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Another must-see temple near Ubud is Goa Gajah or also known as the Elephant Cave Temple. The Goa Gajah Temple is one of the most popular sites of Bali and is also listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. Despite its name, you will not be able to spot any elephants here. What you can enjoy instead is the beautiful relic-filled courtyard, ancient meditation cave, the rock-wall carvings, the Hindu bathing pools and fountains, as well as the Buddhist Temple.
You can read my full Ubud Guide here:
Goa Gajah Temple is one of the most important archaeological heritages in Bali. It represents a place of retreat for Shiva Priest and Buddhist Monks and therefore is considered as a sacred place for Hindus and Buddhists.
Goah Gajah: How to Get There
Goa Gajah is located on the western fringe of Bedulu Village, just 5 kilometres southeast of Ubud, in the centre of the island of Bali. The Temple is also about 25 km from Denpasar (ca 1h by car), 40 km from Kuta (ca 1h by car), 45 km from Nusa Dua (ca 1h 40 min by car), and 30 km from Padang Bai (ca 1h by car).
Things to Know Before You Go
Opening Hours: Goa Gajah is open every day from Monday-Sunday – 8:00 am to 4:00 pm
Parking: 5.000 IDR for cars, and 2.000 IDR for motorbikes
Tickets: Adults 15.000 IDR (0,80 €), Children and Students 7.500 IDR (0,40 €)
Ticketing Service: From 8:00 am to 5:30 pm
The Guides of Goa Gajah
There is always a story about one Eastern European and one Western European travelling together, or I and my travel partner and also my husband. While me making some photos from the pool, the Western European found a new friend which he called “the good guy who lives here”. So the Western European (somebody who doesn’t recognize cheaters) told me that “the good guy who lives here” will show us the temple complex. The Eastern European (somebody who recognizes cheaters from mileage) knew that the “good guy” will cost a fortune at the end of the tour 😀
In Goa Gajah, but also in other Hindu Temples, there are numerous of guides who wait for visitors (or starry-eyed Western Europeans and Australians 😀 ). If you decide to hire one, you will need to fix the price straight away. Otherwise, they will follow you around for 20-30 minutes and then will ask for 100.000-200.000 IDR.
What Does Goah Gajah Mean?
Various theories argue about the meaning of Goa Gajah. Many of these claim that the name means “elephant cave” because the temple was named after the Hindu God Ganesha – the elephant-headed Hindu God, the son of Shiva and Parvati. Inside the cave, you will find a stone figure of the Hindu Lord Ganesh.
But other theories about the meaning of Goa Gajah seem to be more plausible. The name “Lwa Gajah” had been written on a palm leaf of Negarakertagama compiled by Mpu Prapanca in 1365 AD:
- “Lwa Gajah” was the name of the Buddhist temple inside the Complex, or
- “Lwa Gajah” was a hermitage for Shiva Priest, or
- The temple was named after the crossing River Petanu was originally called “Lwa Gajah” (River Gajah).
Goa Gajah’s History
The Temple Complex Goah Gajah dates back to the 11th century, but it was discovered 9 centuries later in the year of 1922 by Dutch archaeologists. The Hindu fountains and pool were discovered 32 years later in 1954.
The name Goa Gajah was firstly mentioned in the Javanese poem Desawarnana from the 14th century. Nowadays, we still don’t know exactly how old the Temple Complex is, but archaeologists believe that it was part of the Balinese empire of Bedahulu that ended in the 14th century.
There are many myths about the origin and primal function of Goa Gajah. Some of these reckon that Goa Gajah was built by Hindu priests who dug the cave entirely by hand. Nowadays, Goa Gajah is recognized as a Hindu sacred place, but numerous Buddhist relics and also the Buddhist Temple evidence the crucial significance of the Buddhism in Bali.
Back in the days, Goa Gajah Cave was a spiritual place for meditation. Inside the cave, you will see the carved holes into the rock where Buddhist monk and Shivite priest used to meditate.
The most spectacular is the entrance to the Goa Gajah cave which is chiselled out of solid stone – wide open demonic mouth adorned with dangerous creatures and animals. Many believe that the entrance is an elephants mouth of Rangda, hence the name “Elephant Cave”. Other claims that the entrance represents the Hindu Earth God Bhoma.
Actually, the Elephant Cave is quite shallow. The dark and narrow passage to the cave symbolizes the entering to the dark and cold underworld. Right after the tunnel, you will enter a wider T-shaped chamber older than 1000 years. Inside the cave, there are two shrines: The left shrine is dedicated to the elephant-headed Hindu God Lord Ganesh. The right shrine is dedicated to and worships Lord Shiva – inside the stonewall, you will see several stones lingam and yon brightly painted in like red, yellow and blue. This is an abstract Indian way of symbolizing penis and vagina in Shiva shrines.
The Hindu Pools were discovered in 1954 by Dutch archaeologists. They look very similar to the pools in Tirta Empul Temple at Tampaksiring, but they are much older than those. The ponds are sunken into the ground. Six Hindu Statues of angels, three on each poolside, act as water sink. One statue got lost. The 6 (+1 lost) statues represent the seven great rivers of India.
The Buddhist Culture dominates on the northern side of Goa Gajah Temple Complex. Just behind the Hindu Pools, there is a large open barrack. Following the steps downstairs will take you the Buddhist part of Goa Gajah. What you will find here is the Buddhist temple, a small waterfall and some giant ancient stones which were part of a giant Buddha or a Buddhist stupa carved from the living rock, similar to those in Borobudur in Java and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The statues date back to the seventh or eighth centuries.
Enjoy the day!
Continue reading this series:
Gunung Kawi Temple ~ Bali