The instructions given before heading for the Mother Besakih Temple reminded me of stories involving secret societies. The temple complex was infamous for louts forcing tourists to hire local guides who then extorted high fees from the naïve targets. Any resistance by the visitors led to aggressive vocal display of expletives.
On our way to the village, our car was stopped by a few women who held plates with flowers and incense. They demanded monetary offerings for our safe passage. I handed them the smallest possible rupiah note. They demanded more. I looked at Dewa “No more! I come from India; This is extortion!”
The gang backed off and let our car go.
In the afternoon, we reached the parking at Besakih village. All the shops were closed as locals must have been in their siestas. The village was akin to deserted towns of the Midwest cowboy movies. We walked towards the temple complex eyeing every bent of our path for a possible ambush. A few locals stood at the entrance of the complex and eyed us in slow-motion. We ignored them .
Besakih epitomizes the Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Karana; Life must be lived in harmony between man and fellow human beings, man and environment, and man and God. I wonder, where do tourists fit in the equation?
The word Besakih came from the name Basuki, the eternal snake who resides in Goa Lawah, that was supposedly connected with the southern slopes of Mount Agung , the site of the temple multiplex. Read here about Goa Lawah or Bat Cave. –
Bali was created and enriched by volcanoes. Mount Agung is the tallest volcano of the island. And it is considered to be the physical form of Mount Meru, the centre of creation as per Hindu and Buddhist cosmology.
The site was more than 2000 years old. After the Javanese invasion of Bali in the 13th century, it became a Hindu Shrine. By 1500s, the complex had become a state temple of the Gelgel Dynasty. Currently, Hindu families of Bali and Java have their family deity enshrined in the complex. Mother Besakih Temple consisted of 22 shrines that were arranged in parallel rows. Terraced steps lead up to the Pura Penataran Agung, the first temple of Besakih.
Drops of rain blurred my vision, as I tried to gaze at the summit of Mount Agung that reminded me of Avalon. Cloud and mist enveloped the peak and masked the destruction the mountain was capable of. It was the same volcano that nearly destroyed Besakih in its 1963 eruption, when lava flowed just meters away from the structures. Life has hidden all signs of that carnage.
Mount Agung was an assurance and a threat; it mutely states that life and death are important truths of existence.