Rice Terraces Bali

One attraction that every visitor to Bali notices is the vast tracts of rice terraces throughout the island. When the crops are in season, their vibrant green offers wonderful photographic opportunities. However, the Balinese rice fields are far more than just a food crop. In fact, the famous rice terraces form the basis of one of the key tenets of Balinese life.

“Subak” – Irrigating Rice Terraces

Based on the principles of “Tri Hita Karana”, the rice fields are one part of the relationship between humans, the land, and the gods. The irrigation system, known as Subak, is one major effort island wide. The Subak system garnered World Heritage status in 2012. The entire water system of Bali is tied together including crops, communities, and temples. A bountiful harvest of rice is the result of a harmonious relationship.

Rice Terraces Temple
A Temple in a Rice Terrace

With this relationship between religion and crops, the entire rice terrace system in Bali can be dated back for centuries. The beginning of the system is believed to have started in the 9th century and continues to this day. Imagine that? The main crop growing areas of Bali have been under constant traditional use for more than 1000 years!

Ancient Community Effort

The Subak system begins in the volcanic lakes of Mount Batur in eastern Bali and Danau Bratan in Bedugul. The large volcano of Batur had it’s last major eruption approximately 28,000 years ago which created one of two large calderas on the mountain. This caldera is largely filled by Lake Batur, which measures 7.5km x 2.5 km. This large body of water is the source of the water that makes up the Subak irrigation system in the east. Lake Batur is considered a sacred body of water and is the largest lake on Bali. In the central and western side of the island the water originates from the volcanic lakes in Bedugul.

Farmer Rice Terrace
Farmer in a Rice Terrace

The irrigation system is controlled by a farmers collective and begins its journey throughout Bali starting from the lakes. The water first passes through the major water temples where it’s blessed by the gods. The water then passes through a series of canals and streams that have been in constant use for more than 1000 years. It’s very important for the water to pass through a temple before entering the rice paddies.

Bali Rice Terraces – UNESCO

The Subak irrigation system is such an integral part of Bali that it was bestowed with UNESCO World Heritage status in 2012. What is unique about the status is that it’s not just one particular building or temple like most. Instead, it’s the entire Subak system that is recognized. These include the Pura Ulan Danau Batur, Pura Ulan Danau Bratan, Lake Batur, the Catur Angga Batukaru rice fields, the Pakerisan watershed, and the Royal Temple of Taman Ayun.

Temple at Danau Bratan

The Balinese have created these world famous rice terraces by working as a community for generations. As rice is considered a gift from the gods, the growing of the crops has always been a communal project. With the everyday day life of Balinese being integrated within their religion, important endeavors such as crops are a part of it as well. There are many beautiful examples of the ancient terraces throughout the island such as the Jatiluweh slopes on the side of Batukaru volcano. Be sure to include a visit to the rice fields on your next trip to Bali.

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