Four young men sat on a platform before a pool, barechested and cross-legged. They raised their hands while holding a flower on the tip of their fingers, eyes closed and focused.
“First you raise your palms and put them together above your head, without any flower. That’s for Surya,” Bli Komang, our trusted driver, told me about the first part of a series of prayers before entering the pool of Pura Tirta Empul; Surya is the God of the Sun, one of the most venerated gods in Hinduism.
“Then you put a white flower on the tip of your fingers. That’s for Shiva,” he continued. “Next is red flower for Brahma. Then lastly you put red, white and yellow flowers for all gods.”
Balinese Hindus go to Pura Tirta Empul to seek ablution and blessing from the gods through the temple’s water spouts inside the main bathing pools. Built in the late 10th century, Tirta Empul – whose name translates into ‘water gush from the earth’ – consists of 30 water spouts, each has its own function and devotees come to shower under all or only certain spouts, depending on their needs.
Legend has it that the despotic King Mayadenawa of Bedahulu destroyed many temples on the island to prevent his people from praying to gods to seek protection. When the gods found out about this oppression they, led by Indra – the leader of the gods, came to earth to attack Mayadenawa.
Overwhelmed, Mayadenawa fled to a small village – an area now known as Tampaksiring – where he, with his magical power, created a poisonous spring. Unaware of Mayadenawa’s cunning action, many of Indra’s soldiers drank from the poisoned spring, and died – or severely ill according to other versions of the story. In response to this, Indra pierced the earth with his weapon and created a gush of water – Tirta Empul. He then revived his soldiers by sprinkling the water from the newly created spring onto them.
Today the spring water flows through 30 south-facing spouts, before streaming down onto Pakerisan River where another ancient Balinese site is located further downstream: Candi Gunung Kawi, a compound of temples and rock-hewn shrines built by one of the most powerful dynasties in Bali’s history.
The four young men were already inside the water, lining up before the first spout on the west end of the pool. “The way we do it is by showering under each spout, from left to right,” Bli Komang explained. Mind fixated to their own prayers, one by one they raised their hands, eyes closed, palms clasped, before showering under the refreshing water, blessed by the Kings of the Gods himself.