Get in touch with Bali's
cultural heritage

Rita A. Widiadana, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

Bali is a land rich in culture and archaeological remains, which provides a clue to the island's ancient civilization.

One of the most comprehensive and important archaeological sites worth visiting is Pakerisan and Petanu riverbank areas in Gianyar, 40 kilometers northeast of Nusa Dua.

The area is now being promoted by the Indonesian government to be included as a World Heritage Site designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The riverbanks are full of evidence of prehistoric monuments -- holy temples, old caves, reliefs, tombs and other important archaeological remains -- revealing hidden clues of ancient Balinese kingdoms and the dissemination of Hinduism and Buddhism in Bali.

A short walk from Pakerisan river is one of the oldest caves called Goa Gajah, or the elephant cave, which has an amazing stone carving portraying an image of an elephant head.

First found in the l920s by a Western visitor, the cave was excavated in l954. The cave's entrance is decorated by sumptuous figures of elephant faces. Inside, there is a centuries-old statue of Ganesha, son of Hindu's god of Shiva.

A few hundred meters east of Goa Gajah, there is the ancient village of Bedulu, named after Beda-Hulu, the mythical pig-headed king, which was once the center of Balinese power.

Another important temple is Pura Samuan Tiga, located east of Bedulu's crossroads, a large and splendidly located temple of great importance to the whole island.

Pejeng is another old center of Bali's great kingdom, which either evolved or overlapped with the Bedulu dynasty. Pejeng boasts at least forty sites of ancient housing relics, making it one of Indonesia's richest archaeological zones.

One of the most amazing relics is a bronze drum called Moon of Pejeng -- the largest known relic from Southeast Asia's Bronze Age period. The drum is believed to be the wheel of the chariot of the moon goddess. The drum is being kept at Pura Penataran Asih temple.

Next to Pejeng is Gedong Arca archaeological museum, which houses a myriad of items.

The collections range from simple Paleolithic stone tools and blades through to the pre-Hindu Bronze Age to the golden era of Balinese Hindu-Buddhism and beyond. Of special interest are the large Bronze Age sarcophagi that have been excavated from many locations on the island.

There are several other major temples including Pura Kebo Edan, Pura Arjuna Metapa and Pura Pusering Jagat.

Gunung Kawi in Tampak Siring, north of Pejeng, is another significant site, which was known as the Valley of the Kings.

Tucked into deep, 23-foot high niches in the cliffs are candi, temple facades with false doors leading to the ""other world"". The temple is full of tombs containing the Balinese ruling dynasty from the year 1050 to about 1080. As kings and queens were cremated and their ashes cast into the sea, this candi contains no human remains and are not actual tombs but symbols of the deified royals.

In addition to archaeological sites, Bali is also well known for its rich variety of architectural styles.

Puri Agung Palace in Gianyar, one of Bali's oldest kingdoms, is the most complete traditional palace in Bali. Although it is not open to the public, some of its splendid inner gates and pavilion, its first courtyard are clearly visible from the street.

Water Palace in Klungkung, East Bali, home of Bali's most powerful kingdom, is another significant building in Bali.

One of a minuscule fraction of Bali's palaces to survive the Dutch assault in l908 was Taman Gili water palace and garden. In it stands two of the island's most extraordinary architectural experiments -- the Bale Kambang or floating pavilion and the Kertagosa, also known as the Hall of Justice.

The Bale Kambang, an imposing rectangular pavilion appears to float above its lily filled moat, was the headquarters for the royal guards.

The water gardens and water palaces of the Balinese rajas were most probably inspired by the formal palaces and temple water gardens in Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Thailand.

The Balinese added a floating pavilion, or bale kambang, in the center of a large walled pond. Many water palace complexes are thought to represent the holy Mount Meru of Hindu cosmology. Floating on a sea of amerta, the elixir of life. The pavilion has whimsical column bases and guardian statues and is painted in bright colors.

Panels painted in the traditional Klungkung style of wayang paintings cover the ceiling of the bale kambang.

Both painted ceilings in Kertagosa tell the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. The paintings follow Bima's journeys through the various stages of heaven in search of the elixir of mortality that will revive his parents.

The entire epic is, in fact, a heroic journey of self-discovery. Before the arrival of the Dutch, the raja (king) would go to the Kerta Gosa to consult with his priestly advisers.

Heading east to Karang Asem regency there is the mother temple of Besakih, East Bali, which is a vast complex of temples sprawling across the mountainside.

Situated about 1,000 meters up on the slopes of Bali's highest and holiest volcano, Mount Agung, the 22 temples comprise of hundreds of delicately towering meru, the multi-tiered roofs of black palm-fiber thatching pointing skyward. Their structural core is an unobstructed square tunnel down which deities, ancestors and spirits can descend.

The site of Besakih is remarkably similar to the stepped pyramids of the megalithic era, Indonesia's earliest civilization. In several of the shrines are stones that appear to date back to prehistoric times.



* Traveling to Pakerisan and Petanu rivers is usually included in tourist packages to Ubud and its surrounding areas. Along the way to Ubud, you will also find dozens of museums, art shops. A trip to Ubud takes between 60 and 90 minutes from Nusa Dua. * A trip to Besakih may take around three hours. If you want to visit the temple, it is better if you arrive early in the morning to avoid the crowds and the heat of the sun. * Entering Balinese Hindu temples, visitors are required to dress appropriately. Donations to the temple are required but not obligatory. * Menstruating women are not allowed to enter temples and other holy sites in Bali.

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