Why Bali has So Many Temples?

Bali may be known as the land of 1000 temples but in reality Bali island of Indonesia has at least 20,000 temples!  In records the count is at 6002. They are in all shapes and sizes. During our road trips through the island of Bali, Indonesia, we lost count of the temples we spotted. But why Bali has so many temples, rather how so many temples exist in one island?

Balinese culture was strongly influenced by Indian, Chinese, and particularly by Hindu culture. Hinduism came in the beginning of around the 1st century AD. Interestingly 9 Hindu sects existed in ancient Bali. And just like in Hindu sects in India, each sect revered a specific deity as its main God. Local Hinduism in Bali is a blending of Indian Hindu beliefs with the animistic traditions of local inhabitants. Balinese Hinduism is a mix of Indian Hinduism, Buddhism, and the concept of “respect your ancestor tradition”, therefore it is different from Indian Hinduism.

Today 83% of the population of Bali follow Balinese Hinduism as their religion.

Tanah Lot Temple

Tanah Lot Temple during low tide

Wear Sarong and sash for visiting temples in Bali

Why Bali has So Many Temples?

Our guide Deva explained that since Balinese Hinduism is a mix of 3 faiths there are many temples and ceremonies. Each and every house of Bali has a temple. Balinese families build their houses within a compound wall and each family has a temple. It is meant for the worship by the family members. These are private temples.

Add to them several public temples. Each town has at least 3 major temples for public in addition to lesser known smaller temples. Finally there are the temples in institutions, hotels, resorts and more. There are temples at the least expected places. The count can easily reach 20,000 in an area of 5,780sqkms of the island Bali.

Why Bali has so many temples

Temples of Different Importance

The temples of Bali are used for different purposes and events of life. Most interesting aspect of some of the temples is that they are associated with some fables, or some historical fact or something quirky. Temples of Bali are dedicated to bats- the bat cave temple, burial place of king and his wives, and even to cars. Yes, cars! Balinese water temples are unique institutions! They are more than 1000 years old. The ceremonies associated with these water temples and their role in the practical management of water make them a unique subject of study. Then there are underwater temples which can be explored by scuba diving.

Pura Besakih, is the Mother Temple. It is the most important of all temples. Pura Besakih is believed to be 1000 years old, the oldest, the biggest and is considered the holiest of all the Balinese temples.

Temples along Bali’s coast line

Call it beach hopping or temple hopping; it is indeed the ideal way to get the best of both worlds. This is one of the favorite activities of sunset collectors and temple loving tourists. There are 7 gorgeous sea temples dotting the coastline of Bali. They are: Pulaki Temple, located near Pemutaran, Sakenan Temple on the small Serangan Island, Mas Suka Temple in Ungasan, Pura Luhur in Uluwatu, Pura Tanah Lot, Pura Rambut Siwi and Pura Gede in Perancak.

Uluwatu Temple Bali

Different Festivals of Bali

Island of Bali has so many temples and each of the temples has their own anniversaries and ceremonies. Add to that all the festivals Balinese celebrate. The whole year is dotted with them. Bali’s calendar system is very different from the international fixed calendar which is solar type. Bali calendars are lunar based and their year consists of 210 days. So if you are planning a trip to witness their festivals and the culture associated with better check the dates for the year. Festivals never fall on same date year after year.

Balinese Hindu Custom

While I am at the temples let me also explain a unique method of prayer there. As you stroll through the streets of Bali you will see offerings in plates lying on roads in front of shops. The plates usually consist of flowers, pieces of fruits, sweets. Some even have cigarettes and chocolates. Basically they offer their favorite food. Locals offer them to God three times a day. It is their way of saying thanks to Gods and show respect for what they received and the blessings. But once offered it is forgotten. The first time I saw someone step on it I was shocked. People don’t care what happens to the offering.

Offerings to Gods in Bali Indonesia

Balinese Custom - Offering to Gods

Balinese Custom – Offering to Gods

Penjor

The festivals Galungan and Kuningan was celebrated this year (2017) between 1st Nov to 11th Nov. Though I didn’t see any ceremony of this festival I saw the remains of it. They were penjor. At various places I saw tall bamboo poles decorated with palm leaves, rice stems coconuts and corns. The delicate ends have beautiful sampians – which are plaited palm leaf creations. Deva explained to me about penjor; how these poles are put up on Tuesdays before Galungan. After 42 days these are removed and burnt.

