What is Tirtha Empul?
Tirtha Empul is one of the most important Hindu temples in Bali. It is in the village of Tampaksiring, about 18 km north of Ubud. In English it is called the Holy Spring Water Temple. About 90% of the Balinese population is Hindu and there are countless temples and shrines on the island but this one is particularly special because of its water.
What’s so special about water?
In Hindu rituals, water is important because of its ability to purify. In Bali, the Hindu world is populated by gods and demons, which are opposing forces. The gods represent what is good and demons what is bad. The demons, for instance, cause sickness and death. So the demons must regularly be neutralized through ceremonies involving water and offerings. Once a year there is an island-wide exorcism of the demons on Nyepi, Bali’s New Year.
Why is Tirtha Empul water special?
Many years ago a good army and a bad army were battling here. The demon’s army poisoned the nearby river and the god’s soldiers drank the toxic water and died. So the god turned the toxic river into holy water and had his soldiers drink some and it so revived their spirits that they came back to life. Ever since, the water has been known throughout the island for its ability to cleanse spiritual impurities and fend off evil forces.
What do people do when they come here?
Generally they bring offerings, pray, bathe in one of the pools of natural spring water, and pour some of the water that gushes out of the sprouts over their head. The atmosphere was festive when I visited, which was during the full moon when people from all over the island were there.
Can non-Hindus participate?
It certainly wasn’t difficult to pick out the westerners in the crowd for they towered over the locals! No one seemed to mind their involvement. If it is a special day you must wear a sarong as well as the sash that is always required and that you tie around your waist. And if you are going to bathe, you should probably bring a change of clothes.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2012