Nestling beachfront, jutting into the sea, or overlooking the vast Indian Ocean, these temples lure visitors with their grand architecture, captivating sea backdrops, and compelling tales.
Of course, when talking about sea temples, the famous Tanah Lot will immediately spring to mind. Probably the most photographed temple in Bali, Tanah Lot attracts not only the Balinese Hindu pilgrims, but also the non-Hindu residents and visitors to the island to admire its beauty – making it one of the most visited attractions in Bali.
The story of Tanah Lot dates back to the 16th century, when a Javanese Hindu priest, Dang Hyang Nirartha was on his pilgrimage journey in the southwest coast of Bali. He spent the night on a small rocky island he found near the mainland, and the next morning he asked the local fisherman to build a shrine to worship the God of the Sea, for he felt a holy atmosphere there.
The temple is considered to be another one of the most sacred places in Bali and the main compound is not accessible to visitors but reserved for religious pilgrimage only. When the tide is low, crowds usually gather at the beach between the rock where the temple stands and the cliff of the mainland. The caves have also become another famous attraction as legend has it that a giant snake lives in one of them. At the base of the rocky island there are many poisonous sea snakes, believed to be a transformation of Nirartha’s scarf, guarding the temple from evil spirits and intruders.
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, though 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.
In the coastal village of Pemuteran, in the eastern part of Buleleng regency, a visit Pulaki Temple is a spectacular experience. Upon entering the temple, you will find the mid-court. From here the beguiling blue of the Javanese Sea can be seen clearly with beautiful green hills to the right and left. There are more stairs to climb if you wish to enter the main court where people place their offerings and pray. Always alive with activity, the main court is the favourite hangout spot for mischievous monkeys awaiting their next chance to nab some fruit. Despite the noise of the monkeys, people still manage to concentrate fully on their prayers; they must be used to it!
During the rainy season, the dry brown mounds behind the temple transform into sparkling green hills. Black and white stones make up the temple walls, as if the hills themselves were being carved to create it. Monkeys roam around inside and outside the temple, disrupting the people bringing offerings. A good portion of the beach across Pulaki is covered by pebbles, where just like in the temple, a horde of resident monkeys can be found playing around on.
On the other side of Pemuteran, in southwest Bali, you can find Rambut Siwi Temple, located approximately ten kilometres from the city of Negara in the regency of Jembrana. It sits at a beautiful location, directly on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. Near the rear of the property is a steep set of steps leading down from the main temple area to a small prayer grotto nearer sea level. Perfect for meditating, this is a lovely site well worth visiting, for the temple offers a calm, peaceful and tranquil oasis.
This temple was already built by the time Dang Hyang Nirartha (the same Hindu sage who built Tanah Lot) stumbled upon it in his travels during the mid-sixteenth century. Nirartha stopped here to pray one afternoon and he quickly entered into a deep state of meditation. During his meditative prayers, the walls began shaking. They continued shaking harder and harder, until the entire temple complex collapsed around him. The temple was in total ruins and the unruffled Nirartha sat in the middle of the shambles, unscathed. Of course, Nirartha restored the temple to its original condition. He gave a lock of his hair to the temple guard and told him to plant it in the centre of the temple grounds and then pray that the temple would be restored and that the restored temple would be much stronger than the original one.
The guard did as he was instructed. He dug a small hole in the centre of the temple grounds, planted Nirartha’s hair in it, covered it with fresh dirt, patted it flat, then began to pray. Much to his surprise during his prayers the temple walls began to grow up and out of the small pile of dirt covering Nirartha’s buried lock of hair. The walls kept creeping out of that hole and assuming their original position until the entire temple complex was totally restored. And that’s how it remains to this very day, exactly as Nirartha promised, virtually untouched by the ravages of time.