Of Temples and Dragons
tales from the East have always been wreathed in shades of mystery and
the adventures of some of the earliest recorded visitors, especially those
early scholars and preachers who came to Bali between the 12th and 16th
century, have become part of the mythology and history of the island.
The border between myth and historical fact is undefineable, but in these
ancient tales we find the roots of many of the religious practices, places
of worship, and beliefs of the people.
glamorous aura, and essential durability of the culture and religion are
the result of a multitude of such influences, some directly traceable
back to venerable holy men whose main purpose in life was to spread enlightenment
and share knowledge.
priest Danghyang Markandeya was one of these spiritual pioneers.
He came from the foothills of Mt. Mahameru in East Java with a group of
followers and set about establishing a place of meditation on the slopes
of Mt. Agung in Bali. The
site of this monastery was to become the most important place in Bali,
Pura Besakih, the "mother temple" of the island's Hindu
Markandeya taught a belief in one Almighty God known as Sanghyang Widhi,
to be worshipped in his many manifestations through offerings of three
elements : fire, water and fragrant flowers. In time prayer and offerings
became inseparable from daily life, necessary in order to ensure
the blessing of every venture. This preoccupation with offerings or bebali
so dominated the everyday life that the island became known as Bali.
the auspices of this spiritual leadership the first Sad Kahyangan temples
were built : Pura Besakih, Pura Batur, Pura Sukawana,
Pura Batukau, Pura Andakasa and Pura Lempuyang, centres
of worship for all Hindu Balinese.
son of Danghyang Markandeya went on to further his spiritual work, becoming
famous in his own right. As high priest of Pura Besakih, Empu Sang
Kulputih further developed the art of offerings. Flowers, leaves,
fruit and cakes were
into these symbols of thanksgiving, each of which had specific shape,
colour and ingredients according to its purpose. In time local people
were brought into the priesthood, and the purification rites and ceremonies
associated with this became incorporated into the customary law. Hindu
mantra and prayer were translated into the Balinese language and transcribed
onto lontar palm-leaf.
Sang Kulputih was responsible for the introduction of ikons as focal points
for prayer. He taught the local people to carve beautiful images to this
purpose in wood, as well as casting them in metal and making them from
the Chinese coins, tying them together in the shape of mannikins. Special
rites were developed for these temple pieces, necessitating purification
ceremonies every 210 days. Bali's most important festivals evolved during
his time: Galungan, the great feast commemorating the victory of
good over evil, Kuningan, the closing day of this festival, Pagerwesi,
a day for protecting oneself and one's surroundings from evil influences.
Kuturan who arrived at Padang Bai in the 11th century and built a
retreat on the hillside overlooking the bay, Pura Silayukti, also
left a legacy of temple architecture and ritual that endures to this day.
He devised the philosophy of Bali's microcosmos and macrocosmos symbolized
by the bedawang turtle embraced by two intertwining dragons, above which
the various levels exist from manliness to godliness: a universe within
pilgrim priest conceived the complex building law of Bali, designed to
ensure harmony between building and user, based upon a system of body
measurements, ratio and ceremony. His teaching, the hasta kosala kosali,
ensured that the priest-architect or undagi was aware of the powers
of directions and so able to base the layout of buildings and compounds
in optimum positions. His manuscript on Hindu-Bali ritual, the Widhi
Tat Twa, formed the basis of the religion out of which later developed
literally thousands of specific rituals.
itinerant preacher, Danghyang Nirartha, alias Pedanda Sakti Wawu
Rauh, (literally translated as the "powerful priest who just arrived"),
was to follow in his footsteps several centuries later. His journey around
the island, teaching and spreading a combination of Sivaism and Buddhism
that was to strongly influence Bali's Hindu Dharma religion, inspiring
the erection of more monumental temples and using his spiritual powers
to avert natural disasters, was a 'tour de force' that will forever be
recorded in the annals of Balinese legend. He was the founder of the Balinese
Brahmana caste, defining their spiritual role as priests and makers
of tirtha holy water.
