Blog Sites Aligned to the Sun

Gunung Kawi in Bali Aligns to the Sun

Gunung kawi temple aligns to solstices

The “minor” shrine wall at Gunung Kawi.

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

stone passageway to gunung kawi in bali aligns to solstices

The narrowing passageway, where the solid stone walls can be seen (compared to human height).

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:

solstice alignments at gunung kawi

SunCalc shows a winter solstice sunrise alignment at the gateway of Gunung Kawi (marker is at the gateway; yellow line indicates sunrise). Image created with SunCalc, using imagery © 2017 CNES / Airbus, DigitalGlobe, map data © 2017 Google.

Gunung Kawi gateway with solar alignments

The gateway at Gunung Kawi from up close.

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:

SunCalc shows a possible summer solstice sunset alignment at the gateway. Image created with SunCalc, using imagery © 2017 CNES / Airbus, DigitalGlobe, map data © 2017 Google.

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

indonesia winter solstice site

A section of the major shrine wall.

Gunung Kawi in Bali ancient sacred site aligned to the sun

Standing in the courtyard of the major shrines for size comparison.

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.

bali shrine with solar alignments

Map created using photo of site map from Gunung Kawi.

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

gunung kawi surrounding chambers

Imagery © 2017 CNES / Airbus, DigitalGlobe, map data © 2017 Google.

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.

  1. Candi Gunung Kawi Temple Complex: Bali’s Valley of Kings. Accessed September 16, 2017.

  2. “Tampaksiring and Gunung Kawi, Valley of the Kings.” Wonderful Bali. January 18, 2017. Accessed September 16, 2017.

  3. Ibid. 

  4. Ibid. 

  5. Candi Gunung Kawi Temple Complex: Bali’s Valley of Kings. 

  6. Such as for example the caves of Cappadocia in Turkey, various caves and shrines in India, etc. 

  7. “Tampaksiring and Gunung Kawi, Valley of the Kings.” 

About the author

Jenny Belikov

Jenny Belikov is a researcher and practitioner of the ancient religion of the sun and the Managing Editor for The Spiritual Sun, where she also researches and writes about ancient sacred sites; spiritual texts and practices; the latest discoveries in archeology, archeoastronomy, and related sciences; as well as the exploration of various facets of the lost civilization of the sun.


  • The video really transported me to that place. How wonderfully lush everything is there, and the rice fields so neat, like some beautiful lawns (or maybe those were not rice fields?). I think the presence of water in a sacred site makes a bit difference, and in this one it has been used and channeled in so many ways… Makes me think again about buying at least a small fountain this year, in order to listen to its sound more often. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your impressions Jenny, and how great you were able to make it to that part of the world.

    • They are rice fields, and they are lush and beautiful.
      The river running through the site wasn’t unique to this spot in Bali, but something I noticed at other similar sites also. The sound of the water running through really makes the place come alive.

  • This site looks amazing – it makes me feel that at some point some parts of the world were covered with shrines and monuments to the sun. I hope one day I will be able to visit some of those sites.

    • Perhaps that was the case? I watched a video on Atlantis onetime and in it they said that there were a race of people that built the temples around the world, I think they mentioned that they were master builders. Makes me wonder where we got the name Master Builders in these modern times, could it have its origins in ancient sacred site building?

  • Beautiful site – that video really helps to feel the atmosphere of the place. I really love the river running right through, how incredible the ancients had such a feeling for the life within nature, and such skills and devotion, to be able to create sacred sites that brings together so many elements.

    One thing that struck me when watching the video was the images of the man in prayer/puja, with the couple sitting nearby, in their own personal ceremony. There have been a few times that I’ve felt that a sacred site is still living – obviously not used in the same way that it initially was, but the culture or a certain event invites and helps visitors to also step into a reflective and reverential mood. It seems in Hinduism there’s still a natural sense of ceremony and worship that you just don’t see much in the west, apart from say at a neo-pagan celebration at a sacred site. The kind of simple, earnest, open prayer would be perceived as ‘wired’; a sad situation. It makes me reflect on how many barriers to this devotion have been created inside me. Like I said, sometimes I have felt that a certain place has helped to strip these barriers from me, by entering into an atmosphere where the spirituality is palpable and where it’s normal, allowed, even encouraged, to pray and commune with the divine. I imagine this site made would be one of those places, and I imagine being part of creating places like that one day … 🙂

    • I know what you mean, Ella. It was definitely nice to see people praying or spending time meditating at many of these sites. It felt very natural in that environment.

