Northern Bali is replete with its own attractions. In particular, it is characterised by a presence of coastal trading towns with a strong Dutch colonial touch, adding a unique atmosphere to any traveller’s itinerary. So, while Northern Bali may not have the allure of the sun, sand and sea, its other historical sites may warrant a visit.
If you happen to be in the north side of the island, you might want to make a quick stop at Pura Ponjok Batu, a rather small temple of significant historical value. The temple is easily accessible from Singaraja, about 24 kilometres or 45 minutes away. Located in Pacung Village, Tejakula district, Buleleng regency, this stone Hindu temple spans an area of about 35 acres. The area surrounding the temple is promontory comprising stones and Frangipani trees. The views of Java sea and the hills will also feast your eyes.
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 Dang Hyang Nirartha, whom the temple honours today.
Legend has it that in the year 1489, priest Dang Hyang Nirartha arrived in Bali and settled in Gelgel. He decided to explore the northern coast of Bali after a while there. One day, he happened to see a boat washed ashore with its mast broken and screen torn. The crew on board (a total of 7 people) became unconscious. However, with his spiritual power, he magically healed the victims of the boat disaster, saving their lives and rendering them conscious again. The following day, they woke up all 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 Tanjung, attracting the attention of the locals. The locals at that time decided to worship priest Nirartha and subsequently built this temple, surviving until this day having been restored a few times. The Balinese words of the temple “Ponjok Batu”, a rock promontory in English version. The temple was aptly named as such because this is the location at which it is situated in.
Pura Ponjok Batu is not as photogenic as most of temples in Bali, but its setting and architecture is unique and alluring. It is one of those rare temples to be along the sea shore, affording views of the beach and the sea, inducing a sense of peace in visitors. Besides, the whole building is distinctively made of natural (black) stones, symbolic of purity, which makes it an interesting archaeological monument for visiting. And despite the temple’s small size, there are close to 20 shrines in total in the whole temple complex, each worshiping a different person with the main figure of worship being is priest Dang Hyang Nirartha.
Yet to be discovered by most tourists, especially foreign ones, the temple is however still usually crowded with locals for practical reasons – for worship and prayers. It is believed that worshipping in the temple is for salvation or blessing purposes. To the Hindus, however, worshipping there takes on more meaning. They see it as a place of purification (Melukat). How they purify themselves is by washing water from the spring in the face and in the head, and then drinking it. Additionally, worship in the temple, according to Hindus, helps to invoke safety.
On certain days when there is a festival known as Piodalan, the crowd tends to be even larger. You will get to enjoy typical Balinese dances staged to support the course of religious ceremonies. 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.
My time spent at Pura Ponjok Batu was well worth it. Although special clothing must be worn by all visitors, which will be provided, the architecture and setting of the temple are unparalleled. If you need a quick bite, there are also food stalls nearby. The entrance fee 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 the temple in the morning or early afternoon when most of the activity is taking place, unless you are into viewing a 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.” Referring to that, a visit to Pura Ponjok Batu will surely leave you enriched with what our ancestors had passed down since ages ago, and imbue you with the importance of cultural heritage.
This article is published with NOW! Bali Magazine September issue