Gunung Kawi Temple complex, locally referred to as Pura Gunung Kawi, is one of Bali’s most unique archaeological sites, comprising a collection of ancient shrine reliefs carved into the face of a rock cliff. The main site overlooks the sacred Pakerisan River, which also flows by the Tirta Empul Temple a kilometre up north. Across the river from the ancient reliefs is a temple courtyard featuring old Hindu shrines in a more contemporary architectural style, which is attended by pilgrims especially during its ‘piodalan’ temple anniversaries.
Bali’s Pejeng region is famous for its rich collection of archaeological sites, and Gunung Kawi Temple is a popular stopover on itineraries through the central uplands of the Gianyar regency. The temple complex is easily located, only a few hundred meters east from the Jalan Raya Tampaksiring main route, from where you continue down on foot to a paved walkway that is lined with art shops and small local warungs. Along the further 300 steps towards the river, lush paddy terraces and gorgeously green valley go together to transport you back in time away from modernity. There is a similarly named temple, Gunung Kawi Sebatu.
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Where the stairs end, proceed through a stone archway with small pillars each holding an earthen vase filled with holy water, which you sprinkle onto yourself before further entering. Inside, the view opens to the main site with ten seven-metre-high shrines carved into the rocky hillside. There are four on the west side and another five on the eastern side of the river, while to the south across the valley hides one other.
Legend goes that these are the memorials of the deified Balinese King Udayana, his concubines and family, which leads to Gunung Kawi temple being widely considered as the tomb site of the Warmadewa Dynasty.
Small stone caves that actually serve as meditation sites complement the shrines, where Buddhist monks used to sit and contemplate. Indeed, Balinese history has shown that the two religions coexisted in harmony. Across the river and beside the first rock shrine complex is the functional temple courtyard that the locals essentially refer to as Pura Gunung Kawi. Inside is what you would commonly find in any other Balinese temple courtyard, complete with various shrines surrounding the temple’s main grand pavilion or ‘bale’.
As with any other temple visit in Bali, proper attire comprising a sarong cloth with a sash around the waist is required, and women during their periods are not permitted entry into the Gunung Kawi Temple complex. The sash and sarong are available for rent with the ticket purchase at a booth before the stairs down to the valley. The temple is decorated during its ‘piodalan’ temple anniversary every year following the Purnama Katiga or ‘third full moon’ on the Balinese calendar, allowing for a more festive and exotic setting for photographs.
Following are the corresponding dates for the future anniversaries at Gunung Kawi Temple.
26 August 2018
14 September 2019
02 September 2020
Gunung Kawi Temple
- Location: Tampaksiring, northeast of Ubud