In the car park at the entrance to the temple Balinese of all ages offer their services as guides. Usually they speak very little English and know only the main facts about the temple. If you do hire a guide the price should be agreed in advance (about 10,000 rupiahs).The temple, laid out on terraces and built mainly of dark-colored lava stone, may strike visitors as unimpressive - unless they come at the time of the annual temple festival, in which tens of thousands of Hindus from all over the island and from farther afield take part. There are more colorful and more elaborately decorated temples on Bali, but to the Hindus none is so important as the Pura Besakih, the "Mother of All Temples".In addition to its annual "birthday" festival (the odalan festival) the Pura Besakih is the scene of Bali's most important temple festival, the Eka Dasa Rudra, which is celebrated every hundred years.The festival last took place in 1979. This was a departure from the usual timing, and for good reason. The festival was due to be celebrated in 1963, but the preparations were interrupted by the eruption in that year of Gunung Agung, previously thought to be extinct. Over 2500 people were killed and many villages in the surrounding area were destroyed. The Eka Dasa Rudra festival, therefore, was put off until 1979.LocationThe Pura Besakih (whose name is probably derived from the snake Basuki which features in Hindu mythology) lies in a luxuriant tropical landscape at the foot of Gunung Agung, which forms a magnificent backdrop, particularly in the clear morning light.HistoryThe Pura Besakih is thought to have been originally founded in the 8th century AD, possibly as a Buddhist shrine, since at that time Bali had not yet been converted to Hinduism. Tradition tells of a priest of Shiva named Sri Markhadeya who founded a temple on this spot. The main parts of the present temple were probably built in the 10th century by the local ruler Kesari Warmadewa.Some parts of the temple are usually (particularly during preparations for the temple festival) closed to non-Hindus. A well signposted path, which visitors may not leave, runs through the temple precinct.Temple precinctBelow the temple is a large car park, beyond which all motor traffic is prohibited. From here a wide avenue leads up to the temple, lined with shops selling religious articles and souvenirs. Then on the left is seen the first of a total of 15 family temples - a number which is likely to increase, for when a Balinese family rise to some consequence they like to have their own family or ancestral temple within the precincts of the Pura Besakih.A broad flight of steps and a split gate (candi bentar) lead into the first of five temple precincts, separated from one another by lava walls of varying height. In the corners to left and right of the gate are bell-towers (kulkul). In the first precinct, in adjoining walled courtyards, are a number of secular buildings in which offerings are prepared before the great temple festival. Visitors who are fortunate enough to arrive a few days before a festival will be able to watch these preparations.Standing at an angle to the wall is a building in which the priests prepare holy water and distribute it to worshippers. Then a further flight of steps and a covered gate (padur raksa) lead into the second temple precinct.In the third precinct, to the left, are four merus with varying numbers of tiers (tumpangs); the tallest has seven.Beyond this, outside the actual precinct, is a small temple dedicated to the Smiths' guild. The fact that the Smiths had their own temple in the Pura Besakih indicates the predominant importance of this trade on Bali.The most important and holiest precinct of the Pura Besakih contains relatively few buildings. At the near end are two merus, an eleven-tiered one on the right and a three-tiered one on the left, and beyond these are other sacred buildings. From the terrace there is a fine view of the whole temple area.Various princely families or their descendants are responsible for the upkeep of the shrines in the main part of the complex, the Pura Panataran Agung: the Rajas of Bangli for the shrine of Vishnu, the Rajas of Karangasem (Amlapura) for that of Brahma, the Rajas of Klungkung for that of Shiva.There are other shrines outside the temple precincts. The Pura Dangin Kreteg is reached on a path which goes off to the right of the Pura Penataran Agung, and above it, to the left, is the Pura Batu Madeg.