Tirta Empul Holy Water Temple
Nestled in the village of Maukaya in central Bali, not too far from Ubud, lies this beautiful, fascinating and incredibly popular tourist attraction.
Tirta Empul, meaning ‘holy water spring’ is the name of the water source 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.
It is important as a visitor, and as with any visit to a holy place, to dress appropriately and this means wearing a long wrap skirt (both male and female) around the waist to cover the legs.
It takes a good hour or more to walk slowly around the whole temple, but it is the central courtyard where you can bathe which is of most fascination for visitors. Thirteen lavish spouts adorn the wall from West to East and the spring water consistently gushes out of them into a large pool where devotees first step into the crystal clear mountain water and begin their journey of healing under each spout.
It is incredibly tempting to jump in after everyone and hopefully feel the benefits of the purification bathing ritual but there is much more to this process than meets the eye. Certainly, we were approached by a Balinese man who told us abruptly that if we wanted to swim then there was a close-by communal swimming pool! We were a little taken aback by his attitude and tone but after he talked more about the purification process it felt disrespectful that we had even considered going in.
To start, devotees will make up a gift as an offering. These are EVERYWHERE of course in Bali and are even more so in temples. Money is placed inside the offering as well as scattered beside the water spouts and even at the bottom of the spring water pool. Several minutes of mindful meditation is practiced next before slowly emerging themselves in the pool. The devotees move at a glacial pace in the water, as though they are fully respecting the powerful nature of this surrounding. Under each spout, devotees prayed with their hands closed together and the water fully cascading over their heads. They seemed to spend as much time as they needed at each spout before slowly making their way to the next.
Of course, plenty of tourists slipped into the water unbeknown to this man who was doing his best to try to set the record straight. After his talk with us though, I suddenly felt very sad. I think we had been incredibly naive and disrespectful to assume that we could just waltz in and gain spiritual healing so simply.
For the rest of our time at Tirta Empul we stood on the side lines and watched as the Balinese people practiced this incredible devotional worshipping, with a new, deeper sense of respect.
We visited on a rainy day and for a small fee, were handed out large umbrellas by small ladies. Once it stopped raining, these small ladies returned and collected back their umbrellas, giving us a smile and a nod. We thought nothing of this at the time but when it came to exiting the temple, we were surrounded by more small ladies who demanded where their umbrellas were and that we would have to pay more as we didn’t give them back.
Well this came as a bit of a shock and I immediately continued walking as I thought it was a scam. The ladies did seem very upset and this tugged at my heart-strings but I suppose this was just another classic case of western-related confusion in Bali.
Of course we had a lovely time here and I would certainly recommend visiting but go with the mindset of watching and learning, rather than taking part, unless you’ve got a true handling of traditional Balinese meditation.