1489 or thereabouts this illustrious personage arrived from Blambangan,
Java, with his family. His departure from the Royal Courts of Blambangan
was precipitated by a pressing need to escape the embarrassing attentions
of one of the wives of his royal sponsor, who had fallen unremittingly
in love with him. It is said that he crossed the ocean between Bali and
Java on a mere pumpkin shell, paddling with his hands, whilst his family
sailed in a leaking dugout, the holes of which had been stopped up with
the leaves of the same plant. To this day the Brahmana caste in Bali are
forbidden to eat the fruit of this plant, although very few are aware
of the reason why.
arrival of this strange contingent upon the beach of Jembrana no doubt
caused some astonishment, and had lasting effect. They took shelter from
the hot sun and rested in the shade of an ancak tree. A temple
was later built here and give the name Pura Ancak, and the place
is still known as Purancak,
journey records a dramatic episode, bordering on the light fantastic,
as they followed the coastline eastwards, when the party was confronted
by a huge naga, or dragon-snake. Our hero, a veritable Jonah, is said
to have entered right into the jaws of the monster, and within its murky
realms he found and picked a beautiful lotus flower. His trials, however,
were not yet over .....
his family saw him reappear from the jaws of the naga, a psychedelic
mass of flames, they fled in panic far into the forest, and by the time
the adventurer returned to his normal level of consciousness, were nowhere
to be found.
searching f ar and wide he managed to find all except Dewi Swabawa,
his stunningly beautiful daughter. It was some time before he was able
to trace her, as she had been taken by a man to the village of Pegametan.
Beside himself with fury that his daughter should "empu laki",
or fall prey to the attentions
of a man, be cursed the entire village. Pegametan was reduced to ashes,
and its dwellers fated to roam the earth as lost
souls, forever invisible to man except in their ghostly form as
"wong gamang", strange monkeys and tigers with human
for beautiful Dewi Swabawa, he redeemed her loss of virtue by releasing
her from her material body, renaming her Dalem Melanting, in which
form she was deified. A temple was built for her at the northern beach
of Buleleng, and named Pura Empulaki or Pulaki, and so that
all people should worship her spirit she was given the power of blessing
people with prosperity. In time every centre of commerce in Bali erected
a Pura Melanting. Now every vendor has a tiny altar
on which daily offerings of flower and incense are placed to ensure
a profitable day.
Nirartha finally resumed his journey, heading back along the southern
shore. At a village named Gadingwangi he came across a plague of illness.
Taking pity on the stricken villagers he meditated and prepared holy water
or tirta penawar and cured them of the scourge. Overwhelmed with
gratitude, they beseeched him to stay and teach them his religion. However,
his mission in Bali was to visit the presiding Raja of Gelgel, Dalem
Batu Renggong, so he presented them with a hair from his head assuring
them that through this medium he would protect them from further disaster.
hair was placed in a temple named Pura Rambut Siwi, "the temple
of Siwa's hair", which is still today a stopping place for all those
who journey to and from Java, who pause to ask for holy water and the
blessing of a safe journey.
priest then continued his journey on foot to a place where a huge rocky
outcrop jutted into the sea. Here he rested for a while, to meditate.
The local people, bearing of the presence of a great holy man, came to
beg his wise words, philosophy and healing. In respect to him they built
a beautiful temple high on this promontory overlooking the ocean, which
became known as Pura Tanah Lot, a name derived from the words "tengah
laut" or "in the middle of the sea". To this day Tanah
Lot attracts a continual flow of visitors, both those who come to pray
and those who come to witness
the beauty of the location.
coastal path to the southeast was barred by immense jagged cliffs, so
Danghyang Nirartha continued his journey overland, making many a legend
en route with his visits in Mengwi, Kapal Tuban and at the Royal Puri
of Kiyayi Arya Tegeh Kuri, the Raja of Badung.
