Tirta Empul: A Holy Spring and Temple in Central Bali
Pura Tirta Empul dates from around CE 960, when a temple was built on the site of the spring. According to legend, the ancient ruler Mayadanawa angered the gods by suppressing Hinduism and the freedom of his subjects to worship freely. An army, led by the god Indra, pursued Mayadanawa, who poisoned a nearby river making the troops fall ill. Indra thrust his staff into the ground to release a spring of pure water, which revived the troops.
Today, Balinese pilgrims travel from all over the island to purify themselves in the pools, fed by the springs which rise in the inner sanctuary of the temple. After praying at a shrine, the devotees enter the clear water, fed from the mountains to the the spring and into the bathing pool. With hands together, they submerge themselves under each of the spouts, progressing from the first to the eleventh. The twelfth and thirteenth are reserved for purification in funerary rites.
Bathers queue patiently, awaiting their turn to either splash themselves gently or fully immerse themselves in the gushing water in the second of the three pools.
The site is regarded as one of the most holy on Bali. Indeed the spring has been so regarded since at least the tenth century. The temple buildings are ornate and heavily gilt, additional decorated with statues old and new.
While I was photographing, a number of families arrived to take part in what appeared to be a private ceremony. I was wary of photographing a large group enjoying their personal occasion, but this family typified the composition, with each family bringing a combination of offerings and food…