Penjor Balinese tradition.

Penjor on either side of gate

Dos and Don’ts of Balinese Temples

  • Both men and women have to cover their legs with sarong and tie sash around waist. Many temples give them on rent.
  • Women have to cover upper portion of the body appropriately. (Shoulders have to be covered.)
  • Menstruating women and women who have given birth in the last 6 weeks may not enter temples. People bleeding from wounds too are not permitted inside temple premises. It is not about being impure but that they don’t want blood shed in temple grounds.
  • Having your head at a higher level than the priest is considered disrespectful.

Thanks to Indonesia Tourism for this Familiarization trip to Bali.
Information in this post gathered from our guide Deva (you can see him here)
and from sites of Bali. All pictures are by me.

Unmissable Tanah Lot Temple and Batu Bolong Temple in Bali
People Photography - from Bali, Indonesia

70 Responses to “Why Bali has So Many Temples?

  • Great to know about temple’s of Bali.

  • Glad to know more about the customs and culture of Bali.

  • Great post! Never been to Bali and never knew they had THAT many temples! Wow! But love how you went into detail about why there are so many and how important their religion is to them. Also, good tips about what to wear and be aware of before entering a temple. Will keep that in mind when we get a chance to visit there someday!

  • That does sound quite amazing – and now I understand where the 20,000 temples come from. I’d love to be there during penjor – it sounds quite special. But I am sure that the temples are wonderful whenever you go.

  • I’m going to bali in 2018 and I knew there were a lot of temples but this is A TON! Thanks for the explanation before I visit so when I go I will have a little unique insight into Balinese culture!

  • I love to be finally able to read something about the history and culture in Bali, all I find online is about the beautiful beaches! I’d definitely be interested in visiting a few temples, but I would’ve never guessed they were dedicated also to bats… and cars? That’s so bizarre!

  • What an interesting read! We have to been to Bali once but only for a few days for a stopover to other islands but reading you post I wish now we would have take more time to explore the island. It would be interesting to visit some of the 20,000 temples! Eapecially the ones under the water as I love to scubadive.

  • This is so interesting – I always wondered why Bali has so many temples as well! That makes sense if each town has a minimum of three temples, if not more. I’d love to visit to see the thousands of temples someday.

  • Sindhu Devi K
    1 month ago

    Quite interesting to know about the respect for ancestral beliefs and at the same time about the future of offerings to Gods. Thanks for sharing, Indrani 🙂

  • That was a fascinating look at the religion, history and diversity of these temples and their significance. Thanks for sharing this unique tribute to all the interesting temples of Bali.

  • That’s so interesting! I’ve always wanted to visit Bali but hadn’t really thought about why there were all those temples there. Now I’d like to go see them all in person. Those offerings are so beautiful.

  • Abigail Sinsona
    1 month ago

    That is so amazing – 6,000 temples? It’s no wonder why Bali is known as a destination for its culture. It is also one of the reasons why I’ve always wanted to go. I’d love to check these temples out for myself!

  • Fascinating to read. Any idea what happens to the offerings kept on the road? Is it picked up by beggars (if any) or stray dogs/cats (if any)? Thank you.

    • Indrani Ghose
      1 month ago

      No I didn’t see any beggar or dag or cat at those offerings during my 5 days there. People accidentally step on it though.

  • I’ve been planning a trip to Bali since ages. Now these temples are sure to draw me there fast!

  • Very interesting and informative post .. Thanks for sharing..

  • Very insightful, Bali is on my list for the coming year and your post is something I am going to bookmark, thanks for sharing

  • beautiful cultural post

  • I’ve been planning a Bali trip and reading about her culture is something helpful to me as I intend visiting almost all temples in Bali. I love how they show respect to their gods and how festive it can be. I know I’m going to love my Bali Temple ezploration trip.

  • What captivated me the most was the offerings at the temples.I cannot believe that they give chocolates,sweets as offerings and cigarettes in particular bemused me.Even the holding one’s head lower than the priest is a custom which I have never heard of before and which I find quiet strange and interesting.

