For the Balinese people, Pura Tanah Lot is one of six Sad Khayangan — the temples of the world. Part of a chain of sea temples that stretches along the southwest coast of this beautiful tropical island, Tanah Lot is seated on a huge fish-shaped rock that appears to float when the tide is high.
History and legends
The Balinese people originally sought out this sacred site as a place to honor the gods of the sea, to bring safety and plenty to local fisherman. In the late 15th century, a great religious leader from Java came to meditate there. He offered help to the people of the area, curing sickness, teaching better farming and fishing techniques, and instructing them in religious practices. His presence brought people from all over Bali, and Pura Tanah Lot became known as a place of great spiritual power.
Legend has it that the brilliant coral rocks surrounding Tanah Lot were placed there by this holy man, as proof of his ability to be a spiritual leader to the people. The same legend describes him as transforming his scarf into a black and white striped sea snake, to protect the sacred site. The venomous snakes still live in the coral caves at Tanah Lot, and many pilgrims bring offerings to the snakes, which can be handled with the help of a pawang ular — someone we might call a “snake charmer.”
Experiencing the temple
Tanah Lot can be reached via a gentle 30-minute trip through terraced green rice fields on a paved road. The first view of the temple is a dramatic one, with the temple’s outline silhouetted against the waters of the Bali Strait. The beaches at Tanah Lot are often filled with people at prayer, as the temple itself may only be entered by Balinese citizens.
When the tide is in, and the temple appears to float on the back of the great fish that supports it, the temple is mostly inaccessible. As the tide recedes, a pathway to the temple appears, and visitors may approach it safely. In the coral rock below the temple is a freshwater spring, sacred to Hindus and said to be another gift of the holy man.
The power and beauty of Tanah Lot is best experienced in the late afternoon and early evening, as the sun slowly drops below the ocean’s blue horizon. This is when most people come, queuing up to follow the rocky pathway to the temple, meditating and praying on the beach, and watching the radiant interplay of sun on water.
Simply constructed and elegantly located, Tanah Lot waits on its ocean promontory — a beacon of beauty and spirituality for worshipers and travelers in this island paradise.