The Cultural Significance of Temples in Everyday Indonesia

Temples are rooted into Indonesian culture in a way that even everyday houses are designed as temples. It brings such a humble spirit and enchantment over the unique architecture.

More than 20,000 temples are scattered around Bali alone, this tropical paradise. Pura is the name of Balinese Hindu temple where strict rules coordinate their design. The word Pura pulls its roots from Sanskrit with the meaning walled city“ or palace“.

Not only temples, flowers which represent offerings are composed in certain order. Though Indonesia is mostly a Muslim country, temples are intertwined into its existence specially to Bali which is also named Island of Gods or Island of thousand temples. Buddhist and Hindu temples thus shower the mutual respect and diversity of culture.

Meaning of pura

In every village there is at least three temples at Bali. Their functions are their main characteristic but there are basically 3 different kind of Pura temples. Pura is balinese type of hindu temples.

Pura Puseh is temple dedicated to Brahma or the God of creation. Pura Desa is the temple as place where Vishnu or God of life resides. Pura Dalem is the temple of God Shiva or God of death and reincarnation.

Location of pura is another distinguishing factor so we recognize:

Pura kahyangan jagad is temple located in the mountains or volcanoes that pervade the islands. The clearest example is Mother temple of Besakih which finds its place at the Mount Agung.

Besakih temple around Mount Agung at the eastern Bali- photo by Bali tours
Besakih temple around mount Agung at eastern Bali- photo by Bali tours

Pura tirta or water temples serve the irrigation function as mostly rice fields are surrounded by these temples. They can also have the meaning of sacred water performing the purifying rituals. The lake temples are also considered as water temples. Pura Tirta Empul near the town of Ubud is the most famous example.

Pura segara or sea temples are majestic structures mostly used during Melasti rituals. The finest example include Uluwatu temple, Tanah Lot in Tabanan near Denpasar, Pura Rambut Siwi as one of the largest hindu temples in Bali not far from Denpasar. Also you should pay attention to Pura Paluang due to its unusual function as the cliffside temple of cars located at Nusa Penida.

Lesser known sea temples include:

Pura Sakenan is a majestic architectural wonder located on the small island Sakenan easily reachable from Kuta.

Pura Sakenan- temple located at the small island Sakenan close to Denpasar- photo by Meta trip

Pura Sakenan Temple, temple located at the small island Sakenan close to Denpasar- photo by Meta Trip

Pura Mas Suka delights with the cliff views nestled among the southern corner of Bali at Bukit Peninsula.

Pura Pulaki is permeated with the astonishing sculptures just along the coast and monkeys with their guiding hand. It’s located in the Buleleng area at the most western point of Bali near Banyu Poh village.

Pura Pulaki Temple is a sea temple located west of Singaraja- photo by Gerke house

Pura Pulaki Temple is a sea temple located west to Singaraja at Bali- photo by Gerke House

Other Hindu temples in Indonesia:

Candi or Javanese Hindu temples

The word candi itself derives from Sanskrit word Candikargha dedicated to the Goddess Durga. After the arising of Islam through Indonesia in 15. century worship at Hindu temples starts to decrease. Though some of them were reconstructed in 19. century, their function is mostly active during festivals.

The most representative examples of Candi temples which are located at Java are:

Candi Prambanan is the largest hindu temple complex consisting of 240 temples. Their carvings illustrate the events from Ramayana.

Candi Sambisari is and underground temple dating from 9. century. It’s located in the village Purwomartani, not far from Yogyakarta.

Candi Gunung Kawi is located at Bali near Ubud decorated with some astonishing carvings.

Kuil or indian hindu temples

Kuil is the Indonesian name for Indian Hindu temples, otherwise known as kovil. Medan and Jakarta are the most common points of these temples that evolved due to Indian immigration into Indonesia through the 19. century. They follow the architectural style preserved in India.

Sri Mariamman Temple in Medan is the oldest one dating from 1884.

