Goa Gajah Bali

Goa Gajah lies about 4 km east of Ubud, via Peliatan, on the right-hand side of the road and just before Bedulu. Or going out of Peliatan, continue past the statue of the dancer. The first stop is Goa Gajah, called the Elephant Caves.  Goa Gajah, which dates back to at least the 11th century, was excavated in 1922. The caves are hard to miss as there is a large car park, with an imposing line of stallholders catering for the numerous coach trips. The complex is on the side of the hill overlooking the Petanu River, down a flight of steps.
There is a reference in the 1365 lontar (palm-leaf manuscript) Nagarakertagama to a Balinese place called Lwa Gajah (Elephant Water or River) which was a dwelling place of a Buddhist priest.  The word ‘Lwa’ is Lwah or Loh that is meaning water or river. Although ‘Gajah’ is a name of river which now called Petanu’s river. The other theory from Dawan Inscription in 975s and Pandak Badung Inscription mentioned name of hermitage that is “Antakunjarapada”. ‘Kunjara’ means Gajah, ‘Anta’ means Boundary, and ‘Pada’ means Place or Teritorry. So Antakunjarapada means Hermitage place that is located boundary of Gajah’s river.



A monstrous head with a gaping mouth (the cave’s entrance) appears to be pushing apart the entrance with her hands. All around her are fantastically carved leaves, animal, waves and human running from her mouth in fear. Some say that this depicts humanity’s helplessness in the pace of natural danger. Inside is a 13-m (43 ft) long passage which stops at a T-junction, 15 m (49 ft) wide. This inner sanctum contains several niches which could have served as sleeping compartments for ascetics. At one end of the passage is a four-armed statue of Ganesha and at the opposite end a set of three lingga.

The bathing pools next to the caves are more interesting. These were only discovered in the mid-1950s by the Dutch archaeologist JC Krijgsman, who excavated the area in front of the cave on information provided by local people.  He discovered stone steps and eventually uncovered in each of the two pools. These seemed to have been cut from the rock at the same time that the pools were dug. It was realized that the heads and torsos of three buxom nymphs which had been placed in front of the cave entrance belonged with the legs, and the two halves were happily re-united. Water spouts from the urns held by the nymphs, into the two pools.

Stair lead down from the cave and pool area tosome meditation niches with two small statues of the Buddha in an attitude meditation. The remains of an enormous relief were also found in 1931 (by Conrad Spies, the painter and Walter Spies’ cousin), depicting several stupas. To get there, walk down from the cave and the bathing pools, through fields, and over a bridge.



As Ganesha (the elephant-headed deity) is the son of Siwa and lingga are generally attributed to Siwa-workship, we might conclude that Goa Gajah is a Siwaite temple. But the sleeping niches and Buddhist ruins just outside the cave suggest otherwise. The sculpted face of the cave wears large earplugs and therefore is a woman - many interpret her as a Rangda-type witch figure which could be linked to Tantric Buddhism or Bhairavite Siwaism.

Another theory is that this cave is being pushed apart and split into two - just a Siwa pushed apart the great cosmic mountain and created Mount  Agung and Mount Batur. There is a symbiotic relationship between these two sacred mountains, with Mount Agung being the male and Mount Batur the female. Often ceremonies propitiating the deities in the temple of one must be held in the other as well to complete the ritual cycle.

In front of the cave is a statue of Hariti, a Buddhist demoness cum goddess. She used to devour children and then changed her ways to those of a good Buddhist and became the Protectress of Children. This statue dates back to A.D. 1000. The Balinese have adapted her into their own “Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe” or Men Brayut - a poor woman, who along with her husband Pan Brayut, had so many children she just didn’t know what to do.

Large gargoyle nymphs literally spout water from their stomachs in a bathing place in front of the cave. Water is the source of life to the Balinese and sacred wells such as this are often found near temples.
Running past the cave is a tributary of the Petanu River. The Petanu and Pakrisan River run parallel to each other from the mountains to the sea. The land between these two rivers is where most of the antiquities are found. The Pakrisan River (kris is a “dagger”) has made its home by cutting through masses of boulders - a phenomenon considered almost magical to the Balinese. Therefore there are many monasteries and shrines cut into the rock along this river. On the opposite slope of the river are Buddhist statues in meditative poses. There are also many other Buddhist reliefs in this area.

The Petanu River - its name means “cursed” - has an interesting story behind it. Long ago, a huge battle took place between the evil king Mayadanawa and the god Indra’s army. King Mayadanawa forced his people to worship him and forbade them to make offerings to the gods - something the deities did not take lightly.

The first confrontation took place at Petemon and then Mayadanawa fled to Tampaksiring where he poisoned the water there so all of Indra’s troops would die. The god Indra was not fazed and he made two holy springs, one at Tirta Empul - which brought his armies back to life. During the ensuing chase, the evil king then fled to nearbly villages and by way of transformation, disguised himself as a cock, a coarse statue and finally a nymph. Indra’s arrow shot and killed the nymph and Mayadanawa’s blood became a river (the petanu or “curse”). For 1,700 years, the Balinese were forbidden from using the water from the Petanu for watering their crops as it was said that blood would run out of the rice stalk when cut. This curse was lifted at the beginning of this century.

By. Bali Individual Team