To many people, Tanah Lot epitomizes the romantic island of Bali. This is the image of Balinese temples on the rock facing the wide open ocean, perched high above the crashing waves below, with as background the colorful sky at dusk, lit by the slowly disappearing setting sun.
Located in the sea some 300 meters from shore, the huge rock of Tanah Lot is reachable overland at low tide. On its northern side stand two Balinese temples built on an overhanging cliff which connects the islet to the shore. Underneath the rock are caves that are inhabited by sea snakes, believed to be the guardians of the temples.
The Tanah Lot temples form an inseparable part of the Dang Kahyangan temples, the six most holy temples on Bali, but here believers pray to the god of the sea.
On the west side of the rock is a spring which the Hindus believe to be holy water and the reason why the temples were built on this rock.
Tanah Lot is derived from the words “Tanah” meaning a rock or land, while “Lot” or “Lod” means south or the sea. Therefore Tanah Lot means the Rock by the Sea. The temples of Tanah Lot were said to have been built in the 16th century by the Hindu priest Bawu Rawuh, better known as Danghyang Nirartha, who came from the kingdom of Majapahit in East Java, and travelled to Bali to spread the Hindu religion. Arriving at this spot he was inspired by the sacredness of the place and advised his followers to build the temples at this location.
According to legend it was Danghyang Nirartha who successfully strengthened the belief of the local population in the Hindu religion. However, in the process, another local religious leader named Bendesa Beraban, felt competed since many of his followers turned to Danghyang Nirarta. Seeing this, Bendesa ordered Danghyang Nirartha to leave the area of Tanah Lot.
Nirartha agreed but before leaving, he gathered all his powers, lifted the rock, and moved this further out to sea, building temples on this rock. He then transformed his shawl into snakes to guard the temples. Upon seeing this, Bendesa Beraban was awed and became a follower of Danghyang Nirartha.
Until today the sea snakes still make the caves their habitat. They have a flat tail like a fish and are black in color with yellow stripes. On certain days when the sun sets towards the north one can see the rays shining right onto the caves.