Bali’s ‘Mother Temple’, as it is often called, Pura Besakih is found 900m high on the slopes of the great Mt. Agung in the Karangasem Regency. As the highest temple on the highest mountain of Bali, it marks the pinnacle of worship.
The temple takes its name from the Besakih village in which it is located; a name derived from the Sanskrit word wasuki, meaning safe or sanctuary. But it is the other origin of its name that sparks the imagination: Naga Basuki, a dragon of Hindu mythology, whose body was tugged and pulled to churn the Sea of Milk and birth the elixir of eternal life, Amertha.
What could this legendary dragon have to do with Pura Besakih? In fact, the question is what Naga Basuki has to do with Mt. Agung.
Some clues are found in a 15th Century manuscript from Java, known as the Tantu Pageleran. Written in Kawi during the dominance of the Majapahit Empire, it shares a mythical ‘origin story’ of Java. It is said that the island was thrashing wildly in the sea and had to be ‘pinned down’. Brahma and Wisnu used part of the cosmic mountain, Maha Meru, to settle the island, now said to be Mt. Semeru situated in East Java.
The story continues in the ‘Babad Pasek’ chronicle, which states that Bhatara Pasupati (a manifestation of Siwa) who resides at the top of Mt. Semeru saw how Bali, too, was floating wildly in the sea. He ordered Badawangnala (the cosmic turtle) and the three cosmic serpents – Anantaboga, Basuki and Taksaka – to take the tip of Mt. Semeru and place it upon the turbulent island. This is how Mt. Agung came to be. Lord Pasupati sent his children to watch over Bali. One was Dewi Danu, goddess of the lake who took sanctuary in Batur; the other is Putrajaya, who took sanctuary in Mt.Agung, venerated as ‘Hyang Mahadewa’. Having helped to move Mt.Agung to Bali, the great dragon Basuki – symbol of safety and prosperity – was said to have taken refuge in the heart of the mountain where he continues to reside.
At the foot of the Pura Besakih complex you will find Pura Goa Raja, or Pura Goa Naga Raja, where the dragon Basuki, (alongside Anantaboga and Taksaka) is venerated. This little temple has legends of its own, which even further the myth of Basuki slumbering within the great mountain.