      I can share a somewhat related antipodal situation: at one of the sites in Bali we weren’t allowed into a certain part of the temple because apparently tourists were not being respectful enough. Our guide showed us a photo he took in that spot a few years back before it became closed off — it was of a young couple of western tourists sitting on top of a sacred shrine eating what looked like falafel sandwiches. The tour guide was really(!) upset at that couple as he was showing us the photo, saying that it was incredibly thoughtless and disrespectful of them. When I looked at the photo I could see both sides — of course I saw why he was upset. It was a holy shrine people go to pray at, and these people climbed on top to eat some sandwiches — eek! On the other hand, I could see from the tourists’ perspective as well of how the shrine must have seemed to form a nice elevated “bench” for their lunch… It just made me reflect on the total cultural disconnect, the differences of perception, and approaches to spiritual practice, that sometimes becomes apparent through situations like this.

      • Ha ha Jenny, I just read your comment, and when reading about “the shrine must have seemed to form a nice elevated ‘bench’ for their lunch'”, it reminded me of the animals who also often see our different amenities as very suitable places from their own perspective… like for example a friend’s cat who liked to drink water from a sacred bowl on the altar… (how convenient, she must have thought, I can always find water here! 😉 )

  • This site seems quite extensive. I enjoyed the videos you included, helps to get a sense of what it’s like on the ground there a bit more. It’s so intriguing that there are all these relatively unknown sacred areas with solar alignments that are just getting so little attention. Thanks for pointing this one out!

    It’s interesting to reflect on how important stone architecture (as it’s done at this site) becomes when you look at these sites through the lens of long term transmission of spiritual principles. Whereas many of those other areas and temple sites that you mentioned visiting had been built over and rebuilt so many times, thank goodness some like this one are carved out of the rock and have the nature around them preserved, and that the ancient original designs could survive. In that walkthrough video it was quite interesting to imagine what it would have been like to walk through those doorways and courtyards when they were closer to their original state, without all the moss and plant matter that’s crept its way in, and when the stone features were fresh and new. Seems very beautiful, and like it would make the perfect setting for someone looking for a quiet place for spiritual contemplation.

    • Hey Dara. I wondered what those stone alcoves and chambers would have been like in their original state as well. Though I like the moss as well 🙂 The videos captured them and the environment very nicely. And it’s definitely interesting to see the contrast between those solid alcoves and the added new structures and shrines you walk out to in that second video for example. And yes, the merit of the stone architecture became really apparent to me on this particular trip. They seem to have outlasted a lot… Especially thinking of that sun-aligned passageway — it’s as solid and immovable as it gets.

  • Looks like a beautiful ancient site.

    Beyond the more well-known and famous sites like Angkor Watt, there seems to be a lot less research that has been done overall into the solar alignments of ancient sites spread across Asia, compared to say Europe. It’s quite an exciting prospect though, that you can come along and discover an alignment people have forgotten about, and help to bring to light a lost part of history.

    I’m no expert on architecture, but the look and feel of this site in Bali reminds of some sites carved out of solid rock in India — the style and architecture is similar, with elaborate patterns and textures carved in the rock, in the shrines for example. You see similar elaborate styling at Angkor Watt too.

    Apparently ancient Hinduism was widespread down all through South East Asia, but it was later replaced with Buddhism and Islam. Bali is one of the few pockets where it remained in place outside India into the current era. It seems likely that many of these South East Asian sites were connected in the past — perhaps remnants of a culture descended from the civilization of the sun that flourished there before more modern religions took hold.