Tips to visit indonesian temples:

As the place of worship temple holds a special vibration which is preserved following certain rules.

  1. Dress in an appropriate manner:

Rule upon which the birds can adjust too is the golden shine of temples. Your shoulders and legs should be covered which refers both to men and women.

Of course, sarongs are available for rent. This is a multifunctional scarf designed in different colored patterns. It can be used as a skirt, scarf or even blanket. It is used both for men and women. Sarong is an inseparable part of Indonesian culture and it’s advised to be worn in public at least once a month by the president Joko Widodo.

Flip-flops are acceptable. Special attention should be given to the hair style to represent a neat look.

  1. Don’t enter a temple if you’re menstruating

Though specially addressed to women, this rule should be applicable to anyone who’s bleeding.

  1. No vandalism

The ancient sacred spirit of temples should be preserved. Stones should not be damaged in any way either by sitting or drawing unto them.

  1. Don’t step unto flower offerings at the streets

Flower offerings or Canang Sari is a tradition rooted at almost every corner of Bali. These adorable sights are expressions of gratitude as every morning Balinese people consider as a new beginning. These small boxes of woven coconut leaves are filled with flowers, rice, snacks, sugar cane and bananas. Perfume is permeated through the structure symbolizing peace.

Flower offerings consists of handwoven baskets of coconut filled with flowers, rices and snacks- photo by Indoneo

Flower offerings consists of handwoven baskets of coconut filled with flowers, rice and snacks- photo by Indoneo

Each flowery color has a unique meaning creating a divine vibe. They’re arranged according to the East, West, North or South side and dedication to the proper God or Goddess. Colors are carefully chosen.

The name itself originates from Kawi language and would be translated as such: Ka means beautiful and Nang means purpose. The main idea is to awake the beauty by offering gratitude to the Balinese God Sang Hyang Widhi.

  1. Don’t point your feet towards shrines, your finger unto somebody and don’t touch other people

Modest behavior is the key when entering the temple. Holy objects should have a distance of your feet so the best way is to sit in lotus, half-lotus or on your heels in the Balinese style.

  1. Respect the local rules and make a donation

Each temple is following its own rules so you should adjust to the circumstances. The essence of each temple comes with the religious processions so you should not disturb. During a prayer is not a proper time to enter.

Making selfies should be considered in a neat way so you should not push yourself to make a photo specially around the group.

Entrance to the most of the temples is free, but the donations are widely appreciated.

Structure and design of the temples:

The main characteristic of Balinese Hindu temples is their design as the open air structure while pretty decorated gates are split around. On the other hand Indian temples are focused on the indoors. Gopuram at the Indian temples is the most fascinating entrance décor, the tower filled with ornaments.

Balinese Hindu temples follow the rule of third:

  1. Nista Mandala is the courtyard, the outside area offering the entrance to the temple. Everyone can visit this area, particularly tourists as this is non-praying area. Sometimes the religious dance performances are held here.
  2. Madya Mandala is the middle area serving as the place where the facilities are done. Temple’s kitchen is also held here. This area is open only to those who want to pray.
  3. Utama Mandala is central, the most sacred point of the temple. Only those who want to pray are allowed to enter. It’s the place where different statues of deities are placed.

Design of the gates at Indonesian temples respectively shows the deeper functions and its enchanting spirit. Two main functions are linked with Indonesian temple gates. First, it serves to indicate frontiers. Second, it creates an opening place in the buildings. Gates represent the majestic meaning of the main structure.

Ancient beliefs and religious scriptures say that the proper construction would bring happiness to the people.

Two types of gates should be recognized:

  1. Candi Bentar are the split gates with two similar buildings divided at the same distance. The pure spirit of open air temple comes in to force.
  2. Parudaksa or Kori Agung is a typical tower gate enriched with ornaments. It pulls its origins from India and its gopuram, the classical tower that decorated the entrance. Kori Agund is the Muslim name of the same structure as many mosques in Indonesia offer welcome properly with Kori agung. The purest example is one of the oldest mosques Menara Kudus Mosque in central Java.

