Tirta Empul Temple was built in 926AD to honor the Hindu god of water, Vishnu. The name – Tirta Empul, means ‘Holy water spring’ in Balinese, and this is where local Balinese Hindus have come for over a millennia to cleanse their minds, bodies and souls, in the curative waters of the pools, with the same ritual adhered to today.
Visiting this working temple is one of the most interesting and spiritually meaningful things I have done while on cruise ships, was partake in the soul cleansing ritual in the stunning Tirta Empul Temple near Ubud, in Bali, Indonesia.
Tirta Empul is one of the most important religious places in Bali, and so in November 2017 when my ship stopped there, my husband, his parents (who were cruising with us) and I hired a local guide, our friend Made, who is from the village of Manukaya right beside it to take us there and teach us all about it.
When you arrive, you park in large car park for the temple, which is set off the main road, where there is ample space to the visitors. Then you pay the humble fee for the entrance and hiring a sarong, which you must wear to enter.
The Temple is located under the Presidential Palace, Tampaksiring, which was built in 1957 by the first President of Indonesia, Soekarno, so it is a royal, as well as sacred place.
After donning your colorful sarong, take a moment to admire the beautiful large stone Balinese doorway, Candi Bentar, and to adjust your thoughts as you make your way into the first of the temple’s four sections – the central courtyard – or Jaba Pura.
As you walk in, you may feel a wave of quiet calm descend on you as I did. On three sides here are large stonewalls, and the fourth is a large open-air pavilion, where you may see locals praying. In the square, some men offer delicious tiny bananas to visitors for a small contribution.
At the end of the courtyard are the two entrance openings built into the wall that lead to the inner courtyard – Jaba Tengah – the most famous part of the temple, where the ritual happens.
Preparing for the melukat – the ritual:
Before going into the Jaba Tengah, decide if you are going to do the ritual, and then prepare for it. You cannot go into the pools wearing only swimwear – it is considered very disrespectful – you must wear another sarong specifically for the ritual provided for you by the doors to it. You can rent this sarong at the door, which is green with a red sash that you tie over it, same for men and women. Women can wear their’s like a dress, crossed around the neck, or around above their bust, and men tie them round their waist. There is a changing area with lockers where you can store your things safely to the right, before the doors for a nominal fee. You can (and I recommend you to) wear your swimwear under the newly borrowed sarong or with any shorts or T-shirt you may have with you that you don’t mind getting wet.
Once you are prepared, you can walk in to the area with the pool.
As you are about to enter, a local man knowledgeable on the ritual will likely offer you information to guide you through it. I recommend accepting. There are several local men who are there, simply as guides to visitors on how to do the ritual, and they really know their stuff. They do not ask for payment, but it is polite to give him a fair tip afterwards.
There are 22 fountains over the three pools, and the ritual involves going through them in strict order, and thinking about the significance of each one as you move from one to the next, so having someone talk you through it is very helpful.
There will likely be many people waiting to do the ritual while you are there. The temple itself is Hindu, but the ritual is not restricted to this faith. It is a general soul cleansing ritual for people of any, or no, religion to partake in. Everyone is welcome, provided they are doing it with good intention, and respect for the temple and what it signifies.
Whatever your religious beliefs are (or are not), I think it is impossible to not feel at least a little connected to something bigger when you undertake the cleansing ritual in the cool waters of Tirta Empul. I personally consider myself agnostic, I’m not quite convinced of any specific religion being ‘the one’, but also don’t believe there is nothing. I guess I’d say I’m spiritual, but not religious – but the aura of this place made me want to cleanse my soul with the local devotees and tourists alike in the natural spring water. The ritual is designed to help cleanse your body and soul, help heal you and get rid of negative thoughts, energies and nightmares.
The Actual Ritual:
- Pool 1 – 13 fountains. This pool focuses on cleansing your spirit and soul. This focuses on getting rid of any bad words, bad things you’ve said to anyone, bad intent in your words. Once it is your turn to begin, start in the left of the pools, on the far left spout of the 13 in this pool.
- You cleanse yourself in fountains 1-10 (each one symbolizes a different sin) until the tenth, skip 11 and 12 (this is explained shortly), and go to 13 if you wish. Our guide told us to dip our head by the water, and splash our forehead with it, and wash it over the scalp while in prayer or deep thought. Do this three times then scoop up some of the water in your hands and put it in your mouth, then spit it out. You can then immerse your head under the water if you wish. (Our guide assured us the water was very clean and perfectly drinkable as it comes from a very clean hot spring very close by.)
- After you finish the first one, you move on to the second, which is directly to your right. There will likely be a line here.
- After cleansing yourself at each of spouts 1-10 in the first pool, quietly pass the 11th and 12th spout. These are meant for the dead. The local Balinese who worship here regularly will bring their family members very soon after passing, to be cleansed in the healing pools, ready for the afterlife. It is considered very bad luck to drink from or bathe in, these two specific spouts.