    • Yes, a shame there’s so little research about these incredible places. Seems they often just get labeled “hermit caves” or “meditation alcoves” or places dedicated to a certain king, and then get left at that. Meanwhile when I was there I had so many questions — like how were these massive solid stone walls made exactly and by whom? Why are the shrines divided into different areas? Why do they hold very specific alignments? Are the shrines in the alcoves original? They seem kind of different to the rest of the construction..? What’s the connection between this site and other similar ones right around there? What’s the connection between the architecture at this site and other similar sites around the world? I had the sense these are far older than estimated — what kind of dating has been done on the place? … I was really surprised there are hardly any satisfactory answers out there on any of these questions. I bet if one were to dig in here, all kinds of interesting historical and cultural things could come to the surface 🙂

      • Jenny that seems like a lovely experience you had at that ancient site and it seems to me as well that it is much older than the date of the inscription of 1100 AD.

        I was wondering if that stone work in the video at 1:13 time in the right half of the video was of a feathered serpent?

  • That does indeed look like a magical place.

    I agree with you Jordan that it is wonderful that not just the site itself but also the approach to the site and its surroundings and have been preserved, so that you can actually get the feeling of being surrounded by a sacred environment. I’ve been to several sacred sites that – although amazing in their own right – are literally just surrounded by highways or industrial facilities. One giant woodhenge was right beside a concrete production plant for instance.

    So it is very fortunate that the method of construction here somewhat naturally preserved the isolation and tranquility.

    The method of excavating sacred sites out of the rock is really a remarkable construction technique. I can’t imagine the planning and work involved.

    • Yeah, the environment makes a massive difference. A woodhenge next to a plant doesn’t sound very nice :S

      The stone construction is very interesting, definitely. Especially considering an 8 meter tall massive relief… You can contrast it well in person with the modern restoration efforts — the restorations, even though relatively recent are at times so worn out and deteriorated, yet the original solid rock stands.

  • Oh oh oh, That does indeed seem like a very far cry from the city environment many people mechanically move in on a daily basis! I believe it when someone says that surroundings such as that also bring about a very different state within. Truly walking then into an otherwordly place. Lovely!

    So many mysterious places dotted around the world. Must’ve been nice to visit this particular one. Thanks for sharing the impressions.

    • Surprisingly, although we had a list of places to visit, this one was an unplanned stop. We just asked our driver if he knew of any places like this around and he made an extra stop and took us here. What a surprise it was to step down into this valley! 🙂 Being there definitely left an impression.

  • It definitely had a special and different feel visiting this place. Walking down that long, long passageway of steps with the towering rocks on either side until finally getting to the gate seemed like you were entering a truly magical sacred space. It definitely makes an impression and helps you get into the right state when there’s this long passageway and then gate to approach a site, vs. say one that’s directly accessible from the side of the road and you’re just sort of thrown into it.

    Then also realizing you would have to go up that long, long passageway of steps in the heat of Bali to leave also contributes to wanting to stay and admire the actual sacred site as long as possible – win-win 🙂

  • This is so beautiful. I’m amazed just how many of these very ancient sites exist that were built around alignments to the sun on solstices. How many places like this (and Angkor Wat, swallowed up by the jungle) exist around the world still to be discovered.

    It is clear that the knowledge of the importance of the Sun was quite universal and understood in bygone eras. We are lucky that this information is coming to light again today.

    Thanks for all your work Jenny.

    • Hi Sue,

      Yes, it’s actually incredible the amount of ancient sites aligned to the sun just swallowed up by jungles, sands, or just left completely unexplored. It’s nice to be able to re-discover them this way, because as you say, it really highlights just how universal the understanding of cosmic principles once was.

  • Thanks Jenny for all your hard efforts, I’m struggling to keep up with all of your amazing posts.

    Great information and the video. I’m hoping to visit my brother in Bali this year, and I’m glad to have your information to visit Gunung Kawi and since Goa Gajah, especially good since they are close to each other.

    • Both sites are quite similar and are wonderful to visit, and they’re only a 10 minute drive apart, which makes for a nice easy day trip. They were the highlight of our trip in Bali. It’s not just the temples themselves, but the environment around them that makes them really special to visit. Both are in valleys, with streams / river, and beautiful ancient trees and vegetation. You could see why the ancients picked those locations 🙂

  • Hi Jenny,

    Wow it is very inspiring that you managed to find some authentic ancient sites in Bali, connected to the religion of the sun.

