The adoration of bats in Bali

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The island of Bali lies at the centre of the vast Indonesian archipelago and is the region’s main tourist destination. It is well known for the countless Hindu temples that adorn the island and it is precisely one of these temples that has brought us here. Goa Lawah (bat cave in Balinese) provides visitors with a surprising image of a sanctuary in which thousands of bats take shelter and are protected by local worshippers. It is forbidden to enter the cave and all living creatures must be respected and protected. Those who fail to respect these rules fall into disgrace or even risk death. Mangku, the temple’s priest, tells us that “Humans must live in harmony with themselves, with God and with Nature. Bats have always lived in the temple and so he or she who doesn’t want the bats here shouldn’t come to the temple.” We travel around the island looking for evidence of bat worship. We find that in the Hindu creed, well illustrated on statues and engravings in the temples, the image of the bat is not present. Neither do we detect them in the forests where we would most expect to find them. The sanctuary of Goa Lawah seems to be the last refuge for bats on Bali.

Entrance to the temple of Goa Lawah
Entrance to the temple of Goa Lawah
The bat cave
The bat cave
Bringing offerings to the temple
Bringing offerings to the temple