD, and then in the 19th century, sowing each time an unimaginable chaos but ultimately fertilizing the earth around Besakih to such an extent that from year to year the provisions of rice became pharaonic. Then Agung had gone back to sleep. From memory of men, never again had he scolded, until that fatal day of 1963.
The mother temple or Besakih is perched of course on Mount Agung. This huge complex brings together eighteen temples, which themselves include many buildings from the Meru towers to tiered roofs, symbolizing the mythical Mount Meru, home of the gods and the world axis, which, according to Balinese legend, the Agung is a piece. Covered with black palms, these towers give off something intimidating.
And in fact, the temple of Besakih is known for its dark atmosphere. Here is a more tangible manifestation of the dark side of Balinese, this threat which must be removed by prayers and offerings. Rangda, frightful queen of witches, mythical representation of evil whose perpetual struggle with the forces of good, is staged in the Barong dance.
In Bali the religious calendar has many feasts but the biggest celebration that a Balinese can have the honour to celebrate is the Eka Dasa Rudra, sort of feast of the redemption, which aims to purify the island and restore harmony in the world and that takes place only once every hundred years.
Eka Dasa Rudra is a little different from the others presented here because it is held only once a century. It is, therefore, the largest Balinese ritual, the most important of the celebrations. It is the rite of purification of the cosmos and the universe that takes place every 100 years in the largest mother temple of Bali, the Pura Besakih. Exceptionally, two ceremonies took place in the 20th century, the first in 1963 but interrupted by the eruption of Mount Agung, and a second took place in 1978.
Rudra is a rigvedic deity associated with wind or storm and hunting. In the Rigveda, Rudra has been praised as the most powerful of the powerful. In the Rig-Veda, Rudra's role as a fearsome god is apparent in references to him extremely frightening, who is is fierce as a formidable beast. Rudra is thus considered a sort of servile fear, as a deity whose anger must be minimized and whose favor must be earned.
During the festivities, which last several weeks, Balinese come to the great mother temple with offerings. At the height of the centennial sacrifice of the animals, one for each species is presented. Many animals are sacrificed and a painted bull with golden horns is led to the sea in order to create a balance with good and evil in the world.
According to myths, when the Earth was still young, the island of Bali suffered excessive torrential rains, continuous thunder and lightning, and earthquakes that lasted months. Then Pasupati, who resided on Mount Sumeru or Meru seeing this instability sent his three children to calm the situation.
One settled on Mount Batur, one on Agung, and one on belibis hills Lempuyang, and ensured stability. Therefore, the oldest temple in Bali is to Lempuyang Luhur, dedicated to Ishwara. But the most sacred is this on Mount Agung. While the territory of Batur is a place of rest.
From Stonehenge to Jerusalem, from Machu Picchu to Angkor Wat, or from Djenné to Uluru, we unveil the thousand and one facets of the most beautiful sacred places. Neolithic sites full of spirituality or sublime landscapes eliciting emotion, monumental religious buildings or secret sanctuaries, each of them invites you to discover the sacred in its universal dimension. For the sacred is not limited to the religious.