North Bali is replete with its very own attractions. In particular, it is characterised by a presence of coastal trading towns with a strong Dutch-colonial influence, adding a unique atmosphere to any traveller’s itinerary. So, while North Bali may not have the same allure and lifestyle of the usual Bali ‘trifecta’, sun, sand and sea, its historical sites surely warrant a visit for a different experience.
One of the most culturally interesting sites is Pura Ponjok Batu, a small temple with significant historical value. The temple is found in Pacung Village, Tejakula district in the Buleleng Regency, 45 minutes away from Singaraja, the north’s largest city. It spans area of around 35 acres on a headland comprised of stones and frangipani trees, with views of the Java Sea abound.
Pura Ponjok Batu was believed to be constructed between 1460 and 1550 during the reign of the Kingdom of Dalem Gelgel, Sri Waturenggong. At that time, the entire island of Bali was alleged to require protection from evil spirits. Mystical stories and archaeological findings seem to tell a story revolving around priest – or sage – Dang Hyang Nirartha, whom the temple honours today.
Legend has it that in the year 1489 priest Dang Hyang Nirarth arrived in Bali and settled in Gelgel. He decided to explore the northern coast of Bali during his travels. One day, he saw a boat washed ashore with its mast broken and sail torn. The crew on board (a total of 7 people) were totally unconscious. With his spiritual power, he magically healed the victims of the shipwreck, saving their lives. The following day, they all woke up fresh and healthy.
Priest Nirartha then sailed to Lombok after some discussion with the boat crew. After his departure for Lombok, a number of miracles occurred in the area, attracting the attention of the locals. The locals at that time decided to worship priest Nirartha and subsequently built this temple, which stands to this day with the help of a few restorations. The words “Ponjok Batu” are Balinese for a rocky cape; aptly naming the temple at is sits on a rocky protrusion on the northern coast.
Pura Ponjok Batu is not as photogenic as other temples in Bali, but its setting and architecture is unique and alluring. The whole building is distinctively made of natural (black) stones, symbolic of purity. Despite the temple’s small size, there are close to 20 shrines in total in the whole complex, each worshipping a different person with the main figure of worship being the priest Dang Hyang Nirartha.
The temple remains relatively unfrequented by tourists, especially foreign ones, but it is often full with local Hindu’s coming for worship and prayers. At this special temple, the Balinese Hindu also practice their melukat purification ceremonies; the melukat involves washing oneself in the holy water of a spring, cleansing from head to toe and drinking the water too.
On certain days when there is a festival known as piodalan (can be likened to the birthday or anniversary of a temple), the crowd tends to be even larger. Balinese dances often open the sacral rites, welcoming the people and the gods before religious ceremonies begin. Apart from observing or participating in the usual worship or the festival, if you happen to be present on the correct day, another key attraction would be the 500-year-old boat shrine by the sea. This shrine is supposedly placed where the first monk is said to have set foot on Bali.
A trip to Bali’s north shore and visiting Pura Ponjok Batu is certainly worth the trip, as it offers key insight into Bali’s religious history whilst revealing a totally different look and feel of the island. A slightly more local and rural atmosphere. The entrance fee to the temple is by donation of an amount of your choice. A guide is strongly recommended, although not mandatory. You would need to pay an additional amount for the guide. As with all temples in general, it is best to visit in the morning or early afternoon when most of the activity is taking place, unless you are into seeing it during the sunset.
A quote says, “The contemplation of the unbroken continuity of life ‘from eternity to eternity’ is the very purpose and function of the temple.” With that in mind, a visit to Pura Ponjok Batu will surely leave you enriched with what the locals’ ancestors had passed down since hundreds of years ago, and imbue you with the importance of cultural heritage.
Pura Ponjok Batu
Pacung Village, Tejakula District, Buleleng Regency