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Ancient Origins: The Rice Terrace of Bali

Luscious and captivating, Bali’s rice terraces are a vision to behold. Decorating the landscape in a verdant blanket of ascending paddy fields, their beauty is certainly what draws you in. What is less known perhaps is their wealth of cultural significance that stands testament to the island’s rich history and traditions.

Make your visit to the rice terraces in Bali all the more richer by instilling yourself with a better understanding of their ancient origins, so you can appreciate their true and timeless beauty.

History: Bali’s Agricultural Heritage

Rice cultivation has long formed an integral part of Indonesia’s history, stretching back to the eighth century. Viewed by the Balinese people as a gift from God and a symbol of life, it is Bali’s fertile soil and optimal levels of rainfall, which makes rice farming a productive operation year round and has done for millenia.

For thousands of years, an intricate system of water-irrigation combined with the religious belief of harmony between the human, spiritual and natural landscape, has allowed rice production to become a communal undertaking across Bali. This complex and ancient system is known as Subak, a social irrigation system that allows for the equal distribution of water for rice crops that originates from the same water source. This allows the entire community to benefit, rather than an individual farmer. Any water not used flows back to the main water source in a cyclical and sustainable manner.

The Subak network consists of interconnected weirs and canals where water flows from springs through Bali’s water temples, coordinating water use to each rice field. These water temples cover a land mass of 19,500 hectares, with the primary being Pura Ulun Danu Batur, located along the crater of Lake Batur, believed to serve the goddess of the water, Dewi Danu.

The entire Subak system is underpinned by the ancient Tri Hita Karana philosophy that aims to sustain a harmonious relationship with the human, natural and spiritual world through rituals, offerings and artistic performances. To this day, this philosophy is exemplified throughout rice producing communities and the democratic way in which they continue this practice.

A Cultural Celebration

As both a religious and social activity, there are many ways in which the tradition of the Subak is celebrated, through both ritualistic ceremonies and festivals. 

Different religious ceremonies are held throughout the farming season, from planting to storing the harvest. Farmers will go to the water temples with offerings for the principal deities, receiving blessings in return from the Gods. These blessings are often associated with hope that the farming system will work well and they’ll receive good yields that season. These include Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice, Dewi Danu, the goddess of the lake, the god Wisnu, as well as many more.

The Odalan Festival celebrates the anniversary of each temple in Bali and offers an invitation to the Gods to attend, with each temple having its own unique date of celebration. It is usually celebrated over three days, adhering to the 210 day Balinese calendar. This means you can often find an Odalan occurring most days of the year. The Odalan is viewed as a key religious festival that brings communities together. The temple is cleaned and decorated and the event features processions, entertainment and traditional dances.

Jatiluwih Rice Terraces Bali

As the largest of Bali rice terraces, the Jatiluwih Rice Terrace is spread over 600 hectares, located a two hour drive from Kuta, in the heart of the Tabanan Regency. Holding UNESCO World Heritage status since 2012, Jatiluwih is an outstanding representation of the Subak system and a must-visit rice terrace in Bali. A vast expanse of green rice paddies ascend up the entire mountainside of the Batukaru mountain range, creating a scenic vision of peacefulness. At 850 metres above sea level, Jatiluwih presents one of the best ways to appreciate the complex and contoured communal water system that still thrives after thousands of years.

The rice fields are at their most verdant between February and April, although during June to July, you’ll catch the farmers harvesting their crops.

Tegalalang Rice Terrace Bali

A true breath of fresh air, the Tegalalang Rice Terrace is one of Ubud’s gems. Set in a valley of cascading fields, the scenery is utterly breathtaking. With a good selection of places to grab a bite to eat, an infinity pool cafe and opportunities for iconic swing photos, you could easily spend a couple of hours here simply wandering around the fields and admiring the tranquil vistas that stretch out before you. 

Steps throughout the rice terraces are quite steep, but that only serves to make the scenery that much more elevated and picturesque. Whichever way you wander at Tegalalang Rice Terrace, the vibrant green oasis offers varying perspectives that make each and every moment you capture unique.

Across Bali, you can discover many more rice fields and feel the essence of the Tri Hita Karana philosophy and ancient Subak system weaved throughout. Whilst the rice terraces are undeniably beautiful in a physical sense, it is the story of their origins—of the ancient water management system that connects each community in a democratic fashion, intertwined with religious and cultural significance, that makes a visit to the rice terraces in Bali all the more meaningful and fulfilling—beautiful in more ways than one.

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