Goa Gajah (elephant cave) located two kilometers east of Ubud, this complex overlooks the Petanu river and consists of a SiSwati rock-cut cave, a bathing place, a monks’ chamber, a number of Buddhists rock cut Stupa and statues, and several foundations. Dating from the 11th century, the temple features a statue of Ganesh, Hariti, and a sacred bathing pool. The actual site of Goa Gajah (Elephant cave) is down a flight of steps south of the car park. There were never any elephants in Bali; the cave probably takes its name from the nearby Petanu River which at one time was known as Elephant River, or perhaps because the face over the cave entrance might resemble an elephant.
In the courtyard at Goa Gajah Temple can be found an ancient source of holy water, 12 by 23 meters in size, divided into 3 compartments. The name Goa Gajah was probably derived from a name mentioned in scripture called Negara Kertagama written during the reign of His Majesty King Hayam Wuruk of Majapahit kingdom. In this scripture is mentioned that the king had a hermitage on the slope of a mountain called “Lwa Gajah”. Other assumptions come from the shape of the cave which entrance is decorated with carving to look like a monster, and from a distance look like an elephant head. Another said that the name has come after a Ganesha wooden statue which is put in the cave.
Ganesha is a mythological son of Shiva, with a human body and elephant head. The first excavation was conducted in 1950 based on the surface findings and the scriptures. Before it was excavated the area was totally buried and no indication of the bathing place and the cave. The excavation by National Archaeological Service was successful and could disclose a monumental heritage. It seems that Goa Gajah is a hermitage place for the Buddhist priest or what is later known as Shiva-Buddha Syncretism since there are remains of Buddhism and Shivaism such as Lingga-Yoni symbol and the Hariti Fertile Mother.
It was also probable that the oldest Buddhism remains is here, as a Buddhist statue just 25 meters north of the cave was found bearing the same style as those found in Borobudur. On the wall of the cave was a written Sanskrit word with a type of old writing called ” Kadiri Quadrate ” mentioning ” Sahivansa “. It is not known what is the meaning exactly. The writing style was developed during the flourish of the Singhasari kingdom in East Java around the 13th century.
Now the problem still could not be solved is the presence of a bathing place with a sculpture water fountain. The architecture of this bathing place showing the same style and architecture as those bathing place in East Java called ” Belahan “. While this bathing place has already been disclosed that it was built by king Erlangga of Mataram kingdom in the 10th century. It was probable that the site of Goa Gajah has been continuing from the 9th century until much later time of the 13th century of the Majapahit kingdom.
One important piece of information from the bathing place in East Java is on the wall is written: ” Udayana Gempeng ” which means Udayana is dying of love “ While the figure Udayana is known as one of the famous kings in Bali during the 11th century. Historians supposed that the king was falling in love with one of the princesses of East Java which was, in fact, Princess Mahendradatta that he married and ruling Bali together. The princess was died earlier and was said to have been rested at Burwan.
Another fact that is very important for Balinese since the marriage of the above couple is that all ancient Balinese language was changed into old Javanese Language, the introduction of Hindu-Javanese Calendar which is consist of 7 days a month, and 210 days a year. It is strongly believed that since this time the most important Holiday of Balinese was started such as Galungan and Kuningan holiday.