Pura Goa Lawah, the Bat Cave Temple, is an important temple in Balinese cosmology, and to the passing traveller offers an interesting quick stop. As the name suggests, part of the altar is dedicated to a huge cave teeming with fruit bats.
The temple is one of Bali’s nine directional temples, which protect the island from evil spirits. This one is to ward off the bad stuff attacking and attract the good stuff happening from the southeast. This significant status means it’s often seething with worshippers, the major appeal for visiting.
As soon as you are within a guano’s sniff of the temple, a flock of vendors will insist you buy a sarong prior to entering. While a sarong and sash are necessary to enter Pura Goa Lawah and all other Balinese temples, you can rent these for 4,000 rupiah from the ticket booth. Accepting the ‘free’ necklaces offered, means you will be accosted to buy as you leave — sometimes aggressively. Just politely decline.
A guides’ association from the local village of Pesinggahan offers their services at the ticket booth for 50,000 rupiah per group. Sometimes having a local guide can make your visit that much more interesting, and this is one of those occasions. Guides speak good English and will explain what you’re looking at and what’s going on. Our guide said it would take “about 20 minutes”, but we enjoyed his commentary, and ended up spending twice that length of time with him.
Once inside the temple grounds, a tranquil outer courtyard with a small formal garden leads to a triptych, ornately carved black lava-stone gate. Look up to see the golden bat on the larger central doorway.
Within the inner courtyard, in front of hordes of worshippers and selfie-snapping tourists, is where you can see — and smell— the bat-filled cave. Local mythology explains that the sacred cave is inhabited by Naga Basuki, a giant bat-eating snake, and leads to Pura Besakih, the mother temple of Bali. The bat is not a significant animal in Hindu mythology, but seems it’s just giant snake food. Tourists can’t enter the cave, but sometimes during ceremonies the faithful venture 200 metres inside to meditate. Amid the bats, we are told, are five-metre pythons and giant lizards.
According to local historical records the temple was built in 1084 AD or 1006 in the Balinese calendar. As this is a public temple — as opposed to a family, village or workplace temple — pilgrims come from all over Bali to worship here, most often for the post-cremation Nyegara Gunung ceremony. One month after a cremation, and ashes have been delivered to the sea, families bring a symbol of their dear departed and pray for a good reincarnation or perhaps plead that not-so-nice Uncle Wayan will not move down a rung or two in the cosmic cycle.
Pura Goa Lawah is a good opportunity to see a temple in action. It’s interesting to watch the faithful in their ceremonial white and yellow and it’s fine to photograph them from behind — but please don’t move in front of people praying or climb up high for a better look. Fragrant wafts of incense and flowers, and the tinkering of temple bells, an aid to focus on prayer, add significantly to the mystical atmosphere of a visit here.
Sunset is possibly a good time to visit, when you can see bats leaving the cave.
How to get there
An ojek from Padang Bai will do the return trip for 40,000 rupiah or from Candi Dasa for 50,000 rupiah. A car from either should do the journey for 100,000 rupiah.
By Sally Arnold
Last updated on 3rd March, 2016.