Terasering Subak – Bali’s Ritualized Rice Terraces

5 10 2011

Bali is not only famous for its beaches; in fact, 20% of the island is covered with emerald rice fields.  Those ‘terasering’, meaning rice terraces, found mostly in the island’s countrysides, are extremely unique for the irrigation system used is not found anywhere else in the world but Bali. ‘Subak’, that particular system, has been one of the most important aspects that Balinese people are religiously bounded to preserve.

With coconut trees, fresh air, and rich colours from silvery green to golden brown when grains ripen, terasering subak is not only aesthetically pleasing; they also offer comfort as well as revitalisation to your body and soul. It has been one of favorite features of Bali landscape for years.

Terasering subak was first introduced in the late eighth century and has been extant till present as a part of Balinese landscapes, culture and religious belief. Terasering subak normally takes placein steep-elevated ground such as hillsides, river gorges, ravines, and mountain edges. The natural contours of the land are formed into varying levels looking like steps, cultivated withrice and irrigated by little streams that flow from the top to the bottom, resulting beautiful lush-green rice terraces with about the highest yield per acre in the world!

Subak, the irrigation system itself, is more intricate than just technical implementations such as providing water to the soil and plants’ roots; it involves water temples and rituals too! Based on functional characteristic, Balinese Hindu farmers adhere to four different types of temples. The principal requirement of Subak is to have one or more of these temples placed in the paddy, dedicated to the goddess of fertility and prosperity.

Bali’s most talked-about terasering subak are found in Tegallalang, Jatiluwih, Bukit Jambul, Bebandem, and Busungbiu. Have a day trip around countryside and you’ll see more of terasering subak.

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One leader per subak is a must and he works voluntarily. Subak also has a clear organisation structure that is usually divided into three groups of membership. This is why subak is also called farmers governance. They go to the water temples for prayers, offerings, and meetings. They control the whole process together from these temples, ensuring every corner of their subak have enough sustainable water to get good crops without forgetting greater powers beyond their humanly efforts. Before planting, during nurturing, and at harvesting; ceremonies are held and offerings are presented at water temples. At these little shrines amidst the rice fields, you will always see coconut palm leaf square baskets filled with flowers, cane, fruits, and more, offered to the goddess of fertility and prosperity. After the water buffaloes walk the rice fields to at the early stage of planting, specially nurtured young stems of rice is carried on to each section of the paddies. The process involves a ceremony and the corner nearest to Mount Agung is always honoured to be the first place to receive these young stems of rice.

Subak’s water source can be an ‘empelan’ (weir) in a river, a spring, ground water, or a main canal that irrigates more than one subak.

Apart from the temples, subak’s farmers usually also post several standing holders made of bamboo around the rice fields, near subak’s water source, to place more offering to the goddess of fertility and prosperity. Without decorations of palm leaves, flowers, and sometimes colourful patterned pieces of cloth; these tools of worshipping may remind you of standing bird houses.

FACTS:

  • There are at least 1274 subaks in Bali (subak is not only used for rice terraces).
  • The best time to visit is definitely before dark and best time to photograph these strikingly beautiful views is either early in the morning or late in the afternoon as sun is less harsh so the richness of the colours can be best captured.
  • Tegallalang is probably the most famous site of teraseringsubak. There are three small restaurants here that are located on the top of the hillside, allowing visitors to have a direct view to the magnificent green terraced carpets by the river gorge underneath. The area is also famous for home industry of handicrafts such as wooden statues, knitted bags, and much more; all are still at reasonably low prices. A lot of hard-sell vendors stand by around the drop-off point in the street, so be prepared! Tegallalang is around 20 minutes, five kilometres to the north from Ubud. Must-see terasering subak in Tegalalang village are found in Ceking and Petulu.
  • Jatiluwih is a village on the slopes of Mount Batukaru with the largest terasering subak in Bali and was proposed in the list of Indonesia’s UNESCO World Heritage over a decade ago. ‘Jati’ means really or indeed and ‘luwih’ means special or great or beautiful. Stretched on 636-hectare land 700-metre above the sea level, Jatiluwih offers the true beauty of Balinese landscape surrounded by serene, cool atmosphere. Here, you can also enjoy rafting in the river around the rice paddies, visiting historical temples, and much more. Jatiluwih village is in Penebel Sub-District, Tabanan District, around 28 kilometres to the north from Tabanan town and 48 kilometres from Denpasar. The eastern entrance is through Pacung village and entering Jatiluwih can also be done from passing Watukaru temple on the western side. Jatiluwih is perched on the slope of Mount Batukaru.
  • Bukit Jambul dates back to Dutch invasion periods in Indonesia. The name is derived from the big trees atop the hill of terasering subak; ‘bukit’ means ‘hill’ and ‘jambul’ means ‘topknots’. Bukit Jambul is located 500 metre above the sea level and from the top of the hill you can enjoy delightful vistas of terasering subak on the valley as well as of the ocean horizon; at some degree, the neighboring island of Nusa Penida can also be visible. Bukit Jambul is located in Pesaban, Nongan village, Rendang sub-district, Karangasem district. It is about 51 kilometres from Denpasar or 15 kilometres from Pura Besakih. It is just about the borderline between Klungkung and Karangasem districts.
  • Bebandem may have not been properly developed as Bali’s tourism object, but its name is already quite common in tourist’ itinerary. Trekking through these rice terraces also leads you to Budakeling village, famous for its silver crafts, and Tenganan village with ‘Bali aga’ (original inhabitants of Bali from long before the Hindu-Javanese started coming) society. Terasering subak in Bebandem is set between the Gamongan hill and Mount Agung, Bebandem subdistrict, Karangasem district.
  • Busungbiu is usually an unmissable part of North Bali travels, before or after visiting Singaraja or watching dolphins in Lovina. It features one of the most beautiful terasering subak on the island, making it a perfect trekking venue with tranquil atmosphere and a deserted tourists drawcard.Busungbiu terasering subak is located on the southern end of Kekeran village, a borderline to Subuk village in Busungbiu sub-district, on the south of Singaraja (Buleleng district). The terasering subak is located by the main road from Denpasar to Singaraja via Pupuan subdistrict of Tabanan.
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