Goa Gajah

Useful Information

Goa Gajah, Bali, Indonesia. Public Domain.
Goa Gajah, Bali, Indonesia. Public Domain.
Location: Jalan Raya Goa Gajah No.99 Kemenuh Sukawati, Pejeng Kawan, Kec. Tampaksiring, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80582.
(-8.523438, 115.287157)
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: SubterraneaMonolithic Church
Light: bring torch
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Goa Gajah, Jalan Raya Goa Gajah No.99 Kemenuh Sukawati, Pejeng Kawan, Kec. Tampaksiring, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80582, Tel: +62-859-3533-5003.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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9th cty cave built.
1365 mentioned in the Javanese poem Desawarnana.
1954 fountains and bathing pool rediscovered.
19-OCT-1995 added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.
1923 cave rediscovered by Dutch archaeologists.


Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) is a cave temple which was built probably in the 9th century. The exact origins of the cave are uncertain, but it is generally thought to be a place for spiritual meditation. The style of the sculptures is from the 11th century Bali Kingdom, so it was either modified or created in the 11th century. The cave temple is monolithic, this means the cave was dug into the rock while the outside of the rock was sculpted. The inside of the temple is quite small. Inside it contains lingam and yoni, symbols of Shiva, and the image of Ganesha.

This temple is quite exceptional as its outside is covered with menacing faces, which are assumed to be the warding off of evil spirits. The main sculpture is a face around the entrance, the entrance door is the wide open mouth. It was once thought to be an elephant, hence the name Elephant Cave. At least that one explanation, the other is the stone statue of the Hindu God Ganesha inside of the temple. Ganesha is typically shown with a head of an elephant.

Not far from the central Bali town of Ubud is Goa Gajah, popularly known as the Elephant Cave. The cave is thought to be a former hermitage for the eleventh century Hindu priests. Today it is a very popular tourist attraction the venue for tour buses and souvenir stalls. Refreshments are also available.

As well as the cave there is the traditional bathing pool. The site is open every day during daylight hours and, as it is a holy place, you will need to wear a sarong and a sash. Both sexes should also cover arms and legs.

From the car park a steep flight of steps leads down to a court yard with a sunken bathing pool. This is fed by jets of water from the nearby Petanu river. Water pours into the pools through water jars held by maidens carved into the rock wall. Legend has it that the pools were considered a sort of fountain of youth. Bathing in them was supposed to keep you young. The locals would have bathed there in segregated areas, the men to the right and women to the left.

Overlooking the bathing area is the entrance to the cave in the form of a richly carved archway representing the face of a demon. On either side there is a mass of intricate carvings representing mystical figures. Entering the cave through the demon's gaping mouth which is thought to represent earth god Bhoma, one enters a T shaped cave, which has been dug out of the rocky hillside. These chambers are thought to be meditation cells or possibly living quarters for the priests or hermits. The guide tells you how the mystical giant Kebo Iwa fashioned the chambers and carvings with his powerful fingernails, a feat that took him one night. The cave is dimly lit, and the short tunnel that leads from the entrance suddenly ends in front of a statue of Ganesha, the Hindu elephant god.. A short tunnel to the left leads to an altar holding a yoni while to the right is an altar with several lingga, the phallic emblems of the god Siwa.

Outside the cave there is a small wooden hut containing a weatherworn statue of a woman surround by hordes of children. Carved from a single block of stone this diorama is said to represent the Balinese folk heroine Men Brayut, a typical village woman whose struggle against poverty has made her a saint like figure in Bali. She is also known as the goddess Haiti in Buddhist literature. This fact leads archaeologists to suspect that this cave may well have been a Buddhist site before being taken over by the Hindu.

Text by Tony Oldham (2003). With kind permission.