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Tanah Lot: Temple protected by snakes, ‘floats on water’

The origins of Tanah Lot can be traced back to the 16th century, credited to the Hindu priest Dang Hyang Nirartha who hit upon the spot while travelling

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Situated off the coast of Bali, Indonesia, there exists a remarkable structure that appears to defy the very forces of nature that surround it. The Tanah Lot temple, a symbol of cultural significance and spiritual importance, seemingly hovers above the water, creating a captivating and enigmatic sight. In the Balinese language, this temple’s name translates to “Land [in the] Sea,” reflecting its location atop a rock formation that has been shaped by the relentless ocean tide over countless centuries.

Situated approximately 20 km northwest of Denpasar, Tanah Lot stands as a testament to the architectural prowess of Balinese spirituality and the island’s rich cultural heritage. This temple is one of seven sea temples that line the Balinese coastline, each within sight of the next, forming a chain along the southwestern shores. These temples are strategically positioned to serve both spiritual and navigational purposes, guiding both the faithful and the seafarers on their respective journeys.

The Tanah Lot Temple

The origins of Tanah Lot can be traced back to the 16th century, credited to the esteemed Hindu priest Dang Hyang Nirartha. During his travels, he was captivated by the beauty of the rocky island and its tranquil surroundings. After spending a night on the island, he instructed local fishermen to construct a shrine on the rock, dedicated to the sea gods. The primary deity worshipped at this temple is Dewa Baruna or Bhatara Segara, the god of the sea. Even to this day, Nirartha himself is revered and worshipped at Tanah Lot.

The temple‘s architecture beautifully combines natural elements with human artistry. At the base of the rock, venomous sea snakes are said to protect the temple from malevolent spirits and unwanted visitors. Local folklore suggests that these serpents were formed from Nirartha’s sash during the island’s establishment. Despite being a significant cultural landmark, the temple remains off-limits to the public, preserving its sanctity and enigma.

Tanah Lot has endured the ravages of time, prompting a major restoration effort in 1980. The temple’s rock foundation was deteriorating, posing a danger to the area. Thanks to a loan from the Japanese government, a section of Tanah Lot’s rock was replaced with an artificial one to prevent further erosion and ensure the temple’s survival.

Tourist attraction, not a pilgrimage centre

Upon arrival at Tanah Lot, visitors are met with a row of souvenir shops resembling a market along the path leading to the sea. The entrance fee varies for locals and foreigners, reflecting the temple’s status as a popular tourist destination. While the inner sanctum remains off-limits, visitors can explore the base of the offshore rock during low tide. However, when the tide is high, the temple stands alone, surrounded by the waters of the Indian Ocean.


Religion, however, is conspicuous by its absence at Tanah Lot. It serves more as a cultural icon for Bali in Muslim-dominated Indonesia and a magnet for tourists worldwide. Its stunning sunsets and the captivating play of light and shadow over the ocean make it a paradise for photographers. The temple’s silhouette against the horizon not only pleases the eye but also serves as a link between the past and present, the sacred and the secular.

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