Candi Bentar Gates, typical shape of split gates- photo by Now Bali

Candi Bentar Gates, typical shape of split gates- photo by Now Bali

Hinduism through history in Indonesia

With the rays of first century Hinduism breaks through Indonesia where kings established the significance of temples. Though Hinduism exists as minor religion, temples sealed the ancient magic. Simultaneously Hinduism starts to blend with Buddhism. Borobudur as one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world shines in its hidden traces at central Java. It was established in its glory during the short time of British rule at Java at the beginning of 19. century. Now it’s the official place of worship specially during religious festivals like Vesak. Vesak celebrates the time when Siddhartha Gautama experienced realization becoming holly Buddha.

After the bloom of Islam in Indonesia during the 13. century it soon became the official religion. During the Dutch colonnial empire Indonesia became the hank of tolerance and all pervading religious influences.

The most amazing temples to visit in Indonesia

  1. Lempuyang temple

The most famous temple of Bali is located at its easter shores near the town of Karangasem. Also known as the Gates of Heaven one of the most instagrammable spots in Bali reflects nothing but a trick photography. It’s one of the oldest temples in Bali nestled upon 1175m above sea level with 1700 steps to climb through. You will be gifted with the most scenic panorama of Bali here.

Lepuyang Temple, scenic temple at the eastern shore of Bali near Karangasen- photo by Outlook India

Temple Lepuyang, scenic temple at the eastern shore of Bali near Karangasem- photo by Outlook India

  1. Goa Gajah

Goa Gajah near Ubud is a charming cave complex including some bathing pools and fountains. This whole ancient area from 8.-10. century is embraced by rice fields.

Temple Goa Gajah, cave temple near Ubud- photo by Best Bali Holiday Tours

Temple Goa Gajah, cave temple near Ubud- photo by Best Bali Holiday Tours

  1. Tanah Lot

Exclusive setting of an mini island is a picture postcard story. Located in Tabanan on the west side of Bali this is a perfect sunset stage. The legend says that temple was established by a monk who found his meditation place here.

Tanah Lot, sea temple in Tabanan- photo by Viator tours

Temple Tanah Lot, sea temple in Tabanan- photo by Viator Tours

  1. Uluwatu Temple

Though Uluwatu is quite dispersed place, it’s framed upon the stunning cliff views. One of them is Uluwatu temple which is settled at steem cliff about 70 meters high. Surrounded by the abundant forest temple offers fantastic sunset scenery. You can witness an amazing Kecak dance every day from 6pm.

As it’s quite isolated from the town without public transport, the best way to get there is by taxi or rented car.

  1. Pura Ulun Danu Beratan

Situated at the Beratan lake at central Bali within the town of Tabanan this temple is the newer date, from 17. century. The scenic mountain views are permeated with iconic Balinese spirit. This is a popular touristic and recreational spot with various water sports specially for locals. The Eka Karya Botanical Gardens in the close proximity offer the additional value.


Indonesian temples don’t offer only architectural beauty and spiritual enchantment but also a unique approach to the sacred spirit. They’re deeply rooted into the culture making everyday life a threshold of humbleness.

Historical insights bring understanding not only to multiple religions at one place but to enchanting Indonesian appearance. These impressive landmarks have managed to battle the struggle of time whistling of hidden corners and forgotten essence. Engraved into Indonesian way of life temples speak of acceptance and amazement to focus.

Though most expressive during festive days, temples hold the vision to embrace, a challenge to win. Incredible architecture and stunning views invite so picturesquely to visit Indonesia. Elegant as they are, Indonesian temples will splash you with exquisite mystery and thousand secrets to hold. Open-air position of Hindu temples is the most astonishing way to hold the breath under these majestic wonders. The most splendid way to dive into Indonesian culture is definitely by visiting its temples, the stunning beauty that speaks of thousand magic truths to find.

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