The large complex of Besakih, a sanctuary for all Bali, is situated on the slopes of Gunung Agung, the Peak of Bali, 1000 meter above sea level (within the territory of Karangasem). Today you can reach it easily by car (from Klungkung) by way of Selat. Formerly it must have been a laborious expedition for pilgrims of all parts of the island, certainly fitting the idea that visits to a holy place should reflect the difficulties of any devotional act; this still holds for modern Balinese who have not switched over to motor vehicles. It should be noted that Besakih was a worshipping place for the princes of Bali (Klungkung, Karangasem and Bangli) and their viceregents or family members – it was not intended for commoners. The several compounds were formerly cared for by the ‘king of Bali’ (Klungkung) and the princes of Karangasem and Bangli. Their descendends, along with most of the other rulers, still maintain temples here. Tabanan, however, has an ancestral temple of its own on Mount Bataku. Certain prominent families and castes are also connected with the Besakih sanctuary. Despite modern additions, Besakih has preserved its archaic character even more fullyn than the Pura Kehen at Bangli. It has always been regarded as a highly sacred place, once a part of the remote and mysterious world of mountains and forest peopled by ghosts and supernatural powers. The names and titles of the gods worshipped in Besakih’s manyfold shrines are archaic Balinese if not Old Indonesian (without either Javanese or Sanskrit). This, of course, does not apply to the Trimurti gods, related with the main complexes as they are now. An old tradition has it that Besakih was founded by King Kesari, whom we know from the Sanur pillar inscription. The site may actually have been very much older. Certain crudely shaped linggas exhibited in some of the buildings by their crude shape recall the monoliths of early Indonesian (and again late Indo-Javanese) monuments located in equally mountainous places; they fully fit in eith the site’s archaic character.
In the early 15th century, the ruler of Gelgel made the sanctuaryhis ancestral temple. Actually descended from the Javanese governor of the island after the 1343 conquest, he was an ancestor of the Deva Agungs of Klungkung (who had changed their residence from Gelgel to this place). Klungkung henceforth took care of the central complex, Bangli and karangasem the two adjacent compounds.
Along the road leading to the central complex (Pura Penataran Agung Besakih, or Pura Besakih proper) four shrines mark certain stages on the pilgrim’s route. Somewhat farther away, west of the road, are the remains of a Pura Dalem Puri. This is regarded as the essence of the entire island’s Dalem Puris, temples for the dead in princely residencies. The central complex is flankedby two similar but smaller series of terraces: Pura Madeg (“Erect stone”, containing the most clearly lingga-shapedmonolith) and Pura Dangin Kreteg (“East of the bridge”). These are situated at the proper left and right (roughly north-west and and south-east) of the central complex, respectively. The longitudinal axes of these compounds point in a northeastern direction, straight to Gunung Agung’s sacred peak. The compound’s central part is dedicated to Siva, the other two to Vishnu and Brahma. There are also many small shrines in the neighborhood. The various terraces within the compounds are strewn with shrines, seats and mérus.
The central complex consistsof a series of six or seven (the sections are variously indicated in descriptions) terraces, one higher up the slope than the other yet successively connected by gates and flights of steps. The stairs leading from the courtyard to the first terrace are flanked by rows of sculptures.(monkey’s, etc.) One of the second terrace buildings contains another of the linggas already referred to, surrounded by an offering stand. The higher terraces are reached by passing through those below. There is a separate courtyard with its own entrance on a level with one of the upper terraces to the north-west. On the opposite side is a larger cluster of courtyards.
The 1963 catastrophe which destroyed so many villages on the Gunung Agung threatened the very borders of the Besakih complex, but stopped precisely there.
From: A.J. Bernet Kempers, Monumental Bali