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Ubud’s Sacred Elephant Temple – Goa Gajah
Known as the Sacred Elephant Temple, Goa Gajah is one of the most significant archaeological sites in Bali. This Hindu temple is located in Bedulu Village just six kilometres from Ubud in Bali.
Tip: Engage a local guide to take you through the Goa Gajah site for an information packed tour.
Goa Gajah is known as the Elephant Cave because of its close proximity to the Elephant River.
The History of Goa Gajah
Goa Gajah is believed to date back to the 11th century although relics predating this time have been unearthed within the site. The first known mention of Goa Gajah and the Elephant Temple was in the Javanese poem Desawarnana written in 1365.
Despite the ancient significance of the Elephant Temple, the last excavation took place during the 1950’s. Today, much of the site still remains unexplored with piles of relics laid out in an adjoining garden.
Popular belief is that Goa Gajah was used as a sanctuary by Hindu priests who dug the cave entirely by hand. Although accredited as a sacred Hindu site, a number of relics and the nearby Buddhist temple suggest that the site also held special significance to early Buddhists.
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UNESCO World Heritage Site listing
Goa Gajah was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 so that this incredible site can be preserved forever.
The Excavation Site
Goa Gajah is built into the hillside where two small streams meet. Entry is through a row of souvenir shops and refreshment kiosks. As with all sacred sites, you will be asked to wear a sarong and sash before descending into the temple site.
The northern part of the complex is dominantly Buddhist while south across the river it’s mostly Shivaite. Lush rice fields with small streams lead to another site entwined in local Balinese legends on the Petanu River.
The main excavation revealed a large ‘wantilan’ meeting hall and an number of old stone carvings, some of which have been partially restored. Lase excavated in 1954, the ancient bathing pool features five statues of Hindu angels holding vases as waterspouts.
Nearby structures reveal Hindu influences dating back to the 10th century but some relics feature elements of Buddhism from the 8th century.
Ancient Spiritual & Philosophical connections
Hermeticism is an ancient spiritual, philosophical and magical tradition considered a path for spiritual growth.
The site for hermetic meditation and prayers.
The cave’s entrance looks like an enormous mouth representing the door to an underworld. There is no denying the ancient spiritual and philosophical significance.
According to the folklore the entrance is a representation of Bhoma, the Hindu Earth God. Whilst others say that in Balinese mythology, it is the mouth of the witch Rangda who eats children.
Visiting the Elephant Cave
As with any temple in Bali wearing a sarong and waist sash is a must. These are available at the entrance to the temple.
Please do not photograph people while they are praying.
- Goa Gajah is open seven days a week from 8 am to 4:30 pm
- The entrance fee to the Elephant Temple is around 15,000 rupiah
- Goa Gajah is an active worship site.
Inside the Elephant Cave
The place is dominantly Hindu but some parts of the site demonstrate a Buddhist influence.
The Elephant Cave is relatively small with narrow passages. There are no lights other than candles inside the cave so the inner cave will initially be quite dark. Black soot lines the cave’s walls from the current-day incense burning.
The right passage holds a small worship area with several stone statues of lingam and yoni in honor of Shiva. In the left passage you will see a small statue of Ganesh, the Hindu deity reminiscent of an elephant.
Getting to Goa Gajah
The Elephant Temple is just 10 minutes southeast of Ubud in Central Bali.
- Arrange a tour to visit Goa Gajah and other temples nearby
- Rent a motorbikes or scooter in Ubud for around $5 a day
- Hire a driver for less than $5 per hour.
Explore Goa Gajah
The real attraction to Goa Gajah is the beautiful surroundings.
The Elephant Cave only takes minutes to explore however, nearby rice paddies and gardens in the adjoining valley, a small waterfall and the ruins of the Buddhist temple nearby are beautiful to see.
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Where to stay in nearby Ubud
When we travel to Ubud we choose to stay at Alaya Ubud however there are a range of accommodation styles available in Ubud to suit every budget.
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The historical significance of this site is incredible. 11th Century! What a significant find for Bali!