Besakih Temple, is known as the “Mother Temple” in Bali, and is the sight for many pilgrimages. It is said to be the only temple where a Hindu of any caste can worship, and therefore attracts thousands of worshipers daily. It has also become one of the many tourist attractions on the island.
Over the years that I have been living in Bali, I have seen a steady commercialization of all things Balinese. I understand the incentive, its a great money earner, but at what cost? Every tourist attraction becomes swarmed with hawkers, trying to cash in on the tourist dollars. This is an inevitable side effect of a tourist destination, but should this really extend to the temples?
Besakih temple is a particularly spiritual setting, located on the slopes of the majestic Agung mountain, it has an extremely commanding presence. I have only been once, but the memory of my time there is still extremely vivid.
It was within the first year of being in Bali. Everything had moved so fast, getting married, trying to learn about the language and religion, and coming to terms with living so far away from home. The initial honeymoon period was over, and we were finding ourselves butting heads. My husband suggested that a trip to the temple would be good for us. I was not particularly keen, as it involved a long car journey, dressed in a corset and temple gear. Not the most comfortable clothing, I can tell you.
Anyway, I agreed to go, not that I really had much choice! The journey was long, and uncomfortable, as predicted. We parked the car, and then had to walk the rest of the way. The road is steep, and there are lots of steps. All pretty hard to maneuver in a tightly tied sarong that only allows tiny bird-like steps. (I have since learned how to tie a sarong properly to allow better movement)
We finally arrived at the temple, and settled in among the thousands of other devotees. I sat down, and took in my surroundings. The moon was full, illuminating the mountain behind the temple, creating an amazing backdrop. Meanwhile, the temple was a bustle of activity, people of all ages, all dressed in their smartest temple clothing. Little boys in smart white jackets and colorful sarongs, and white head gear looked like mini versions of their fathers. Just as the girls, hair tied back neatly, gold jewelry in their ears, and beautiful lacy kebayas over their sarongs, looked the spitting image of their mothers. Everyone was flocking in to the temple to pray together. I started to relax, a feeling serenity washed over me. As we prayed, the energy was palpable, I was moved almost to tears, and even now, retelling the story, the hairs on my arms are standing on end. I have never been a religious person, but I experienced something pretty magical that evening. I turned to my husband, and could see he was equally moved. I took his hand, and we both sat there together, and I knew he had been right to bring me here. It was a reminder that there was something much stronger than us guiding our way
The experience I had that night would not have been the same if this temple was allowed to be overrun with tourists. I have read comments of foreigners, complaining that they could not go in to all sections of the temple, due to them being restricted for worshipers. Well, think about it, imagine if a group of Japanese tourists came in to your church, and started taking photographs and ogling at you while you were in the middle of a service. It would be completely inappropriate, and the same applies here. There are some things that need to be kept sacred.
So, please Bali, do not sell yourself out to commercialism, at least keep your places of worship tourist free.