Tirta Empul is a major temple complex and holy mountain spring in the village of Manukaya in central Bali. The site is the legendary setting of a traditional tale about good versus evil. It's also a national cultural heritage site.

The complex, built circa 960 AD, is a silent witness to the old Balinese kingdom, particularly at the time of the Warmadewa Dynasty. Another nearby and prominent site on top of a hill is the presidential palace, Istana Tampaksiring, built during the years of the nation’s first president, Soekarno.

Tirta Empul Temple - one of the highlights of 31 Best Things to Do in Ubud and 11 Best Bali Hot Springs and Natural Springs (Read all about Bali here)

Tirta Empul, meaning ‘holy water spring’ is actually the name of a water source that's located within the temple. The spring feeds various purification baths, pools and fish ponds surrounding the outer perimeter, which all flow to the Tukad Pakerisan River. Various sites throughout the region and many other archeological relics relate to local myths and legends.

Tirta Empul temple complex comprises 3 key divisions, namely a front, secondary and inner courtyard. Visitors to Tirta Empul first come upon the lush gardens and pathways adorned with statues and tropical plants that lead to the entrance. After stepping through this candi bentar (temple gate), a vast walled courtyard welcomes visitors to the bathing pools where a large wantilan meeting hall stands to the right.

photo by Saranabhi (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

Inside the central courtyard or madya mandala, pilgrims first approach a rectangular purification bath where a total of 13 elaborately sculpted spouts line its edge from west to east. After solemn prayers at an altar-like shrine, they proceed to enter the crystal-clear, cold mountain water. With hands pressed together, they bow under the gushing water of the first spout, carrying on to the 11th. The water from the last 2 of the 13 spouts is reserved for purification purposes in funerary rites only.

The myth behind the curative and purifying spring tells of a Balinese ruler, known by the title Mayadenawa, who is depicted to have defied the influence of Hinduism and denied his subjects religious prayers and practices. The legend goes that this eventually angered the gods, and in a campaign, god Indra sought Mayadenawa’s subdual.

photo by Yoshi Canopus (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

Tirta Empul temple highlights

The hide-and-seek tactics of Mayadenawa fleeing Indra’s troops took place at various places all over the region, from the rivers Petanu to Pakerisan, and up to the north of Tampaksiring. Hence, the names of the sites and natural features all reflect an episode from the tale, such as Tampaksiring - tampak meaning 'feet', and siring meaning 'sideways', depicting an episode when the fleeing king left his slanting footprints up the hill.

It was here that, through his magical powers, Mayadenawa created a poisoned spring from which Indra’s exhausted troops drank from and succumbed. Indra noticed the fall of his men and soon thrust his staff into the ground where a holy purifying spring spurted out, to cure the troops and to even bring some of them back to life. This escapade became the legendary background to the holy spring of Tirta Empul, as well as the holy days of Galungan and Kuningan, which are celebrated by Balinese Hindus island-wide.

Good to know about Tirta Empul temple

As with any temple visit in Bali, it's always important to dress respectfully. The simple Balinese temple visitor dress code is a traditional kamen wrap or sarong around the lower body plus a sash around the waist. Women during their periods are prohibited entry to any temple or sacred site and may enjoy the sights and attractions in the outer perimeters only.

It’s tempting to try out the purification bathing ritual yourself but the formal routine is strictly meant for pilgrims and devotees. You might want to consult your guide who may ask a temple authority for further details.

The front of the temple complex is a large parking area with art markets and rows of shops selling various curios and souvenirs lining its eastern side. You'll also find several warungs or food stalls selling local food, snacks and refreshments.

Tirta Empul Temple

Location: Jalan Tirta, Manukaya, Tampaksiring, Gianyar, Bali 80552, Indonesia

Open: Daily from 9am to 5pm

Ari Gunadi | Compulsive Traveler