Prepare for an extraordinary journey through time as you step into the fascinating world of Goa Gajah Temple. This magnificent archaeological site, nestled on the western edge of Bedulu Village in Bali, is a treasure trove of historical significance and an absolute must-visit for adventurers from around the globe. Within an hour, you can explore its ancient relics, marvel at stunning rock-wall carvings, meditate in a mystical cave, and rejuvenate your soul in the serene bathing pools and fountains. However, don’t let the name deceive you; despite its moniker, this temple is not filled with elephants.
To embark on this enchanting adventure, make your way to Goa Gajah Temple, just a short 10-minute drive east of Ubud market and town center in Bali. Transportation options are aplenty, including scooter rentals and private cars with experienced drivers, which can conveniently be booked online. Simply drive south of Ubud, past the monkey sanctuary, towards Bedulu, and then head east onto Jalan Raya Goa Gajah. Along the way, you’ll encounter numerous signs leading you to Goa Gajah and other captivating attractions.
Prepare to be awestruck upon reaching Goa Gajah Temple, situated along the Petanu River at the edge of Bedulu Village. This enchanting sanctuary is cocooned by a majestic rainforest, with trickling streams and scenic walking paths that guide you through lush foliage. As you descend a flight of stairs from a roadside parking area adorned with refreshment kiosks, souvenir shops, and art stalls, the main grounds will reveal themselves, unveiling a grand wantilan meeting hall and a collection of magnificent ancient stone carvings meticulously restored to their former glory.
Near the middle of the cave courtyard, a mystical pond called Patirtaan entices you to experience its sacred waters during religious ceremonies. Discovered in 1954 by the brilliant Krijgsman from the department of antiquities, this holy pond boasts intricate statues and exquisitely arranged showers in the form of Widyadara-Widyadari, or celestial angels, lining up in three rows with six statues in total (five of which have been restored). Though it appears that there were originally seven fountain statues, one statue’s purpose remains a mystery. The existence of these seven fountains represents the concept of Sapta Tirtha, signifying the profound purity associated with the seven sacred rivers, including Gangga, Sindhu, Saraswati, Yamuna, Godawari, Serayu, and Narmada. Each fountain holds deep symbolic value, spiritually equal to the sacred Sapta Nadi.
Experience the profound influence of Hindu and Buddhist cultures as you wander through the temple complex. Dating back to the 10th century, these ancient structures stand as a testament to Bali’s rich heritage. Delve into the cave, which, despite its shallow depth, houses three stone idols swathed in yellow, red, and black cloth. Curiously, black soot lines grace the cave’s walls, remnants of incense burning that add an air of mystique. Upon closer inspection, you’ll discover indentations where priests once sat in deep meditation. On the temple’s northern side, immerse yourself in Buddhist art and culture, while the southern side showcases the predominant influence of Shivaite traditions. Let the surrounding beauty of rice fields and gentle streams guide your path towards the Petanu River, another natural wonder intertwined with local folklore.
Unravel the captivating history of Goa Gajah Temple, which spans over a thousand years and makes it one of Bali’s holiest Hindu sites. This grotto, adorned with intricate carvings of mythological creatures, captivates visitors and historians alike. Its origination remains shrouded in mystery, with tales linking it to the legendary giant, Kebo Iwa, who supposedly created the cave with his immense fingernail. Although its exact age is unclear, the cave was undoubtedly in existence during the Majapahit occupation of Bali in the 11th century. Fascinatingly, the complex features both Hindu and Buddhist imagery, boasting lingam and yoni, symbols of Shiva, alongside sculptures of Ganesha and carvings of stupas and chattra, distinctive Buddhist elements.
Rediscovered by Dutch archaeologists in 1923, the cave’s fountains and bathing pool remained hidden until 1954. The name Goa Gajah, meaning “Elephant Cave,” stems from the term “Lawa Gajah,” found in ancient manuscripts discovered within the site. The Goa Gajah name is even mentioned in the revered Negara Kertagama papyrus, compiled in 1365 by Mpu Prapanca. The word “Lwa” or “Lwah/Loh” refers to the river, signifying that the hermitage of Gajah River or Air Gajah is where this sacred sanctuary is located. Inscriptions from the year 944 Saka mention “ser ring Air Gajah,” implying the leader of the Subak community in Air Gajah. Locals commonly refer to Goa Gajah as the Elephant Cave Temple, while stone figures of Ganesh, the Hindu lord characterised by an elephant’s head, contribute to the temple’s association with elephants. In fact, historical texts like the Javanese poem Desawarnana, composed in 1365, mention this extraordinary site. Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted by an imposing entryway adorned with a colossal stone face, its wide-open mouth serving as the gateway to your unforgettable adventure.
Delve into the magic of Goa Gajah Temple as you admire intricate carvings depicting mystical forests and enchanting creatures adorning its outer rock face. To reach the cave’s entrance, prepare to descend a long staircase, leading you deeper into the heart of this ancient marvel. Revered for its cultural significance, Goa Gajah Temple was rightfully added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 1995, proudly representing Bali’s rich heritage and captivating history.
Embark on an extraordinary journey through time, where ancient relics, sacred waters, and mythical creatures converge at Goa Gajah Temple. Experience the profound spirituality, architectural marvels, and natural wonders nestled within this majestic sanctuary. Let the whispers of the past guide your steps as you explore the cradle of Balinese heritage, where a world of enchantment awaits.