Here tower up the symbols of the celestial mountain, meru, the seat of the gods. With their roofs piled one upon another like a multi-storeyed building, they dominate the landscape of Bali. A meru indicates the rank which its deity holds among the other gods. The higher the god, the more roofs there are. Their number is always uneven, with the highest number being eleven. This eleven-storeyed meru is dedicated to Shiva, the Māha-Déva (Supreme Deity), who resides upon the Gunung Agung. Merus to Brahma and Vishnu have nine storeys. The stone base is generally lavishly decorated with sculptures. In the uppermost storey stands an urn of clay containing offerings inscribed with magic words.
Next to the merus stand countless small shrines and recesses for offerings. The fact that on Bali art is closely connected with the religious outlook of the people is shown by the existence of a place of sacrifice to Déva Bagus Mantja Gina, the tutelary deity of the five crafts: iron-, copper- and gold-working, wood-carving and painting. Traces of Hinduism are indeed clearly apparent here, but the population has retained the primitive ancestor cult as the essential function of the temple. This is also quite clear from the fact that the Balinese also has his own domestic temple, sanggah, with recesses for offerings and shrines for sacrificial acts required in the ancestor cult. But Hinduism has left its imprint on these domestic temples, as is shown by the existence of sacrificial recesses, pasimpangan, for the Mountain God and the Sun God, Surya. The word pasimpangan means 'a place where one abides a while', i.e. where the deity stays temporarily amongst men during the ceremony.
Actually a better name for this sacred spot would be 'household temple'. For the smallest unit within the désa is not the family in our restricted sense of the term, but a patriarchal community comprising descendants of the same father, grandfather, or even great-grandfather. The courtyard in which this family group lives communally is surrounded by a wall, and the terrain is divided into three areas, as in the pura. From the village street one gains access through the gate of the courtyard into the first area, in which one finds stalls for cattle, barns for rice, sheds for tools, etc. In the second area adjoining the first are the living quarters, whilst the shrine of the household is accommodated in the third area.
Thus the ubiquitous village temple and the household shrine demonstrate the close relationship that exists between the social life and religious conceptions of the Balinese. This is evidenced still more clearly in the temple of the cooperative association for irrigation, purasubak, to be found in most dèsas. In Bali rice is the main crop, and the Balinese is expert in its cultivation. From 'Tafelhuk' in the south right up to the slopes of the range of volcanoes in the interior of the island there stretch the sawahs, terraced fields, fed by an extraordinarily complicated system of irrigation, the work of many centuries. The distribution of water to the various fields, and the maintenance of the irrigation installations can naturally only be effected without friction when the owners of the sawahs collaborate closely, for each one is dependent upon his neighbour. In general the members of the désa get along with one another quite well, but it does sometimes happen that their fields are not exactly co-terminous with the territory of the désa, or that a village draws water from several irrigation systems. Such matters fall within the competence of the co-operative association for irrigation, the subak, which also has its own temple. If for some reason it should not have one, then one or more recesses for offerings in the village temple, pura-désa, are reserved for it. They are dedicated to the goddess of rice and fertility, Devi Shri, who is also venerated in this capacity in Java. Here we have a characteristic example of the way in which primitive conceptions have acquired Hindu features. Shri, the shākti of Vishnu, became the goddess of fertility, as symbolized in rice. In decorative art we frequently come across the tjilih figure, a simplified representation of Devi Shri.
But in addition to the three sanctuaries mentioned, pura-desa, Sanggah, and pura-subak, every désa has yet another temple, the purpose of which points to a completely different aspect of Balinese religious thought. Near the cremation ground (cremation was adopted from the Hindus) stands the temple to the dead, pura-dalem, dedicated to Batari Durga, the shākti of Shiva, the goddess of death. For although the Balinese believes that he has the protective blessing of his numerous deities, nevertheless he feels himself threatened by demons and evil spirits. By means of sacrifices to Batari Durga he seeks to escape the threat of calamity.
In addition to these désa temples (we may still mention the temple to the Mountain God, pura-bukit, and to the Sea God, pura-segara, which are not to be found everywhere), there are countless other holy places, the significance of which extends beyond the confines of the locality in which they are situated. For example, there are many fountain puras, amongst which the temple of Tirta Empul near Tampaksiring deserves to be mentioned. The water from this fountain is deemed to have a special purifying power. Every year sees the population of Gianjar bringing their everyday objects here to be blessed.