Tirta Empul and the Water Cleansing Ceremony

The ceremony is performed by the Balinese throughout the year, and many thousands of people visit the temple whose waters are believed to contain special powers of healing and blessing. The water originates from a number of underground springs, and bubble to the surface through vents in the earth’s crust. From a large pool which contains these vents, water flows into a series of pools from where they feed a number of fountains, each one dedicated for a specific purpose.

Balinese have drawn to this sacred spot for more than a thousand years.  The sacred spring bubbles up from the ground and flows out through more than a dozen different fountains dedicated to different purposes.  Balinese frequent this temple, especially during a full moon, for healing and purification.

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Built under the rule of Sri Candrabhaya Singha Warmadewa in the 10th century, the Tirta Empul temple complex was completely restored in 1969. Most people include Tampaksiring in a day trip out of Ubud, taking in the monumental Gunung Kawi two kilometers downstream on the same outing. The impressive buildings, pools and fountains of Tirta Empul are on nearly every tour group’s itinerary of central Bali. On busy days fleets of tour buses visit the site, which is open only during daylight hours. From the parking lot, the visitor walks unimpeded into the majestic outer courtyard under a spectacular banyan tree, then climbs through the main gateway into the temple compound proper.

While visitors are spoiled for choice of temples in Bali, Tirta Empul’s atmosphere is quite distinct from your usual run of temples and holy sites on Bali. We immediately savored the serenity of the place set against a backdrop of hillside lawns and surviving forest. Though crowded with perhaps as many as 200 visitors, it was still a pleasure to walk around.

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Seeking protective blessings and deliverance from illness, people journey from all over Bali to bathe in these sacred cleansing springs where worshippers pray in two divided pools as water gushes out of a row of stone spouts. The buildings, the 20 small sugar-palm thatched shrines and the elaborate carvings adorning the lichen-covered walls surrounding the pools are beautifully decorated and well maintained. Seeing it on a rainy day adds even more mystery to the site.

Looming over the complex, across a whole hilltop to the north, is the opulent Tampaksiring Palace built by Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia, during the early years of the republic. No hawkers are allowed into the temple area, but when exiting we had to run a gauntlet of souvenir sellers that wind maze-like back to the parking lot. On this morning the stalls were quiet and many were closed, so the market made for half an hour leisurely shopping.

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Istana Tampaksiring

North of Tampaksiring, a road branches to the right for Tirta Empul while the main continues climbing straight ahead to the hilltop retreat built by President Sukarno in 1954. Officially known as Istana Kepresidenan Tampaksiring Bali, we turned in at the sign before the entrance and immediately faced a formidable vehicle security barrier. Sukarno was half Balinese and he visited the island frequently, usually staying in this government rest house. The palace purposefully and rather incongruously overlooks Tirta Empul, known as the Balinese Fountain of Eternal Youth, as if it were the dictator’s intention to prolong his “President-for-Life” status indefinitely. Although it serves as a conference site, few overnight guests stay at the palace where it is said Sukarno’s ghost still roams.

The palace provides an excellent view of the whole Tirta Empul sanctuary. The story goes that the president, renowned for his womanizing, could look down through a telescope upon the naked women bathing below. For years it was rumored that Sukarno’s daughter owned one of the warung in the temple’s souvenir market.

Location & Setting

Tirta Empul is located in the Tampak Siring region, just 20km north-east of Ubud. It is also quite near to Gunung Kawi Temple.  Tirta Empul Temple complex consists of three key areas. The front, the outer and the inner courtyard.

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