Sahab Temple

Below article is an impression of the main and most sacred of the three temples, Pura Puser Sa(h)ab, southwest-central Nusa Penida. The author is much indebted to Jero Mangku Pedalang Oka and I Nyoman Jaya Purusa for an interview and a unique chance of discovering the temple’s treasures.

Hans Smeekes and his wife Fifi visited Sahab temple complex in 2011, accompanied by Nengah Seta, Lay priest Mangku Ratnadi and local guide Ketut Sutama. They made a documentary video in which the hierarchy of the three temples is explained. According to Nengah Seta and guide Sutama, Sahab Temple is the most important and sacred ‘centre’ temple of the island, followed in hierarchy by Pura Puncak Mundi and Pura Penataran Ped. Pura Kahyangan Jagat Puser Saab knows three localities, or sub-temples. The first is the Pura Batu Paras, second is the Pura Ratu Gede (Dalem) Slimpet. Within the latter temple, there is a shrine dedicated to Ratu Gede Mas Macuet, ‘a relative’ of Ratu Gede (Mas) Mecaling at Ped. The third temple is Pura Puser Sahab, considered by the inhabitants to be the most important of the three. Striking feature of these Sahab temples is their location, close to Mundi Temple at Nusa Penida’s highest elevation, not far away from Batu Kandik, all located in the middle plateau of the island, surrounded by a beautiful forest with lofty trees.

The word ‘Saab’ can also be written as ‘Sahab’. This orthographic variation is due to the way the original ‘aksara’, Balinese script, is rendered into the Latin alphabet. In Balinese the word consists of three basic ‘characters’: sa-ha-b. The second, over time, has lost the ‘h’ in Latinised spelling, and in modern Balinese (Latinised) spelling is simply rendered as ‘a’. The oldest available dictionary for Balinese is Van der Tuuk’s …, where in part 3, pages 15-16 the word ‘sa-ha-b’ is explained as: 1) an attack (?) by worriers; 2) a cover made of pandan leaves plaiting to cover food, betel nut etc.; the basket-like objects made of palm-leaves (Balin. ental, rontal), which seems to have a relationship with the Balinese word ‘kasna’, which bares significant historical meaning in relation to… ; the name of a large snake. These interpretations are confirmed by linguists Shadeg (2007; 420) and Sutjaja (2006: 793). Shadeg quotes: “1. to close, shut (tutup); cover, put over food on a plate; the lid of a basket for meat or vegetables, used reversed as a dish or tray; 2. large venomous snake”, and Sutjaja adds: “cover which is put over a plate”. Hence, Nengah Seta’s explanation of ‘umbrella’ (payung) in the video documentary seems to the point, in suggesting that this temple hierarchically ‘covers’ the other temples, and therefore Pura Sahab would be the most important and sacred on Nusa Penida.

At the third temple of ‘Pura Puser Sahab’, the Surya Shrine is without a boubt the most interesting historical feature of the temple complex, and equals the Meranting Shrine at Batukandik, only a stone’s throw away. It is esteemed to date back to possibly the mid-Megalithic (300-800 CE), perhaps at the beginning of the Classic Hindu Period. Similar ancient and archaeologically interesting findings, possibly dating back to the same period, are the ‘Golden Throne’ at Pura Puncak Mundi, and the ‘Manusia Kangkang’ at Pura (Meranting) Batukandik. This is, however, uncertain given the fact that, as far as the author is aware, no radiocarbon dating of any of (the objects of) these temples has been carried out. In the direct vicinity of this Pura Puseh (or Pusuh), there are two other temples at Sa(h)ab, to date not yet recorded here.

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