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A Guide to the Holy Springs of Tirta Empul: Bali’s Sacred Water Temple

One of the busiest water temples in Indonesia, Tirta Empul is a temple considered sacred by Balinese Hindu community. The temple has several holy springs which are said to have been created by The God Indra and believed to be blessed water that could purify those who bathe there. 

Tirta Empul is dedicated to Vishnu, the Hindu God of water. In the Balinese language, Tirta Empul loosely translated means water gushing from the earth, which for this reason Tirta Empul is regarded as a holy spring. The Tirta Empul Temple includes shrines to Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, as well as one for Indra and Mount Batur. It is considered one of the five most holy temples in all of Bali and is considered one of the holiest water sources in Bali. You can also find other holy water temples in Bali such as Pura Ulun Danu at Lake Beratan, Pura Tirta Tawar at Gianyar, Pura Tirta Harum at Bangli, Pura Tirta Taman Mumbul at Badung, and many more.

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Tirta Empul was founded in 926 A.D and is still being actively used to this day. Although it is a sacred place of worship to the locals, tourists from all over the world are welcome to experience the beauty and participate in the purification rituals. In 2017, the former US President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and daughters Malia and Natasha, made Tirta Empul one of their selected sites to visit and experience.

If you’re planning to visit Tirta Empul, here’s what to know more about this sacred temple:

 

The inside of Tirta Empul 

The Tirta Empul Holy Water Temple is located in the village of Manukaya, near the town of Tampaksiring, not far from Ubud, in the Gianyar Regency, the cultural heart of Bali. The temple is situated just below the Presidential Palace of Tampaksiring. Built-in 1957 by Indonesia's first president, Soekarno, the beautifully built palace itself is an important landmark of the island and the country. Together with the Presidential Palace, the Tirta Empul Holy Water Temple provides some of the most fascinating views you will ever see.

As a petirtaan or bathing center, Tirta Empul is quite a large temple complex and it takes at least 30 minutes to an hour to explore the entire site. Just as at other temples and sacred sites around the island, you will need to put on a 'sarong' before entering the premises. The sarongs are available at the temple's entrance and can be rented for a small donation.

As soon as you enter the temple, you will walk through the large stone Balinese gate (locally known as candi bentar) and arrive in the outer courtyard of the temple. This area of the temple is called jaba sisi. At the end of the courtyard is another candi bentar built into the wall that leads to the central courtyard. This gate is guarded by smoothly carved huge statues of two Dwarapala or guardians given a brush of golden colors. At the top of the gate is a carving of Kala which is quite different from other Kala carvings elsewhere since it has fangs that stick upwards and a pair of hands with open arms.

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Entering the inner courtyard, you will arrive at the jaba tengah area which is the main area of the temple. The holy springs here bubble up into a large, crystal-clear pool within the temple and gush out through 30 waterspouts into the two sacred purification pools. Local Balinese and Hindu worshippers stand in long lines in the pools waiting to dip their heads under the waterspouts in a purification ritual known as melukat. Bathers start in the pool on the left side standing in the pool to the waist under the first water spout. Once they have cleansed themselves under the first spout they join the next queue. This process is continued until they have cleansed themselves under each waterspout. However, there are two spouts that are meant only for cleansing the dead and are prohibited to be used by the living for the melukat ritual.

Behind the purification, pools are the final section of the Tirta Empul Holy Water Temple, called the jeroan. Mostly overlooked by tourists, the jeroan or inner courtyard is a pleasant place where people come to pray. The front part of the courtyard is dominated by the large water spring that feeds the purification pools. The spring is filled with green algae and small fish swim among the reeds. Behind the springs are large Hindu shrines. This part of the temple is nice to quickly explore. The shrines are brightly decorated, which contrasts with the starched white clothing of the Balinese who come here to pray.

As you exit Tirta Empul you pass through a large pool filled with koi fish. This section of the temple is walled off on all four sides from the rest of the complex, which gives it a calm and relaxing atmosphere. Fat koi swim lazily in the pond waiting for their next meal.

 

The Legend of Creation

Based on a manuscript called Usana Bali, the creation of Tirta Empul involves the myth of an epic battle between a powerful yet wicked king named Mayadenawa and a God, Bhatara Indra. The king did not believe in God, and forbade his subject from worshipping God. He was also dangerous. He possessed a spiritual power but was too drunk with his power and carelessly used it for black magic. Seeing the chaos, a priest named Sang Kulputih prayed to Bhatara Indra to put an end to the evil king.

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Later, Bhatara Indra and his warriors came to attack Mayadenawa and dethroned him. Mayadenawa and his troops fled to the north of a village which is now known as ‘Tampak Siring’. At night, when Bhatara Indra’s army were deep asleep, Mayadenawa snuck into their camp and created a beautiful but poisonous spring that the army would drink from upon waking up. When Mayadenawa crept into the camp, he walked on the sides of his feet so as not to leave footprints--this is believed to be the origin of the village’s name, 'Tampak Siring', which translates as 'tilted footprint'.

In the morning, Bhatara Indra awoke to find his men were poisoned to death. It was then, through his power as a God that he pierced the ground with his staff, creating a sacred healing spring of holy water. The water was sprayed onto the dead army and they came back to life. This water source which is believed to have healing properties and a source of life came to be known as Tirta Empul.

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Knowing that his plan had failed, Mayadenawa tried to transform himself into all sorts of different beings but to no avail, since Bhatara Indra continued to chase him. When at last he transformed himself into a boulder, Indra shot an arrow through it, and eventually killed the evil king. The blood of Mayadenawa that gushed from the boulder is believed to have formed the Petanu River, and for over a thousand years, the river was cursed making rice grow rapidly, but having an awful reek of blood. The Balinese Hindu people commemorate the death of Mayadenawa every 210 days in the Balinese traditional calendar as the day when Virtue triumphs over Evil in the ritual and ceremony called Galungan.

 

How To Get There

Tirta Empul temple is located roughly 14 km northeast of Ubud. If you stay around Ubud town center, you will need approximately a 30 minutes ride. But if you plan to go to Tirta Empul directly once you arrive at Ngurah Rai Airport, it will take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes long. Here are several options for you to get you there:

 

1.  Rent a Scooter

Driving a scooter would be the most affordable and easiest option to get to Tirta Empul Temple. You can easily rent a scooter anywhere in Bali because there are many scooter rental services you can find around the island. 

One scooter costs around 50K - 70K rupiahs a day, you will also get a helmet and make sure to wear it because it’s mandatory in Indonesia. Make sure to bring a map or have a stable internet for your online maps to get there.

 

2.  Rent a Car

Renting a car is also a great option if you travel with a larger group or with your family. Just like renting scooters, car rental services are also accessible everywhere in Bali. You can also find car rentals in online services. 

There are two options available :

  • A self-driving car, the cost starts from 215K to 5 million rupiahs depending on which car you want to use.

  • Car with driver, the cost starts from 550K to 2 million rupiahs depending on which car you want to use.

 

3.  Join a tour

Joining a tour would be the least challenging way to get to Tirta Empul. It’s the ideal option, if you are not comfortable riding a scooter or renting a car. There are plenty of tour operations in the town center and you can book a tour to Tirta Empul. The cost varies depending on each operation and their options. 

 

A very unique yet incredible experience that you could ever have, visiting Tirta Empul definitely should be in your bucket list. After visiting the temple, there are more interesting sights and activities in Ubud that you can enjoy and put on your bucket list. See you in Bali!

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