The History of ‘Pura’ – the Hindu Temples of Bali

The History of 'Pura' - the Hindu Temples of Bali.

What is a ‘Pura’ in Hinduism?

A pura is a Balinese Hindu temple and the place of worship for followers of Hinduism in Indonesia. The term pura originates from the Sanskrit word (-pur, -puri, -pura, -Puram, -pore), meaning “city,” “towered city,” or “palace.” Many puras have been constructed in Bali, leading it to be called “the Island of a Thousand Puras.”

There are several types of pura serving certain Hindu rituals throughout the Indonesian calendar.

  1. Pura kahyangan jagad: Pura kahyangan jagad is situated in Bali island’s hilly region, built upon volcano slopes or mountains. The hills are deemed as the sacred magical realm, the home of gods.
  2. Pura Desa: Pura Desa is the type of Pura dedicated to Bhagwan Brahma – the creator of the Universe
  3. Pura dalem: Pura dalem is Pura’s type dedicated to worshiping Shiva, Shakti, and Parvathi. In the human life cycle, the temple is linked to rituals related to death. It is also common for a pura dalem to have a large tree like a kepuh or banyan tree, usually also used as a shrine. 
  4. Pura Tirta: “Water temples,” a kind of pura other than religious function, also have water management function as part of the highly organized Subak irrigation system. The priests in these temples are allowed to manage the water allocation among rice paddies in the towns surrounding the temple. 
  5. Pura puseh: Pura puseh is a kind of pura dedicated to Vishnu. 
  6. Pura Mrajapati: Puri Mrajapati is a type of pura to worship Prajapati or the cosmic might. Most often, in this temple, Brahma and Mahadev are worshipped in his form as Prajapati.

The History of ‘Pura’ – the Hindu Temples of Bali.

Bali has several important Hindu temples founded by a Majapahit Brahmin from Java, named Nirartha, to honor Hindu gods. Each of the temples is traditionally said to be visible from the next, forming a ‘chain’ around the Bali Coast. However, the Puras (temple construction) is older than history itself.

The precise origins of these Hindu temples in Bali are unclear, but its importance as a revered site almost indeed records from prehistoric days. The stone bases of Pura Penataran Agung and many other temples resemble megalithic stepped pyramids, which date back at least 2,500 years. Yes, people worshipped Hindu gods in Bali as early as time itself. 

However, according to recorded history, the puras were undoubtedly used as a Hindu place of worship from 1284 CE, when the first Javanese Hindus settled in Bali. By the 15th century, Besakih had become a state temple of the ruling Gelgel dynasty.

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