Volunteer in Bali with Friends for Asia
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Balinese Architecture

The smells, the heat, the sounds of the ocean are all things that one experiences when arriving at the airport in Bali. Only moments after stepping into a taxi, and departing the airport grounds our Bali volunteers take notice of the distinct and unique architecture of the island. It’s here when our new volunteers know they are in a very different and special place. Traditional Balinese architecture blends influences from other cultures to create something unique and interesting.

Bali Temples

Traditional Balinese Architecture

It is believed that traditional Balinese architecture originates from two sources. The indigenous people of the island belonged to a megalith culture, and this means that used large stones to build structures. At around 200 BC the Balinese first came in contact with Hindu architecture, and this had a major impact on what they built. There is also a strong Chinese influence in the design of many old (and new) buildings in Bali. It is the mix of all these different forms of architecture that gives Bali its unique style.

Tri Loka Division and Balinese Architecture

Traditional Balinese architecture is influenced by the Hindu tri loka view of the universe. The belief here is that there exist three distinct realms; one for gods, one for humans, and one for demons. The Balinese reflect the tri loka in the way they build their homes:

  • There is a shrine room where respect can be paid to the gods – holy area.
  • The house courtyard where humans spend their time – neutral area.
  • There is an area called teba where the rubbish is kept – dirty area.

Distinctive Qualities of the Traditional Balinese Villa

There are a number of distinctive qualities associated with the Balinese villa such as:

  • The Balinese like to have at least 300 Square meters of land because the traditional home can have as many as nine buildings – each building has a unique name. One of the reasons for some many buildings is that all the members of the family tend to live together in one complex.
  • There is usually a large backyard because this is where family members congregate. It also gives them a chance to spend time in nature and it provides space for growing vegetables.
  • The holy area in the house is usually on the northeastern side.
  • Because of the climate in Bali these homes need to have good ventilation. This is achieved by having free space between the roof and wall, and using big windows.
  • Traditionally the Balinese like to have a high wall around their property. This is not only to protect their privacy, but it is also believed to keep away demons and other undesirable forces.
  • These houses often have carved wood sculptures (reliefs) depicting traditional stories – they usually act as a reminder of some important moral. These reliefs are created by a highly skilled sculptor known as an undagi.
  • It is usual to keep any rubbish in an area to the south of the house. This is because the south is believed to be controlled by the sea which can dilute any negative energy.

Bali Temple Architecture

Balinese Hindu temples are also influenced by the tri loka concept so they are also divided into three parts that include:

  • Nista mandala is the outer zone of the temple at the entrance to the complex.
  • Madya mandala is the middle zone where all the supporting facilities for the temple are located.
  • Utama mandala is the holiest part of the temple.

Each of the different areas in the temple is separated by gates.

The Architecture of Important Balinese Temples

The best examples of Balinese temple architecture can be seen at the following locations:

Tanah Lot Temple

Tanah Lot Temple is located in Tabanan, and it is a place of pilgrimage as well as a major tourist attraction for our volunteers and other visitors to Bali. It is built upon a large offshore rock – the name Tanah Lot actually means land in the sea. The temple is made up of wooden structures and a single tower. It has undergone major renovation in recent years and some of the rock that the temple is standing on is artificial.

Besakih Temple

Besakih Temple is the holiest of all Hindu temples in Bali. It is known in English as Mother Temple. It is located on Mount Agung which is the largest volcano on the island. There are 22 small temples inside the Besakih complex – these are mostly wooden buildings with pagodas on top. Inside the holiest section of the temple is a lotus throne which is devoted to the most important Hindu gods – and a must to spot to visit for our volunteers.

Ulun Danu Temple

Ulun Danu is located at Batur Lake in Kintamani district. This is considered to be the second most important temple in Bali. There is a noticeable Chinese influence in the architecture of this temple complex. It is made up of nine buildings. There is a Buddhist statue inside the temple grounds. Ulun Danu is a water temple and its main purpose is to please the lake goddess – many farms depend on the water from here for their livelihood.

Pura Kehen

Pura Kehen (pura means temple) is the second largest temples in Bali, and one of the oldest. There are some wonderfully ornate carvings within the complex and visitors move around the temple by way of 38 sets of stairs. There are guardian statues spread about the temple grounds.  Kehen Temple is located on the south slope of Bangli hill.

Pura Uluwatu

Pura Uluwatu can be found on top of a cliff to the west of the Bukit Peninsula – not far from Kuta. It is made up of three courts with the inner sanctum perched right on the edge of the cliff. The architecture of the temple fits in well with the stunning surrounding natural beauty. Visitors are warned to be careful because the monkey population who live at the temple can be a bit boisterous.