route from Tuban to Badung, he came across a terrible flood at Buagan,
where the entire village was swamped in water. Taking pity on the suffering
of the villagers he gave them a stave with magic writing upon it, telling
them to stab it into the ground in front of the flooding water. Suddenly
the waters; rose up, forming a great wave, and with a great roar rolled
back from whence they came. Amazed by this miracle, the local people showered
gifts of fruit and food on the traveller.
resting a while at the Puri in Badung, he received a deputation from the
village of Mas, asking for the honour of a visit. The chief of the
time the news of the coming of Danghyang Nirartha reached the court of
Gelgel. Raja Dalem Baturenggong sent a delegation to ask the priest to
come to Gelgel as soon as possible.
arrival in Gelgel they found that the Raja had gone on a hunting trip,
so they followed him to his bunting lodge at Teluk Padang (Padang
Bai). The royal hunting expedition had met with little success, so Danghyang
Nirartha suggested that the Raja once more send out his hunters and fishermen.
As they went about their task he silently called the fish of the sea and
the animals of the forest, to sacrifice themselves. The nets were full
and the huntsmen laden with trophies, and the Raja duly impressed. He
then sat down for an audience with the great ruler, and they spent time
in serious; discussion of philosophy and religion.
their return to the Royal Palace at Gelgel the next day, the priest once
more exhibited his amazing spiritual powers. A flooded river blocked the
path of the royal carriage, but with special mantra the priest was able
to induce the horses to gallop across the surface of the water.
special courtyard in the Palace was alloted to the eminent visitor, and
he proceeded with his duties as a spiritual teacher. Every purnama
(full moon) and tilem (dead moon) he came to the Raja to minister
prayer and holy water, and under his, guidance Dalem Baturenggong greatly
improved his power and standing as a ruler. However, the Raja still refused
to take the last step, a purification ceremony known as "madiksa".
It was not until a vision of the almighty Mahadewa warned him of pestilence
and plague and enemies threatening the kingdom that be conceded to take
this spiritual step, and a great ceremony was held.
his dwelling in Gelgel and Mas, and his journeys around the island, Danghyang
Nirartha continued to carry out his self - ordained task of teaching religion
and philosophy. Many of the customs and rituals of religious ceremony
in Bali today have evolved from his teachings. Embracing both Shivaism
and Buddhism be taught these two great philosophies as parallels of the
same ultimate truth. Prior to his arrival in Bali there was much conflict
between these two followings and his influence did much to restore the
balance, bringing a new emphasis to the importance of yoga and meditation
within the religion.
his lifetime Danghyang Nirartha was to bequeath much to the island of
Bali. To his descendants from his several marriages, the forefathers of
Bali's Brahmana caste, he bequest the duty of the priesthood and spiritual
leadership. His pilgrimages throughout the island are recorded in Bali's
early lontar (palm-leaf) literature : Nirartha prakerti,
Darma Sunia, Haji Saraswati, Sebun Bangkung and Surakusuma,
to name just a few.
the temples built in his time are Pura Goa Lawah and Pura Tengkulak
in east Bali, Pura Ponjok Batu in east Buleleng, Pura Karang
Bolong and Pura Suranadhi in Lombok, Pura Masceti and
Pura Peti Tenget to the southwest of Denpasar.
his wanderings he discovered a place perfect for meditation and the worship
of God on the southernmost cliffs of Bali. Here he decided was the ideal
place for attaining Moksa (spiritual enlightenment), and ngeluhur,
the release from the physical being required to enter heaven. The temple
built here became known as Pura Luwur Uluwatu, and is today revered
by all Balinese as one of Bali's major kahyangan temples.
path of life or Danghyang Nirartha is said to have reached its end at
Pura Luhur Uluwatu. Those who witnessed his departure told of a bright
light that soared high into the sky and disappeared.
this day every ancestral family temple in Bali, in order to be complete,
must have one shrine with a black palm-fibre roof, a pelinggih uluwatu,
where offerings and worship are made to the soul of this great ancestor
and teacher of the Balinese Hindu religion.
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