  • Wow. That’s an interesting take. I never thought of this question. Having so many temples has an amazing history to it and I loved reading it here. Thanks for sharing.

  • It was a joy reading your post! It is amazing the way you have brought out a parallel between Bali and its relation to hinduism. I wish to visit Bali someday and explore every temple and intangible culture heritage elements first hand!

  • This was so interesting. I was intrigued by the part where you talk about the offerings left out on the street. Do people just leave them out all day? Then do they get thrown away? It’s also odd that people walk all over them. I love that traveling gives us the opportunity to learn about so many new things. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    • Indrani Ghose
      1 month ago

      Yes people leave them out the whole day. Probably next when they clean up the place those items are trashed.

  • Good to read more on Bali’s Temples. I think Bali would be bare without her Temples and no visit to Bali without a visit to some of these temples is complete. I love the rich culture of Bali and the legend that surrounds most of the temples. Your post is detailed and informative.

  • 6000 temples is something that I had no clue of… Makes it in my bucket list to visit Bali! 🙂

  • I’ve never been to the touristy parts of Indonesia – but it’s good to know they have cultural sites there too. 6002 temples is a very impressive count. It’s interesting to know that the locals are religious and have additional shrines and temples. The photo you took of the temple on the cliff edge is a unique one!

  • Interesting information!

  • Neil Alvin Nicerio
    1 month ago

    20,000 temples!!! Whoa! It would take me 20,000 articles to cover Bali then as I write individual articles per place that I visit. Wow. I would love to visit Bali soon.

    Thanks for sharing this information.

  • such a delightful insight , thanks for sharing this article . definitely something to remember when one plans a trip to Bali .

  • Wow! This post is very interesting as well as informative. We went to Bali last year and we saw these festive decorations although we didn’t know much about the festival that was going on. Balinese temples are grand and quite fascinating. There’s something magical about them. I didn’t know they have car temples as well. Looks like an interesting concept. 6000 temples – no wonder it’s called the Island of Gods! 🙂

  • Sounds interesting! One of my favourite places! Never knew that Bali has so many temples!!! Great to know the details!

  • Great to see people covering this aspect of Bali. In fact, even Indians seem to be unaware of this part of our history when many they reached the South East Asian shores. Most of that is now lost, both politically and culturally, but Bali survives!

  • Fascinating history about Balinese temples. Many tourists surmise that temples are strictly there as a means of decorating the landscape, when in facts, it ties to the socio-cultural climate of a place. Thank you for clearing up the confusion of why menstruating women aren’t allowed in the temple. I appreciate its more about the prohibiting of “bloodshed” as opposed to women being impure.

  • The number of temples is really impressive. And it is surprising, Bali has so many Hindu customs which are so similar to what we practice back home in India although the two nations are thousands of miles apart. I am actually planning a trip to Bali next year and I do plan to visit as many temples as I can and get the cultural experience along with the beach experience. Will have to return back to your post for reference.

  • Temples for Car ! 🙂 How the mix of all cultures influenced the country! Very nicely written.

  • This is very informative article! I am surprised that myself when I visited Bali. And my favorite thing in the morning while I was in Bali was tip toed along the roads to avoid the God’s offerins haha. Also, regarding the rules 🙈 I was so guilty of not following one of the rules (not something totally disrespectful) but I had my period that time (TMI I know) and I wanted to go inside this temple and read the “no women in their period” rule and I thought “Im not doing anything wrong and as if they will know”. Lo and behold, I entered the temple and within 5 minutes, giant red ants started biting me everywhere! Never again and I kept apologizing to the Gods while I was running away from the temple. Lol.

  • Wow, that’s a lot of temples! I didn’t quite realize just how many temples were there, but that’s really interesting that each family has their own private temple. Very interesting history and it’s cool to hear about how the temples have a different importance too. Now I think I need to head to Bali to see some of these temples myself!

  • good to know about the history , informative post

  • First of all, I did not realize that Balinese Hinduism is any different than Hinduism. So that is very interesting! I also didn’t know about private temples, or temples dedicated to special subjects. I would LOVE to check out an underwater temple!