- If you wish, go to spout 13 and repeat the same ritual as before.
- Pool 2 – Three fountains. This focuses on karma, on getting rid of bad actions you have done. Here you repeat the ritual from the first pool, with spouts 1, 2, and 3. Each of these cleanses a different part of your soul, as opposed to removing sins, as in the first pool spouts.
- Pool 3 – Six fountains. This pool cleanses the body of illness, and the soul. Then you go to the third pool, and to the last fountain, which is the farthest on the right, and begin the ritual again, but in the reverse direction.
- When you reach the final fountain, (which is the first one, on the left), spend a little longer, as this is the most powerful one – the actual Tirta Empul – the cleansing water the Temple is named after. This completes the whole cleansing ritual. At this last fountain, when you have the water in your mouth, you swallow it.
- Leave the pool with a respectful prayer, or well wishes to the temple, the gods of all the people’s beliefs there, and to whatever you believe in and your ancestors.
I felt very calm and at peace after completing the ritual, and very grateful to have been here and to take part in this ritual.
Relax by the Holy Springs afterwards
After you have finished the cleansing ritual, retrieve any items you stored away in the lockers and put your normal clothes and original sarong you borrowed, back on, then you can head to Jeroan – the Holy springs. This section of the temple is sometimes not noticed by visitors after they’ve finished the main feature of the ritual, but it is well worth spending a little time exploring in.
This is the inner courtyard, and final section of Tirta Empul. Nearest to the purification pools, at the front, it the large water spring where the water for the purification pools comes from.
The spring pool is clean and clear, with tiny fish swimming about in it, and you can see the bubbles coming up from the bottom, which is the heat from the spring underneath.
Behind the spring are brightly decorated Hindu shrines, which are for locals praying in. You can take photos of them, but don’t go inside unless you are going to pray.
This is a pleasant quiet spot to contemplate the ritual you just undertook. I spent my time here quietly thinking.
On your way out, you will pass a clear pool with koi carp in it, which are a royal symbol, as the temple has the palace right next to it.
Near the exit you pass an area where, Made tells us, that inhabitants of the village, including his family when he was a child, used to come here to wash their clothes in the water by the temple. This was partly a spiritual reason, as even the adjacent water not directly from the springs, but near it, is thought to be very pure, but mostly for practical reasons, as washing machines didn’t really exist there yet.
At some point while in Tirta Empul, most people – tourists and locals alike – give an offering to the gods to show respect or accompany a prayer. These offerings are pretty small containers of bright flowers or fruit, and you can bring your own that you make, or buy from a market, or for a small donation in a box on the honor system, pick one up in the temple itself.
As you leave the temple, there is a small area with a couple of stalls with locals selling souvenirs if you like. If you have time, walk around the grounds of the temple, admiring the many statues of the gods.
Tirta Empul is a deeply spiritual and beautiful place to experience, in the complex and gorgeous island of Bali. I’d recommend anyone to try to make visiting it part of your Balinese adventures, with or without partaking in the ceremony.
Having a local guide, especially one like Made, who is actually from the village where the temple is, makes the whole experience very personal and you will learn a lot from it.
I hope I will return to Bali again soon, as there are still lots of temples for me to see.
For more information on other things to do in Bali, see my Port Guide to Bali (coming soon) and watch my video of my experience in Tirta Empul and the rest of that day here:
Cost for entry: 15,000 IRD for adults. 7,500 IDR for children (this includes the sarong you wear walking around, but not in pool)
Sarong for the pool: 10,000 IDR
Locker rental: 10,000 IDR
Opening times: Daily from 9am-5pm
Time needed: Minimum 30-60 minutes to walk around sights, allow at least 60 if you’re planning on doing the ritual.
To get there, drive 30 minutes north of Ubud in Bali to the village of Manukaya, which is well signposted from nearby Tampaksiring. I highly recommend hiring a local taxi driver or guide driver to take you here as the roads are very difficult and busy.
Link to YouTube video
Here’s my not so quick guide to two of the most fascinating places in the beautiful Indonesian island of Bali. I visited Tirta Empul Temple, and took part in a soul cleansing ritual, which was really an awesome experience, and explored the Ubud area, went to a silver factory, batik gallery and factory and had some delicious Indonesian lunch.
Local Guides I’d recommend
Made – Our guide on this trip, and two others so far, he really knows his stuff and prices are very reasonable. To hire him:
Phone: +62 819-9960-7788
Yoga Buduh – Yoga was a friend who worked on a ship with us, who now works on land in Bali, running taxi tours for tourists. He put us in contact with Made, and can also arrange tours with himself or his other contacts.
Phone: +62 812-3643-4955
[…] Tirta Empul Temple — “Holy water spring” — in the village of Manukaya, near Ubud in Bali, is where local Balinese Hindus have come for more than 1000 years to cleanse their minds, bodies and souls. Visiting this working temple and partaking in the soul cleansing ritual is one of the most interesting and spiritually meaningful things I have ever done. […]