Temples are a cove of culture and heritage, but Balinese mysticism never ceases to amaze me with its architectural shingles and beliefs. Whether land or sea, Balinese ancestors are known to have built unique Minecraft’s of faith bequeathed against phenomenal backdrops. Two fine examples of an exceptional conflux of religious art in Bali are the Tanah Lot and the Pura Batu Bolong Temples. It seems like only yesterday, when I set out to explore, these Balinese houses of worship on a bright, beautiful day. Driving to the resort village of Canggu from Kuta took me about half an hour, and I have to admit what an amazing drive it was! We went past several Balinese family temples before finally approaching Bali’s south coast range surrounded, by beauteously terraced rice paddies, high-end boutiques and restaurants.
I was dropped off at the parking as vehicles are not allowed beyond this point. The temples of Tanah Lot and Batu Bolong are a short walk from this compound, and the road that takes you there flaunts charismatic shops, souvenir stores and eateries on either side. In a nutshell, it’s worth the walk! The common entrance to the temples, however, is marked by a black Candi Bentar, which is a typical Balinese Gate split perfectly to initiate a passageway for people to walk through. Either side of this split gate is guarded by Balinese God sculptures embellished with golden lacework. Beyond this gate, is a sight truly worth embracing. The centerstage of this view is dominated by the Indian Ocean, wherein the left-hand path takes you to the floating temple of Tanah Lot and the right-hand path to the clifftop Batu Bolong.
Tanah Lot and Pura Batu Bolong differ strikingly with regards to the geography. While Tanah Lot Temple is built on a rocky outcrop in the sea, Pura Batu Bolong is built on a clifftop. Yet, these shrines share the same epistemological ideologies that promote religious peace and harmony. While most tourists were walking towards the semisubmersible Tanah Lot, I decided to take the road less travelled by – the road to Pura Batu Bolong. During my short period of walking, I heard the walls on my left echo mysticism. Whereas, on my right, was an open market ostentatiously displaying satiny portraits of Buddha and countless quirky souvenirs that instantly diverted my attention from everything else. I wandered around for a while before finally entering the gate to the Pura Batu Bolong. On this day, the temple was closed, however, I was allowed to look around and take pictures.
The temple of Pura Batu Bolong is perched on the top of a perforated rock cliff above the Canggu beach. It faces the magnanimous Indian Ocean, which makes it gleam under the natural sunlight. Visiting this temple at the time of sunrise and sunset means you have a shot at capturing some spectacular pictures of Batu Bolong, as well as, the ravishing coastline. As for the temple, Pura Batu Bolong was entrenched in the 16th-century to worship Ida Batara Segara, the lord of peace, purification and harmony. However, the name of this temple took its inspiration after the Indonesian translation of a perforated rock with a hole.
Despite its centuries-old foundation, the Balinese Hindu community continues to offer their prayers to this temple, every single day. Some of the ceremonial rituals carried at this temple include Pekelem, Melasti, Piodalan and the Purnama Kapat. Legends have it, that this temple was built by Hindu priest Nirartha, who brought together the spiritual elements of Hinduism and Balinese mythology. Pura Batu Bolong features a Tri Mandala, a central Madianing courtyard and a Nistaning Mandala.
Another story claims that Pura Batu Bolong was built to honour the springing up of 4 wells at Canggu beach. Irrespective of the reason for its origin, Pura Batu Bolong represents the celestial universe and is one well maintained, sacred place that you mustn’t miss while you are visiting Tanah Lot. I sat here in peace, taking delight in soaking the tranquillity of the realm before paving my way to the floating temple of Tanah Lot.
Tanah Lot, on a low tide day, allows tourists to walk across the water to the rock base of the temple. The closer you get, the more you know why this temple is Bali’s most scenic. With an ideal backdrop, Tanah Lot Temple stands still rather immersed, in the ocean of low-frequency waves. These ocean waves make beautiful music if you have ears to hear. On this particular day, the cool ocean breeze endued fresh air which was a pleasant reminder, that I was away from the city and in the lap of nature. The unique architecture and history of this temple were like magnets, and I was instantly drawn, by an unexplainable pull. Much like Pura Batu Bolong, the temple of Tanah Lot also gets its name after its whereabouts. In Balinese language, Tanah Lot translates to land in the sea! This 16th-century place of worship is perched on a large rock that is said to have shaped by the ocean tides over the years.
The temple, however, was established by Dang Hyang Nirartha, a Hindu traveller, who eventually discovered the Shaivite priesthood. They say, that one day, while Nirartha was travelling along the southern coastline of Bali, he spotted this divine rock and had some rest here. A few fishermen noticed him and brought him offerings so he decided to spend the night at this little magical island. Eventually, with the help of the same fisherman, he built a shrine on this small island, and together they began worshipping the Balinese sea god Dewa Baruna. What’s fascinating is, that Nirartha also brought into being a giant snake, by his sash, who purportedly protects the temple. Nirartha wore this sash or the long loop of cloth around his waist, but least did he know, that a piece of clothing would become material in due course. In today’s time, real nocuous sea snakes guard Tanah Lot, from beneath the rocky island. And, No, they don’t allow evil spirits inside.
The temple silhouette of Tanah Lot is not the only iconic architecture of Bali. Much of a muchness, seven sea temples dwell in the Southern coastline of Bali, each within the eyesight of the other. It’s a rare trail of sea temples, exhibiting glorious views and philosophies. The more you amble, the more you will find. Yet, when you plan on visiting this coastline, hire a rental cab, as getting back to the city from this underdeveloped village could hit a snag. If you are staying in Kuta, then do stop by the Krishna Oleh Oleh Mall on your way back. It’s the best shopping place in Bali to procure reasonably priced garments, food items, and a wide variety of alluring souvenirs. If you are a caffeine super-taster, then it’s this mall, where you will find Bali’s famed Luwak Coffee at sale pricing. When you get right down to it, a hot cup of Luwak coffee will not only revive neoteric musings but will also, open doors to a new mystical exploration.
P.S. I visited Tanah Lot and Batu Bolong as a guest of Indonesia Tourism Board, however, the views are my own.