    Recently i made a trip to Bali and was searching for possible ancient sites that were connected to the religion of the sun.
    unfortunately i was unsuccessful in my search.
    I discovered that the temples i visited had been re built, sometimes rebuilt facing a direction that did not reflect its original position, and at other times the temples were completely relocated.
    A good friend of mine who is a true balinese local traveled around with me explaining where the old temples had been located and where the new ones had been re built. He showed me the difference between the old stone carvings and the modern stone monuments and told me that a lot of renovations were done about 30years ago when he was a boy.
    I came to understand that these sacred sites were being renovated with little comprehension of the history that was being destroyed.
    An example was the dragon temple in Lempunyang, my friend told me that it was built about 30 years ago, which shocked me as i thought it was an authentic ancient temple, especially since it’s known to be of the oldest temples in bali.
    The only authentic stone carving on this site happens to be way up the mountain kilometres away from this temple.

    Originally i found interest in these sites when I discovered information on the layout of the main temples in Bali. The Balinese believe that Mt Agung is the physical manifestations of the heavens, or the heart of the island. Supposedly when a group of people from the Majapahit era in Java came to bali, they set up 8 sacred temples all around the island with Mt agung (represented as heaven in the middle). The temples are meant to reflect the 8 cardinal directions and is called Dewata Nawa Sanga/ Surya Majapahit(which forms a solar cross) which also protects the island from negative forces.
    Surya means sun, therefore it sparked curiosity as to whether this civilisation was connected to the religion of the sun.

    Reading your post and seeing the amazing connection this site has to the solstices, its clear some of these have survived and that there truly was a connection to the religion of the sun in Bali.

    Thankyou for sharing.

    • It’s wonderful that these ancient sites are being restored, but a bit sad that it is being done by people not understanding their significance, thereby changing some of the structures.

      I like the idea of the solar cross, which also protects the island from negative forces.

    • Hey Chris,

      Yes, I heard the same while visiting — that many of the temples were entirely reconstructed, and sometimes many times over due to volcanic eruptions and quakes. It seemed to be the case especially with the more modern temples. The ones set in stone, like Gunung Kawi, in contrast, maintained their original orientation and shape almost entirely — I suppose that’s the merit of these ancient rock cut structures 🙂

      I quite enjoyed studying about the orientation of buildings on the island in general though, even if not specifically aligned to solstices and equinoxes. All buildings, temples, and dwellings are apparently always aligned to sunrise and to the mountain you mentioned as it’s considered the dwelling of the gods — it’s really neat to have an entire infrastructure built around orientation to sunrise and the divine. I also really enjoyed learning that in Bali every single dwelling had individual shrines / temples, also oriented in the same direction. The daily offerings of incense and fresh flowers people set out in the streets in the mornings were lovely as well.

      I don’t know much about the orientation of the main temples, only that they are organized around the “mother” temple of Besakih — we visited it, and found that although the mountain air and views were gorgeous, the temple complex itself didn’t quite have the same feel as some of the other sites we visited in Indonesia. It might be though due to all the reconstruction, as that temple has been entirely rebuilt many times over, and apparently even the original version of it was built over a more ancient site. Personally, I’d like to know what was there before these modern temples were built 🙂

      Just wanted to add that although there are some symbols out there that use an 8 point wheel, the solar cross itself that’s related to the Religion of the Sun only has four points.

      • Hi Jenny

        Thanks for sharing this information about Gunung Kawi – it looks like an incredibly majestic place to visit and an impressive ancient engineering feat. It must have been a humble experience to be there and witness it.

        Could you please elaborate on the 8-pointed wheel comment you made about it not being a solar symbol or part of the Religion of the Sun?

        • Hey Patricia,

          For the Religion of the Sun, significant times of year are the two solstices and the two equinoxes, which hold a spiritual significance — these are represented by the sun cross (or a “wheel” that has four spokes in the shape of a + ).

