The name “Taman Ayun” translates to “Beautiful Garden” and you can be forgiven for thinking that you have died and gone to Heaven walking around this temple in Bali.
There’s no question that the only part of Bali worth coming to is the central heartlands of Ubud. The countryside up here may consist of small tracts of rainforest and endless rice paddies, but one thing’s for sure, it also has its fair share of amazing Hindu temples, such as Tirta Gangga and Pura Besakih. However, one temple sticks out above most of the others here on the way up to Ubud, and that is the striking Taman Ayun. The entrance fee to Taman Ayun is supposed to be 4,000 Rupiah, although I got in for 2,000. Even to this day, I don’t know why! However, even at 4,000, the entrance fee to Taman Ayun is still considerably cheaper than it is at other famous temples in Bali, such as Pura Besakih and Tanah Lot, so a trip here is well worth your time and money!
Taman Ayun Temple is a Royal Temple of Mengwi Empire and it is located in Mengwi Village, and about 18km north of Denpasar. This makes it probably the closest ‘inland’ major temple to the beach resorts. Taman Ayun is also strategically located on the main road from Denpasar to Singaraja. The temple buildings with their narrow, multi-storied roofs made from typically beautiful Balinese Architecture make many picture postcards, along with the Bratan Temple further north (and I guess the Tanah Lot sunsets, too).
The Taman Ayun Temple was to serve as a main site of worship among the Mengwi people who need not travel too far to the main larger temples, the likes of the Pura Besakih. It also served as a unifying symbol among the Mengwi royalty and the people.
The Taman Ayun Temple complex comprises four different divisions, one ranking higher than the other. The first is accessible only through a walkway over the ponds. Inside is a small guardian shrine and on the right is a large hall where the communal gatherings take place. A tall fountain with spouts jutting up and out to the cardinal directions can be seen in this area.
Onto the next court, a small temple compound can be found. The second and third terraces are slightly higher than the first. To enter, visitors must go through a second gate where they are greeted with ornamental features that depict the nine Hindu gods that guard the nine points of the compass. To the west of this is an 8m wooden bell tower known to locals as “Bale Kulkul”. A climb up will reveal two hanging rectangular wooden bells, plus a high and spectacular view of the whole complex.
The fourth and last court is considered the most sacred, thus ranks the highest. It is referred to as the Utama Mandala. The intricately ornate central gate is open only during ceremonies, as the entryway for consecrated heirlooms and other ceremonial paraphernalia. Another gate at its east is for daily access. Several tiers of different outlines and sizes rise up into the temple’s skyline.
The temple’s three grounds denote the three cosmological levels known to Balinese Hinduism, namely the world of man, the realm of gods and deities, and the topmost divine level. As recounted in the ancient texts of the ‘Adhiparwa’, the whole complex of the Taman Ayun Temple represents Mount Mahameru in the so-called ‘churning of the sea of milk’ or the cosmic formation of the world. The vast encircling pools were once royal recreational places for the palace maids who would sail small canoes, although perhaps unsurprisingly the pools and ponds are now fenced and visitors are denied entrance.
Unlike at some other temples on the island, including Pura Besakih where the local mobsters rule with an iron fist, my experience at Taman Ayun was a pleasant affair and I really enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of the place. Aside from learning about parts of the Hindu religion, I also enjoyed a random musical performance inside the temple by a small group of musicians with bamboo flutes and a couple of gamelans, which is pretty much the official instrument of Bali (even though it was invented across the water over in Java). There is something very peaceful about walking around Taman Ayun with the sound of the gamelan chiming in the wind.
All in all, Taman Ayun was a great experience that I missed out on when I went to Bali on the first two occasions. Luckily for me, I finally visited on my third time on the island and I don’t regret it one bit!