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Goa Gajah Temple


Elephant Cave or better known as Goa Gajah is the name of a place with the archeological heritage in form of a cave ornamented by the beautiful relief on the outside wall of cave. This place is formerly as a park, a place of retreat for Shiva Priest and Buddhist monks. Goa Gajah is located in the west side of Bedulu Village, Blahbatuh District and Gianyar Regency which is about 27 km from Denpasar City. This cave is built on the brink of a meeting between two small rivers those are called by Kali Pangkung then it water mixing with Petanu River flows under it. The meeting area of two rivers is called by Campuhan/mixed which is deemed to have a magical power based on concept of Rwabhineda (two differences). Based on this concept seems Goa Gajah is intentionally built in two rivers.


The Story of Goa Gajah

Goa Gajah word probably derived from the word of Lwa Gajah, the name of Vihara (Buddhist Temple) or the park for Buddhist monks. This name had been written on Lontar (palm leaf) of Negarakertagama compiled by Mpu Prapanca in 1365 AD. Lwa or Lwah/Loh means river so what is meant here is the hermitage located in Gajah River or Air Gajah. It was also mentioned in the inscription year 944 Saka that Ser Ring Air Gajah that is means the chief of Subak (irrigation system organization) at Air Gajah. It is signaled that the hermitage of Lwa Gajah located at Gajah River Subak. In the inscription year 1103 Saka issued by Jayapangus King (the king who famous with it authority, which make the Bali’s name become famous in that era) mentioning that Air Gajah is a hermitage for Shiva Priest. Based on this date, it can be concluded that the hermitage is now renamed to Goa Gajah.

In the past named:

  1. Air Gajah is a hermitage for Shiva Priest
  2. Lwa Gajah is a hermitage for Buddhist monks


In addition to the name of Air Gajah and Lwa Gajah, it is also mentioned the hermitage’s name of Antakunjarapada that is on Dawan Inscription year 975 Saka and Pandak Bandung inscription year 993 Saka. If we consider the sense of word, then Kunjara means Gajah, Anta means end or limits, Pada means area/region. When it is combined the word means Gajah Border Region, probably means the hermitage located on the Subak Border Region (Air Gajah). Based on this prediction, the hermitage of Antakunjarapada is the hermitage of Gua Gajah. So in the past century, the Goa Gajah has 3 designations to name of hermitage located on the Subak Border Region (Air Gajah) includes Air Gajah (name in the ancient of Bahasa Malayu or Bali), Lwa Gajah (name in the ancient of Java Language) and Antakunjarapada (name in the Sanskrit).


Goa Gajah Relief

The structure and relief of Goa Gajah can be explained that the structure of Goa Gajah is T-shape consisted of:

  1. The outside of the cave in the form of vertical-shaped hall, divided into 2 parts and each section has 2 niches.
  2. The inside of main room has 11 niches with horizontal shipped. There is a statue of Lord Ganesha set in west corner, meanwhile in the east corner there are 3 on the pedestal and each of phallus is surrounded by small phallus.


Therefore the hermitage of Goa Gajah is an artificial form of asceticism Kunjarakunja located in south part of India, in the mountain forest of Kunjara as a hermitage of Rsi Agastya, hence the relief carved at the hermitage of Goa Gajah is a natural mountain carvings.


Among the reliefs, there are trees with limbs and dense of leafs. There are also animals such as wild boar, tortoise and the ghost that seems to creep up the slopes of the mountains and stacking the corners of the forest area. At the mouth of the cave as an entrance, it is ornamented by the sculpture of Kala Head with his eyes glancing to the left side or east wall there is a brief with letter of Kediri type or Kediri Kwadrat from the beginning of 11 century. The function of Kala is identically as a Bhoma contained on the gate of Hindu temple in Bali, namely to maintain the sanctity of asceticism and provide the protection. It can be added that this cave was discovered in 1923 which is previously covered by the grass and trees so that its existence is still hidden as a relic.

Other Relics

A few yards of the cave that is in the middle of cave courtyard, there is a pond of Patirtaan, a place to take Tirta or holy water for the ceremony. The holy pond was originally buried in the ground and successfully found in 1954 by Krijgsman from department of antiquities. This holy pond is completed by the statues equipped by showers in form of  Widyadara-Widyadari (angels) arranged in a group of three lines with 6 statues ( 5 statues have been put back). Perhaps at first time there 7 fountain statues, a statue was set in the middle as interrupter but its existence has not been known until now. The existence of 7 fountain statues are based on the concept of Sapta Tirtha, the seven holy water which has a purity equal to Sapta Nadi (seven purified river includes Gangga, Sindhu, Saraswati, Yamuna, Godawari, Serayu and Narmada. It is symbolic meaning that taking the water from each fountain has as sacred value like the sacred of Sapta Nadi.