  • Useful tip to know the calendar isn’t the same so always check before going. Thank you, would be a shame to assume dates were the same every year.
    And interesting to know more about blending of religions in Bali. That’s the type of thing it’s handy to know before going but I so often haven’t read any guide books before I arrive somewhere so I love blogs like this.

  • Fascinating to read about Balinese culture and temples.

  • Abhinav Singh
    1 month ago

    20,000 temples! Whoa! That’s as good as some of the Indian cities. The rituals and festivals are so much like those from India and still so different. It would be intriguing to see it for myself. Hinduism spread across Asia is not documented well. Glad you decided to take things in your hand!

  • Reading your post felt as though it was meant to happen now. I’ve just finished reading Eat Pray Love, and Bali was one of the settings in the story. So I started researching on traditional Balinese medicine as well as temples and, now, I’ve just read yours. I can imagine this culture- and heritage-rich city smelling of incense and lemongrass!

  • I actually used to live In Bali, and although I’m not religious myself it was amazing and quite an experience to see all the religious festivals that used to take place. When I first moved out there, I had no idea about the offerings and just how many temples there were but You’re right there are so many. And even in our villa we had a temple build in, which our landlord would come around every so often and perform a ceremony. I loved that about Bali, it doesn’t how touristy the Island is getting it still holds to it’s identity and religion. This is a fascinating read for anybody that’s thinking about going to Bali and a good heads up for them.

  • Very interesting set of facts about temples in Bali. It is quite interesting to see similar set of culture like India yet different in their own way. Thanks for sharing, will look out for the beach temples when I visit 🙂

  • I was in Bali earlier this year and this is such an interesting post! I had noticed many homes had temples but I didn’t realise that this was the norm. I found the Hindu temples and Hindu/animist culture of Bali so fascinating, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I wondered why no one seemed to care if the little banana leaf offerings were trampled on by feet – now I know! This makes me want to go back and explore some the temples I didn’t get chance to see 🙂

  • I learnt that Indonesia was a Hindu country, and over time its become a muslim country. It’s amazing how a landmass is totally Hindu, despite whatever is happening. Indonesia’s eastern part near Papuas are falling prey to the Christian missionaries (Irian Jaya). I hope Bali stays the same. I too have seen offerings outside houses and people being more religious than India. Indonesia is one of the most liberal muslim countries and thats probably why Bali has stayed that way. The extremism in Indonesia has been recent at the fringes (Sumatra, Sulawesi and Irian Jaya) with radicalisation.

    I’d love to know more about this topic!

  • Guide on Temple tour in Bali is very informative and interesting. It is so great to know that Bali has thousands of temples and it is influence by Hinduism a lot. Water temples are also unique and I would love to visit them. Temple hopping sounds so interesting and it this tour must be so devotional. I loved the baskets of offerings very colorful but just for curiosity, why they are offering cigarettes. Also great logical explanation of do’s and don’t’s of Balinese temples.

  • Bali intrigued me in the same manner and I happen to visit just after Galugan festival. I saw all those remains and heard of their silence days and other rituals. Glad you wrote about those. Cheers

  • I love how the religion in Bali is a mix of so many different beliefs. I didn’t know that there are more than 20’000 temples in Bali. There is really a temple dedicated to cars? This sounds quite interesting 🙂 When I was in Bali, the offerings fascinated me the most. It’s so good to know, that once they are placed, they are not holy anymore. I still payed a lot of attention not to step on them 😀 I didn’t know that you’re not allowed to visit a temple when you have a bleeding wound! Thank you for this interesting article!

  • 20,000 temples in an area of 5,780 square kilometers of the island Bali, you say! That’s a very impressive statistic. It was interesting to learn that having your head at a higher level than the priest is considered disrespectful. So taller people bend their heads, then?

  • I so want to do this tour! I’ve always wanted to know which religion goes with what temple or indeed why so many. I think I need to bookmark this blog post for future reference, very informative!

  • This was very informative and it was good to know about the temples of Bali. In my both the visits, I was quite fascinated about Balinese cultures and temples. I never thought of finding the actual count of temples, 20,000 temples sounds amazing.
    Tanah Lot and Besakih temple are my favorite there.

  • Very interesting info about the temples of Bali! It’s fascinating that Indian, Chinese, Hindu culture all influenced Balinese Hinduism as it is today. I am very excited to visit Bali (hopefully in June!), and it will be great to explore armed with this knowledge about the temples that I wouldn’t have known before. Thanks for sharing!

