The Start of an Adventure

As we flew off to Bali for the New Year’s, the newspapers screamed of the recent volcanic activity in Mount Agung. My mind raced to the oldest and the holiest temple of the Hindus in Bali – The Pura Besakih. Perched on the slopes of Mount Agung for more than a thousand years in Eastern Bali, the Pura Besakih temple is a highly revered place. If the volcano erupts and spews thick plumes of ash and lava, it could destroy this temple. “Should we risk going in the hazardous zone?” Sam and I discussed with Eddie, our local guide and friend in Bali. He gave us a big Thumbs Up. We were ready for our adventure.

The glorious Pura Besakih temple with Mount Agung at the back.

The next day by noon we entered a forest area in Rendang. Banners all over warned that the area was hazardous. The villages around looked barren. The car meandered its way to the Pura Besakih temple. Though motorbikes are the preferred mode to commute to the temple, I could see none around. There were just a few tourists besides the locals. Perhaps we weren’t the only crazy ones here, there were others like us. We bought our IDR 60.000 ticket each which included the services of a local guide and a sarong to wear.

The Beauty of Pura Besakih

Erected on seven ascending levels, Pura Besakih temple is a complex of 23 separate temples. A huge flight of stairs lead up the path to a split gateway. Carvings and figurines from Ramayana and Mahabharata adorn either side of the stairway. The symmetrical structures, parallel ridges and looming temples at different levels add dimension to this beautiful temple. My eyes searched for the mountain that was simmering and fuming in this corner of the world. So close yet still far, I could see the silhouette of Mount Agung, silent for now. When will there be another outburst of its fury?

Every level of the temple displays the finesse of Balinese art and architecture. Multicoloured banners fluttering in the breeze signify that the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the “destroyer of the evil ” within the Hindu Trinity. The stepped terraces and stairs lead to different courtyards and brick gateways. The main spire or Meru structure is called Pura Penataran Agung. Pura Penataran Agung is the nuclei of the temple and dates back to the seventeenth century. Pura Batu Madeg situated to the northwest of the temple is devoted to Lord Vishnu, the preserver with gorgeous spires reaching up to the sky. Lord Brahma, the Creator, houses in the Pura Kduling Kreteg, that lies to the Southeast of the complex. The alignment of the temple structures along a single axis and the giant stairway instils a feeling of peace and a spiritual connect with the One. Everything is serene and calm. Surrounded by scenic rice paddies, hills, mountains and streams, it’s paradisiacal. Pura Besakih welcomes every devotee from any caste groups. Known as ‘The Mother Temple of Bali ‘ it is the primal centre of ceremonial activities and devotees come to offer gifts, flowers and take back its holy water.

Volcanic Eruption at Mount Agung and a Miracle

If there is a moment that I cannot forget is when the torrential rains started hitting us as soon as we reached the top of the temple. Within few minutes everything was blurred and the visibility was poor. Nature was in its fury. The thunder and the rumbling in the skies made us rush for shelter in one of the gift shops. “What will happen to the temple if there is a volcanic eruption? ” “Nothing”, pat came the reply from the shopkeeper.  In 1963, when Mount Agung last erupted, it killed approximately 1,700 people with its volcanic gases and lava and threatened to destroy Pura Besakih. Isn’t it a strange coincidence that the lava streams missed the temple complex each time in its series of eruptions? This inexplicable account was regarded by the Balinese nothing short of a miracle. An hour later, the rains turned to a drizzle. As I walked down the stairway, Eddie turned to us and smiled. “See! I told you I’ll take you back O.K. Nothing happens in Pura Besakih.”

Note: Two weeks later the volcano erupted again. Thankfully, no damage to either human or the temple has been reported. To know more click here.

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