I stared at the crowd in front of me. There was easily 60 people, but probably more, in the pool. All waiting in a zigzag line for their turn at the fountains. Mothers, grandmothers, fathers, young boys and girls, and even babies patiently waited their turns. Some shivered in the water, despite the warmth of the sun. Obviously this would take awhile, and not the 30 minutes that our driver had told us.
I was at Pura Tirta Empul, most commonly referred to as the water temple for those visiting Ubud. Its one of the top attractions to visit in the area, although most people just stop for a few photos before heading out. We came prepared with swim suits and sarongs and planned to join the locals in this healing ritual.
Pura Tirta Empul is a Hindu temple famous for it’s holy spring waters. It was founded in 926 AD and dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. There are a few legends surrounding this temple, the most popular telling of a magical king named Mayadenawa and his battle against the god Indra. Mayadenawa began using his powers for dark magic so Indra and his army came to stop him. Catching wind of this plan, Mayadenawa created a poisoned pool while Indra’s army slept, and when Indra awoke the next morning he discovered his men sick and dying from drinking the fouled water. Indra struck the ground with his staff changing the pool into the sacred healing waters that now flow into Pura Tirta Epul temple. It is one of the most holy temples in Bali and locals and tourists alike flock to the grounds to bathe in the magical healing waters.
The temple is made out of three main sections; front yard, central yard, and inner yard. The healing pools are also divided into three areas, each with a variety of different fountains. But it’s not just a free-for-all. If you want to complete the ritual property there is a set course to follow; fountains to use and fountains to avoid. Of course, being foreigners, we were clueless. But thanks to a kind local man, we navigated our way and managed to complete the ritual properly.
According to our friendly helper, we had to pray under each fountain for what we wanted; strength, health, healing etc. For me, I just wanted my motorbike injuries from Nusa Penida to heal faster. Of course I wasn’t off to a very good start when, while waiting in the first line I smashed into a rather sharp rock. My exclamation of pain quickly drew attention to those around me.
“It will help” the man told me, nodding affirmatively as I showed him my battered knee. After nearly a week of it scabbing and oozing, I hoped he was right and that being in a pool with dozens of other bodies for nearly three hours didn’t actually make it worse.
Ever so slowly we moved ahead, avoiding more jagged rocks like the one I caught my knee on, and sidestepping the fish that called the pool home. The water was cool; a welcome relief from the blazing sun, but after two hours barely moving even I, nicknamed the polar bear from not needing a full wetsuit when diving, was getting cold. Many of the locals were openly shivering, goosebumps covering their arms as they hugged or leaned into each other to share body heat, but each patiently awaited his or her turn at the sacred fountains.
As we got closer to the fountains I started to worry. What if I did it wrong? I had no offering. I wasn’t Hindu. Why did I think I, as an oblivious foreigner, had any right to preform this ceremony with the devout locals?
Thankfully the kind man put these thoughts at ease. Everyone was welcome, in fact we got a lot of smiles as few foreigners actually stayed to do more than just take photos. He also told us the proper ritual; pray at each one, drink three times from each, and let the water run over your body three times at each. We were also to avoid the 11th and 12th fountains; they were for special rituals for the dead.
I didn’t know so much about the drinking bit given the water quality here in Bali, but some just seemed to splash their faces so I figured that would do.
After what seemed like forever it was finally my turn. Not being the slightest bit spiritual or religious, I was unsure quite of what to do or say when I approached the first fountain but came up with something along these lines.
“Hello Balinese gods, I’m Hannah from Canada. I’m sorry I don’t have anything to offer you like anyone else, but I’m hoping you will help me anyway. I smashed my knee up pretty badly on a motorbike accident last week in Nusa Penida. I actually have a bit of a hole and its taking ages to heal, so maybe if I do this properly you can help me out and heal it a bit faster? That would be great. Thanks so much. Oh, by the way, Bali is pretty cool and the people are really nice.”
So eloquent. Not.
Mangled attempt at a prayer complete I splashed my face three times and then stuck my head under three times. The water was cool and refreshing and as I made my way down the line completing my ‘prayer’ and the ritual I felt more and more relaxed and at ease. Results of the healing waters? Or just comfortable knowing I had the procedure down? Who knows. Either way it was an awesome local experience to have while visiting the incredibly touristic island of Bali.
Know Before You Go
Bring your own sarong if you want to go into the pools. They do have sarongs to borrow on site but you cannot get them wet
-There are lockers for your items, but no change room, so wear your bathing suit.
-Most women wore t-shirts over their sarongs rather than just a bikini top- it is a holy place
-Early mornings during the week tend to be less busy.
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