Gunung Kawi is an ancient rock-hewn temple complex in Bali, Indonesia, located northeast of Ubud (a popular tourist destination city). This incredible ancient site is nestled in between lush jungle and beautiful rice paddies, and stepping into its environment feels like entering an otherworldly place.
A very long descent of stairs leads away from the bustle of the busy street and markets and into a vibrant green, serene, and perplexing network of chambers cut out of solid rock, massive shrines, an ancient pool, and the sight and sound of the beautiful Pakerisan river which runs right through the center of this site. The waters of this river are considered sacred.1
The short video below captures the beautiful environment and the surroundings of this complex:
This complex is commonly believed to have been built in the 11th century AD as a dedication to a king,2 however this date is based on an inscription found at the site, which could be a later addition. Aspects of this site feel very ancient, and some of the erosion echoes back to the distant past.
The Sun-Aligned Passage & Gateway
One of the most remarkable things that catches your attention straight away as you approach the site is a set of two massive walls ushering visitors towards a v-shaped gateway, which leads into the complex. The sheer size and height of these walls is quite impressive, and raises the question: how were these massive solid-stone walls made?
In person, the gateway at the end of this passage feels significant. One detail that stands out here is that the gateway wall is lower than the two slanted walls enclosing it, which appears to be an intentional design feature.
According to SunCalc, this gateway appears to align to the winter solstice sunrise (June 21st in the Southern hemisphere), which can be seen in the map below:
A summer solstice sunset alignment (December 21) appears to be another possible alignment at this site, which could also explain the stronger slant of one of the walls in the passageway:
These alignments would need to be observed in person on solstice days to better understand the interaction between the sun, the gateway, and the passageway.
Shrines and Stone Chambers
Once through the gate, to the left there is a wall with four “minor” shrines. These shrines, known as “candi,” are commonly incorrectly believed to be funerary, though they apparently never contained any funerary remains and appear to be of ceremonial nature instead.3
They are each set within rock-hewn niches, and the structure of each individual shrine is said to resemble a building with a three-tiered roof, containing “stylized lingam-yoni fertility symbols.”4
Directly across, over the sacred river, is another wall of five “major” shrines. These shrine walls are about 8 meters tall5 and appear rather impressive when one contemplates them from the courtyard beneath them. In front of the wall of major shrines is an ancient pool.
This major shrine area of the complex holds a similar overall orientation as the gateway, and therefore also likely aligns to the solstices.
The rest of the complex contains one other single shrine in a separate location, and a whole network of impressive solid rock caves and chambers, which are reminiscent of similar structures in other parts of the world.6 These chambers can be seen in the gallery below (click on the photo for the gallery to open):
There is something truly magical to the environment at Gunung Kawi that makes it uniquely serene and inspirational to visit. Similar ancient sacred sites also exist nearby as well as on other islands in Indonesia, and it is believed that there may be many more similar sites in Bali not yet discovered or explored.7
Note for visitors: there is a main area to this site that the tourist flow goes through, which consists of the gateway, shrines, the river, and some stone chambers. However there are also many other interesting little areas around the main area to explore that are easy to miss if you don’t know about them in advance. It is possible that these areas also hold special alignments and orientations. Some of these spots are highlighted on the map to the right (via Google) as an example.
Candi Gunung Kawi Temple Complex: Bali’s Valley of Kings. Accessed September 16, 2017. http://www.indonesia.travel/en/destination/point-of-interest/gunung-kawi-temple.
“Tampaksiring and Gunung Kawi, Valley of the Kings.” Wonderful Bali. January 18, 2017. Accessed September 16, 2017. https://www.wonderfulbali.com/tampaksiring-gunung-kawi-temple/.