There’s something mysterious about ancient Balinese beliefs and customs. The legend tells that the Holy Water Temple Tirta Empul was created when a battle between evil forces and deities occurred. The springs were built to heal sick fighters; nowadays serving Balinese people for ritual purification.
Visiting Tirta Empul, one of Bali’s nine state temples, and experiencing the purification ceremony gives room to discover that old magic the island still holds. Read on for a first-hand experience of the purification ceremony as well as for tips what to consider when visiting.
My experience of Tirta Empul’s purification rituals
In 2019, a friend of mine took some time off and set off to Bali for five weeks. I wrote her story down how she experienced purification ceremony at Bali’s Holy Water Temple Tirta Empul.
At the end of my time in Bali, I had planned to visit the Tirta Empul Temple. Coming from Bali’s coastal heart, I was curious to see more of traditional Bali and its spiritual ceremonies. Visiting the Hindu Balinese water temple and performing the purification ceremony seemed to be a wonderful opportunity to do so.
When I arrived at Tirta Empul, I was overwhelmed with the mass of people. The pools where the spring water bubbled were packed, people were lining up to get into the pools. It was noisy, touristy and not what I expected. I hoped to find something sacred, silent. Very soon I left the temple.
When I returned a few days later in the early morning hours, the place was quiet. The sun was just about to rise, revealing the impressive temple complex of shrines decorated with towers and towers of flower offerings. The air had the intense smell of frangipani blossoms and something fresh and innocent from early morning hours. I put on the Sarong and made my way to the central courtyard.
As the only Western around, I must have stood out. A monk approached me and explained me about process and background of their rituals.
According to Hindu beliefs, a bath in the sacred springs of Tirta Empul Temple brings spiritual and mental purification and cures diseases. In order to receive the full healing power Hindu believers perform the purification ritual under all 20 springs. The first sacred pool represents your old life, whereas the second one your new life. “We’re performing the rituals to create a balance between the good and the bad, the intangible and the evil” he explained while pointing at flower offerings of towers of palm leaves, star fruits and frangipani blossoms.
The Power of Rituals: the ceremony itself
Before I went into the first pool, I did an offering.
Focused on something to let go of. I went to the first fountain, put my hands in prayer position to my heart, my head. I cupped my face with the fountain’s water. One time, two times, three times. Let it rinse over my head. Submerged under the flowing water.
I moved on to the next fountain. Put my hands in prayer position. To my heart, my head. Cupped my face with the water. Let it rinse over my head. Submerged under the water. I went from fountain to fountain, repeating the ritual.
I entered the second smaller pool, symbolizing your new life, and started at the first fountain. I repeated the ritual until the last fountain.
I gave thanks.
I praised for new opportunities.
I left the pool.
I sat down, took in the experience. The water from the springs was bubbling, prayer bells were ringing in the distance. Somewhere I identified incenses smoking.
While I was waiting for the water to dry – it’s considered a blessing so it shouldn’t be removed with a towel – I watched the mountains in the distance being shredded in mist. Meanwhile, some locals had gathered in the temple complex, preparing for a colorful cremation ceremony, the Hindu funeral ritual, later that day.
The atmosphere early in the morning, being the only one in the sacred pools, the monk’s kindness, it was a powerful, intimate moment.
If you let it, Bali goes under your skin.
How to get there and things to consider
Tirta Empul is located in Tampaksiring, a 30-minute drive from Ubud’s north. Although tours are offered, starting from Ubud and coastal areas, I recommend going on your own. Either by deciding for a private taxi or renting a scooter. If you’re opting for a private taxi, there are several other sights in the nearer surroundings you might be interested in visiting afterwards. The temple can’t be missed as it’s clearly signposted.
Entering the temple, you’ll have to pay the entry fee of 50.000 IDR per person. Opening hours are between 09.00 a.m. and 05.00 p.m., seven days a week. Due to its religious significance the temple is frequented by Hindu worshippers as well as tourists. To avoid the crowds, come early, best around 9 a.m., when the temple is opening.
Is it respectful to perform the purification ceremony?
The ritual is originally meant for pilgrims and devotees. Performing it as a tourist is fine as long as you’re respectful. Wear a sarong – you can rent one for a small donation at the temple’s entrance- and don’t use it as an opportunity for a photoshoot. Also, when entering the temple, wear appropriate clothes, something that covers your shoulders.
Things to explore in the surroundings
The elephant cave Goa Gajah is about 22 minutes drive from Pura Tirta Empul. Also, the magnificent Tegalalang Rice Terraces are about 16 minutes away, both worth visiting. In addition, there are two incredible waterfalls around Ubud. The famous Tegenungan Waterfall can be reached in about 40 minutes by car. Alternatively, there is the less known Tibumana Waterfall. For more information on waterfalls to visit see here.
The Legend of Creation
A note on the tales how Tirta Empul was created: The legend tells that Pura Tirta was created by the God Indra. At that time Bali was ruled by King Mayadenawa who had the power to transform himself into animals and objects. King Mayadenawa used his power to bring disaster to the people. The priest Sang Kulputih aimed to end this black kingdom and therefore called the god Indra to earth. The king Mayadenawa should be fought with the help of an army.
However, through spies Mayadenawa got to know this plan and sneaked up to the sleeping fighters on the sides of his feet one night. He poisoned their water, causing the fighters to fall ill. To heal the fighters, the god Indra is said to have created the sacred springs of Pura Tirta Empul. The warriors were quickly healed by the healing spring water and finally killed Mayadenawa with an arrow.
Despite the touristic development, the island of Gods still holds those mystical threads that are connecting the modern island with its legendary past. Experiencing the purification ritual at Tirta Empul is a rare opportunity to see how Balinese culture is really like. You’ll never be closer to Bali’s true heart.