The sacred and profane.

Pura Taman Saraswati is a temple in Ubud’s centre, built by I Gusti Nyoman Lempad (1862-1978), an accomplished and prolific Balinese royal architect, stone carver and artist. By his own choice, he never obtained a formal education but learnt his craft from other artists as an apprentice. Lempad’s career is like a bridge conecting past traditions with modernity. Trained in the old method of Balinese art and architecture, he later produced a large body of drawings in modernist style. He lived for 116 years and famously, it is believed, had chosen the moment of his death.

Pura Taman Saraswati, built in the 1950s, is dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of art, learning, literature and wisdom. In the front of the temple is a pond filled with lotus flowers. Water is provided by the irrigation channel that flows from the rice fields above the town. The temple gives the impression of light, grace and tranquillity.

The spectacular gate is in the centre. The main entrance is blocked by a special wall to disorient evil spirits. The temple is sheltered from the main street by a stylish restaurant Cafe Lotus. The music, dance and theatre performances that are staged there every night are especially popular with tourists. I saw the ‘Temptation of Arjuna’ performed by Cahya Warsa dance group. Read about the story

Dancer from Cahya Warsa Dance Group at the Pura Taman Saraswati temple in Ubud, Bali.
Dancer from Cahya Warsa Dance Group in performance 'Temptation of Arjuna' at the Pura Taman Saraswati temple in Ubud, Bali. Image: Stan Florek
© Australian Museum

But tourists stroll in and out through the day and usually find themselves enchanted by this peaceful ‘oasis’ in the heart of a busy town.

And profane? I saw the young boys fishing in the pond in the morning. Cleaning and tiding up is done every day and the lotus plants that grow in abundance are trimmed and dead leafs removed from the pond periodically.

But at night, when the performance is over and gamelan instruments are carried away, when lights are off, the lotus flowers seem to whisper, exchanging their sweet secrets, perhaps gentle gossip about the virtuous Sita or beautiful Subrapha from the story which still hover above the murky waters. Or perhaps they praise the performance before falling to their sweet-night dreams.