Sacred Monkey Forest – Ubud, Bali

Monkeys, Temples & Rain Forests

I recently visited the vervet monkey sanctuary in Limpopo and it reminded me of another place I visited in Bali that had monkeys unique to Southeast Asia. If you are looking for a place to visit that will offer you peace and harmony in a surreal setting then you will just love this Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali.

The name written on the welcome board is Padangtegal Mandala Wisata Wanara Wana. What a mouthful! – luckily for us it is more commonly referred to as the Sacred Monkey Forest of Ubud. (Sounds a whole lot better, hey?)

On arrival you will be greeted by 600+ crab-eating Macaque monkeys, also known as long-tail macaques. The forest serves a mission of Tri Hita Karana - a philosophy of Hinduism offering three ways to reach spiritual and physical well-being. It seeks to make people live harmoniously throughout their lives, thus creating peace and harmony for all its visitors.

The park is 10 hectares and is heavily forested and hilly. A deep ravine runs through the park grounds and at the bottom a rocky stream flows.

Hidden in the lush green rain forest you can find an array of temples, considered by the Balinese as a means of renewing contact with the spiritual world. Religious rituals are common practice here by the locals, and ancestral spirits, tree spirits and statues are all given offerings and prayers.

Sacred tree spirits

The park consists of 115 tree species. Some trees are considered more holy than others. The Majegan tree is used exclusively for the building of shrines and the Berigin tree leaves are used in cremation ceremonies.

Of special significance is the Pule Bandak, a tree that embodies the spirit of the forest, and is used in the making of powerful masks. These masks are only used inside the temple, and the trees are not killed to make them. An auspicious day is chosen and the Priest asks permission from the tree spirit to cut a small piece of its wood. The spirit will remain embodied in the mask.

Ancient Temples & Balinese Hinduism

One thing that cannot go unnoticed throughout Bali is their daily celebrations of deities. Offerings in the shape of flowers and various decorations are made daily and can be seen in front of people’s houses and outside temples showing their appreciation to deities. Here it is no different and such offerings can be seen at all three temples that are scattered in the forest. These temples are considered to be from the 11 century, having been built in 1350. Balinese Hinduism is very different to Hinduism practiced in other parts of the world and combines aspects of Animism, Ancestor Worship, Buddhism and Hinduism.

Ancestor worship represents the belief that prosperity is associated with a relationship between the living and the dead. Prosperity is achieved through intense worship and obtainment of blessings from ancestors. Animism represents the belief that inanimate objects and other elements of the natural landscape can possess souls which help as well as hinder human efforts of earth.

There are 3 temples in the forest.

#1 The Padangtegal Great Temple of Death, also known as the Main Temple is used for worshiping the god Hyang Widhi in personification of Shiva, the Recycler or Transformer.

#2 The Pura Beji is used for the worship of Hyang Widhi in personification of the goddess Gangga. A "Holy Spring" bathing temple, it is a place of spiritual and physical cleansing and purification prior to religious ceremonies.

#3 The Pura Prajapati is used to worship Hyang Widhi in personification of Prajapati. A cemetery adjacent to this temple receives the bodies of the deceased for temporary burial while they await a mass cremation ceremony, held once every five years.

One of the temples can be accessed by walking across a moss-covered stone bridge high across the stream; long banyan vines hang down above you and below. Veer off down a long flight of slippery steps passing by two large Komodo dragon statues.

Some parts of the temples are not open to view by the public. Sacred areas of the temples are closed to everyone except those willing to pray and wear proper Balinese praying attire.

The Monkeys

The monkeys are the star attraction of the forest. Just watching them kept me entertained for hours. There are 5 groups each occupying different territories throughout the park which I find very fascinating. Particularly adorable were the scrawny and hairless black babies that were clinging to their moms and suckling.

Monkeys in general are very social, and love teasing you by tugging on your belongings or jumping up on you to greet you. There were a few instances that a good few monkeys clambered up on me, which could get pretty overwhelming for those not used to it.

They are well looked after and the park staff feeds the monkeys sweet potato three times a day, providing them with their main source of food. Bananas are for sale if you would like to feed them, but I don’t recommend it.

Whilst these monkeys are used to humans, they are still wild animals. There have been several reported attacks over the years. You cannot afford to get your peace stolen from you if a monkey bites or scratches you. They do after all carry rabies and other diseases!

You should also remove all your jewellery and valuables before visiting – monkeys love things to play with, and this will draw unnecessary attention to you. My visit was really pleasant but for another visitor to the park … not so much. I saw a monkey steal a cellphone, played with it then threw it thus shattering it to pieces.

Images and content by: Chantelle Flores