Pura Tanah Lot Temple: Where the Giant Snake Dwells

Explore Bali | Written By, Life on the Island | May 28th, 2018

Today, Pura Tanah Lot is one of the most visited temples in Bali, attracting not only the Balinese Hindu pilgrims, but also the non-Hindu residents and visitors to the island. But centuries ago, Dang Hyang Nirartha had to fight a giant sea serpent in order for him to build the currently famous temple. 

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Probably the most photographed temple in Bali, Pura Tanah Lot is celebrated and a must-visit attraction on the island. The temple is so famous that every travel book and local tour guide would recommend every visitor to Bali to come and visit it. The books and guides would definitely tell stories about Tanah Lot; that it was built by a Hindu priest named Dang Hyang Nirartha, and that the sunset here is breathtaking.

While the priest and the sunset are true, both the books and the guides often fail to mention the epic story of Nirartha and his fight against a giant evil snake that lived right on the spot where Tanah Lot sits right now. And here’s how the story goes.

Dang Hyang Nirartha is known as theHindu priest who built many important temples on the island during his pilgrimage journey from the neighbouring Java to Bali. Once he arrived in Bali, he allowed his religious spirit to lead him to a number of places on the island, the sites where he eventually built the temples. Tanah Lot was one of them.

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Anyway, after quite some time building temples and forming Hindu communities in Bali, Nirartha had a few faithful followers who accompanied him on his journey on the island. And when in Tabanan, a divine power whispered to him, ordering Nirartha to leave the lush green inland and make his way towards the ocean. The voice then led Nirartha to Tanah Lot.  Upon reaching Tanah Lot, Nirartha felt a strong spiritual power. He wandered around the beach, and the power grew stronger, so strong that he felt the need to pray and meditate.

Nirartha secured a spot by the rocky beach to meditate, focusing to figure out why he was led to this location. He had spent nights meditating, when Nirartha’s followers saw him convulsing and shaking like he was in trance, it was then that a bright light started illuminating, perched above a large rock formation.

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Nirartha immediately awoke from his meditation, knowing that he must build a temple right on the spot where the light was. And so Nirartha made his way to the light, when suddenly a giant, evil sea serpent burst out from under the rock formation, smashing the craggy rocky inlet and soaring to the sky where it tore the illuminating light into pieces, as if protesting Nirartha’s intention to build a temple there. As it turned out, that exact same spot was also where the giant snake lived.

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Nirartha didn’t give his temple building mission a second thought, and the snake was ready to protect its dwelling place; so the two engaged in a fight. As you might’ve guessed it, Nirartha won the battle. But instead of killing it, Nirartha told the serpent that he would let it stay there, as long as the snake was willing to guard Tanah Lot. It gave its word to Nirartha, and the snake was no longer evil.

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Though no sighting has been recorded in modern history, the Balinese people believe that the giant serpent still resides in Tanah Lot; and it’s not to be confused with the little ones tourists can pet found inside the small cavity on the beach across the temple.

Tanah Lot is also celebrated for the breathtaking sunsets. Here, when the sun slowly and gracefully sinks into the horizon, every pair of eyes in the area are bound to look at one specific spot in the sky. For the visitors, a sunset in Tanah Lot is a perfect Kodak moment. But for the local Balinese people, a Tanah Lot sunset is more than just the setting of the time, for it also acts as a holy remnant symbolising the spiritual light that led Nirartha to build the impressive temple.

Also in the Tanah Lot complex is another temple, Batu Bolong Temple. Meaning ‘hollowed rock’, the small shrine is built on a rocky promontory that is said to protect Tanah Lot. This site on the north of Tanah Lot has its own allure, it’s quite underrated if we may say. So the next time you visit Tanah Lot, be sure to walk up north and visit Batu Bolong as well.

TOTEM
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