  • At least 20,000!!! Oh wow. I know they have a lot of temples, but I didn’t know they had that many! And that even resorts and hotels have one. It’s so fascinating that they have temples for cars, too. What a great post, thanks!

  • I really enjoyed the temples in Bali when I visited years ago. One of my favorites was Tanah Lot Temple. I went during sunset and it was such an incredible experience!

  • Great photos! I’ve wondered why Bali has so many temples before- this was interesting. Bali is one of my favorite places in the world and I’m even thinking of living there soon. It has such amazing people, beaches, food- it’s all around amazing.

  • I knew Bali had several well-known temples, but I definitely didn’t expect there to be this many!!! The at-home private temples for worshipping family members reminds me a bit of these ancient Chinese dramas I used to watch where they too had their own private temples at home. And when you say the offerings are forgotten, do people eat or use them afterwards???

  • Wonder what the ratio of temples to people is? Either way 20,000 temples is a lot of temples. It is weird that they have so many temples but offering are pretty much forgotten once placed. I wonder what the reasoning behind that is.

    I would love to know how many of the temples one could actually visit and how long it would take to visit all the public temples.

  • I’ve never been to Bali so I really had no idea there were so many temples! That’s quite amazing. You could live there forever and never see all of them. To me, that idea is so amazing. I’d really like to visit some of them, especially to see some of the local customs you described.

  • What an interesting post! I knew there is plenty of those temples, but that many? Wow! We’re going to Bali next summer with my fiancée and I cannot wait to explore the Island and well, probably not all but at least some of it’s temples. 🙂 I have never been there and I’m super excited!

  • Maybe Bali should be my holiday destination in 2018! I’ve been thinking about it before, but I haven’t visited Bali yet.
    I had no idea why Bali has so many temples. Each and every house in Bali has a temple? Wow! Would love to visit the sea temples at the coast. Attending one of the festivals sounds like a great idea as well.

  • It’s really nice to read about Bali and temples.I didn’t know that Bali has so many temples.I’ve read about Hindu culture of Bali before.Hopefully we will visit Bali and Indonesia in 2018.Do’s and Dont’s in Bali temples are mostly similar to the temples in Sri Lanka.

  • wow, i know the fact that Indonesia has many temples but I didn’t know that the figures are so high and that is just from Bali alone! Temples are not just architecturally beautiful but also reflect the country’s rich and colorful culture and that’s one thing I love about Indonesia.. I just hope that I will be able to visit this country someday

  • This is a necessity when it comes to travelling. We must not forget to respect the culture and traditions of another country. Temples really do amaze me for their structure and that they really stood the test of time. After being constructed ages ago, now they’re still standing and symbolizing faith and tradition. It’s something experiential and good for the soul.

  • Really enjoyed reading your sharing here. Frankly I did wonder why why too during my Bali travel, then forgot to study or research further to find out my answer after the trip then 😛 Learnt a lot here. thanks for this awesome sharing, cheers, siennylovesdrawing

  • One of the reasons i would want to go to Bali is see temples. How sad would I be if not planned and I got my menstruation. So that means I can no longer enter the place? But nonetheless, I like the idea that they are indeed serious in maintaining the cleanliness of the place. Yes, not about being impure but just the thought that blood may be shed on their temple grounds.

  • Yogi Saraswat
    2 weeks ago

    Hinduism came in the beginning of around the 1st century AD. Interestingly 9 Hindu sects existed in ancient Bali. And just like in Hindu sects in India, each sect revered a specific deity as its main God. Local Hinduism in Bali is a blending of Indian Hindu beliefs with the animistic traditions of local inhabitants. Very Beautiful introduction of Bali’s Hinduism and their culture . It was really interesting and knowledgeable to know about Balinese people .

  • I found this a very interesting read. I never stopped to wonder why there were so many so it was enlightening to read, and of course, logical. Visiting some of the most beautiful temples is one of the nicest cultural activities one can do in Bali, but it is in the smaller ones where the traditions can be better explored. from your post I also just realised that in the 15+ times I have been to Bali, I never took a guide to any place, i should, so as to better understand the culture.

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