          Besides the solstices and equinoxes there exist also celebrations of cross-quarter points (Halloween, etc.) which are actually not part of the Religion of the Sun as they are not celebrations of light (explained briefly here). An 8-point wheel can represent those additional points in the year, which is why it isn’t the best symbol to use to represent the Religion of the Sun. There was a discussion about this in the forums a little while ago, so there are a few more details here.

          • Thanks Jenny. I just have missed that one. I ask about it because the eight-sided cross is a common motif found throughout Malta brought by the Knights of St. John/Knights of Malta which is significantly different from the solar cross used by the Knights Templar. The four-sided cross is also depicted on ancient Sumerian statues with the exact same style cross as the Templars:


            I wasn’t sure if perhaps there may have been something sinister about the eight-sided one but the thread you posted helped clarify that.

          • It is interesting you mention the Knights of Malta, Patricia. I was doing some research on that group recently.

            Apparently they were once known as the Knights Hospitaller in medieval times and co-existed with the Knights Templar. Both organizations ostensibly served a similar purpose of protecting pilgrims travelling to the middle east.

            However, the two organizations were not the same and apparently were in conflict at times. I read that when the Templars were persecuted, their members killed and their order dissolved, the pope handed over their remaining assets to the Hospitallers.

          • Hey Patricia — yeah, I’ve seen that Assyrian cross that’s shaped like the Maltese cross. Seems like it was used by kings/rulers, as there are multiple carvings of kings wearing that pendant. It’s very interesting — I was surprised when I first saw it there. I also noticed the 8-point star in the carving in the corner. I’m not sure what the connection in this case is, as there might always be more meanings to a symbol that are not yet understood.

      • Hi Jenny,

        There was a video that was posted on the spiritual sun website a while ago, where Lara Atwood introduced the religion of the sun. I noticed that she was wearing a pendant, with what i understood to be an 8 pointed cross.

        I remember thinking that the pendant was very similar to the layout of the temples in Bali, which made me think this symbol was one of solar origins.

        There is also a very interesting sculpture in egypt that i came across on my travels, called the dendera zodiac, which also had the same design. From my understanding the initial cross is represented by horus(sun/son), so would make logical sense to represent the solstice and equinoxes. It also seems to have the procession of equinox present in the inner circle, although i have no understanding of its true meaning.

        Would you happen to have any further information on this topic? As i am still quite unsure, and may be misunderstanding this information.

        Thanks again, all this information is so valuable to my understanding of the religion of the sun.

        Keep up the great work 🙂

        • Hi Chris,

          That particular symbol is a Baltic solar cross with the cross arms extending outwards only having four straight arms. The wavy lines are differentiated (and in this case separated from the cross itself). So it’s not the same symbol as an actual 8-spoke sun wheel where all the lines are even (which is what I was referring to above). You can see an example of it here.

          In my comment above I was only noting that in the Religion of the Sun in terms of significant times of year there, it’s the two solstices and equinoxes that are of significance — represented by the solar cross which has four arms. Celebrations of mid-points in between solstices and equinoxes are not, and therefore a solar “wheel” with 8 spokes isn’t the best symbol to use to represent things related to the Religion of the Sun as it is sometimes used to represent those cross-quarter point celebrations.

          Ancient symbols can have can have multiple meanings, sometimes the same symbol can have slightly different expressions where the difference can be significant, sometimes symbols can possibly encode meanings that have become fragmented with time, etc. — some of these symbols might be relevant, some not, and some are still unexplored or not fully understood just yet. So good to keep this in mind when exploring new symbols, and best to use ones that are most relevant and ones for which the meaning is understood.

          This reminded me of an anecdote I read recently about a certain mysterious heirloom pendant that was passed down over many generations and worn by the chief of a tribe in America, which when studied turned out to be a 4000 year old Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet that was translated as a receipt for the purchase of lamb. Made me reflect personally on how important it is to actually only use symbols with an understood meaning, as otherwise who knows what you might end up wearing! 🙂

          • Hi Jenny,
            Thankyou for clarifying those details. I understand much better now.
            Yes that is a great point you made, and i will be more aware of these symbols in the future.

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