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The Holy Springs of TIRTA EMPUL: Bali’s Sacred Pool of Purification

 

For over a thousand years, Balinese Hindu worshipers have been drawn to Pura Tirta Empul (Holy Water Temple), whose sacred springs are said to have been created by The God Indra and possess curative properties. This tradition still continues almost unchanged, and today, aside from worshipers, tourists from all over the world also come to this place to marvel at its beauty, and bathe in its refreshing blessed water.

The Holy Springs of TIRTA EMPUL: Bali’s Sacred Pool of Purification
Photo source : www.dailymail.co.uk

During his recent holiday in Bali last June 2017, former US President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Natasha, made Tirta Empul one of their selected sites to visit and experience.

The Holy Springs of TIRTA EMPUL: Bali’s Sacred Pool of Purification
Photo source : www.dailymail.co.uk

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 provide some of the most fascinating views you will ever see.

The Holy Springs of TIRTA EMPUL: Bali’s Sacred Pool of Purification
Image source : Shutterstock

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.

The Holy Springs of TIRTA EMPUL: Bali’s Sacred Pool of Purification
Image source : Shutterstock

As soon as you enter 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 Pura. '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 than other Kala carvings elsewhere since it has fangs that stick upwards and a pair of hands with open arms.

The Holy Springs of TIRTA EMPUL: Bali’s Sacred Pool of Purification
Image source : Shutterstock

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 water spouts 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 for prohibited to be used by the living for the 'melukat' ritual.

The Holy Springs of TIRTA EMPUL: Bali’s Sacred Pool of Purification
Image source : Shutterstock

Behind the purification pools is 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 to visit and relax after the hustle and bustle of the purification pools. This is 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.

The Holy Springs of TIRTA EMPUL: Bali’s Sacred Pool of Purification
Image source : Shutterstock

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.

Tirta Empul is dedicated to Vishnu, the Hindu God of water. An inscription dates the founding of a temple at the site to 926 AD. 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 or six most holy temples in all of Bali and is considered one of the most holy water source in Bali (the other being Pura Ulun Danu at Lake Beratan).

 

The Legend of Creation

The Balinese believe that the creation of Tirta Empul involves the legend of an epic battle between a powerful and magical king named Mayadenawa and the God Indra. Mayadenawa possessed the spiritual power to transform himself into any form he desired. But he became careless with his powers and used them for black magic. A priest named Sang Kulputih prayed to the God Indra to put an end to the evil king. Indra and his soldiers managed to defeat Mayadenawa's forces, and left the wicked king and what's left of his troops running for their life.

Later, Mayadenawa snuck into Indra's camp when the army slept. He created a beautiful but poisonous pond 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- thus this is believed to be the origin of the name 'Tampak Siring' which translates as 'tilted footprint'.In the morning Indra awoke to find many of his men dead and scores more sick and dying. It was then, through his mighty power that the God Indra pierced the ground with his staff, creating the sacred healing springs of holy water which came to be known as Tirta Empul.

Knowing that his plan had failed, Mayadenawa franticly tried to transform himself into all sorts of different beings but to no avail, since Indra continued to chase him. When at last he transformed himself into a boulder, Indra shot an arrow through it, pierced 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 to grow rapidly, but having an awful reek and tainted with blood. The Hindu Balinese 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.

 

Photo source of header banner : Shutterstock

 

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