Subak : A Relious Agriculture Heritage of Bali

Subak: A Balinese Religious Agricultural Philosophy Recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage

A.Description, Function, and Recognition of Subak as A Balinese Religious Agricultural Philosophy

A Woman Praying in temple as Subak:  Balinese Religious Agricultural Philosophy
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As an agricultural country with a long history in it, Indonesia has diversity and wealth in agriculture culture. Each region has uniqueness in carrying out its agricultural activities. The methods of processing, the concept of planting, and the harvesting of plants that are applied in the field are a clear illustration of this diversity. The heritage related to local wisdom shown how rich Indonesian agriculture is, which is certainly in line with the diversity of Indonesian ethnic groups and cultures as a result of implementation of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika in agriculture is a wealth of Indonesia which is certainly a beautiful feature.

Some of Women Walking Around the fields as Subak:  Balinese Religious Agricultural Philosophy
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In Balinese society, there are various well-known and world-recognized agricultural cultures. The religious philosophy of Balinese agriculture is called Subak. Subak has an important role in maintaining green agricultural areas in Bali and maintaining the food security of the Bali Region. In terms of recognition, the United Nations (UN)  through the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on June 20, 2012, has designated subak as a world heritage from Indonesia. It is a long journey for Indonesia and Bali in particular because they have to wait 12 years to receive this recognition from UNESCO. If viewed from its feasibility, subak fulfills several requirements as a World Cultural Heritage as stipulated by UNESCO. These requirements include:

1. Subak is a cultural tradition that forms the landscape of the island of Bali.

Subak has existed in Bali since the 11th century and it is a traditional institution that applies the Tri Hita Karana philosophy in its activities. In each subak there is the Subak Temple, which is a spiritual center in irrigation management in the subak area, through a number of rituals and art performances. Pura Subak is a place, where farmers seek harmony with God Almighty / Sang Hyang Widhi.

2. The landscape of the island of Bali is evidence of an extraordinary subak system.

 As a democratic and egalitarian system, since the 11th century, the Pura Subak network has preserved the ecological environment of terraced rice fields, which cover all watersheds in Bali. Pura Subak is a unique solution to facing increasingly complex challenges in the future.

3.Pura Subak is a unique institution, which has been inspired from a number of ancient religious traditions in Bali for centuries.

 Various rituals carried out at the Subak Temple connect the existence of the Subak Temple to the implementation of irrigation management. This is a manifestation of the implementation of the Tri Hita Karana philosophy, in which there must be harmony between humans and God Almighty. The harmony between humans and God unity through rituals at Pura Subak.

 Several parties have defined Subak in relation to agricultural organizations. According to I Wayan Windia who is the Chairperson of the Subak Research Center, Udayana University (Unud), Bali defines subak as a farmer association that specifically regulates/manages irrigation/irrigation systems in a certain rice field with natural boundaries characterized by temples, with organizations that autonomous (free from government interference/supervision such as the village head). Meanwhile in the Bali Governor Regulation, Bali Provincial Regulation No.9 of 2012, subak is a traditional organization in the field of water use or crop management at the farm level of indigenous communities in Bali which is socio-agrarian, religious, economic in nature which has historically continued to grow and developing.

Temple in MIddle of The Field as Subak in Bali
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Subak is also a manifestation of the religious philosophy of Tri Hita Karana, namely the three causes of happiness that emphasize harmonization of relationships with fellow humans (pawongan), relationships with the surrounding environment (palemahan), and relationship with God, namely the Creator (parhyangan) which are interrelated as one with others. According to Sutawan, in his publication entitled Structure and Function of Subak as a traditional organization in Bali, he explains the characteristics of subak as follows:

  • Subak has an area in the form of rice fields with clear boundaries.
  • This has subak krama (subak members).
  • This has subak prajuru (management).
  • Subak has a source of irrigation water from an overhang (dam).
  • It has awig-awig (basic rules).
  • It has full autonomy both inside (managing his own household) and outside (free to have direct relations with outsiders).
  • Subak has one or more temples as places of worship of God in its manifestation as the Goddess of Fertility.

In practice, this irrigation system is regulated by a traditional leader and also a farmer in Bali who is called “Pekaseh.” In addition, every agricultural activity usually begins with a certain ritual which is carried out at Uluncarik or Bedugul Temple. This temple was built by farmers. As an offering and gratitude to Dewi Sri, the goddess symbolizing prosperity and fertility. According to Sutawan, in her publication entitled Subak Organization and Management in Bali, he argues that the distribution of water to farmers’ rice fields generally uses two methods, namely the continuous flow method and the alternate flow method.

In continuous flow, all farmers get water simultaneously during the rainy season and the dry season which means that all the floodgates are open continuously throughout the year. On the other hand, in the alternate method, not all subak members will get water at a certain time and it must be distributed/divided fairly.

In this case, alternate method, each rice field group receives irrigation water at a different time. As a real example, if the subak area divides into two groups, for example, groups 1 and 2 of rice fields, in the rainy season the two groups receive irrigation water (Planting Season (MT) I), while in the dry season for Planting season II: group I plants rice and group 2 plants non-rice or crops which have drought resistance (maize, soybean, or peanut)  then MT III: group I planted non-rice or crops which have drought resistance and group 2 planted rice. Balinese call it as nugel bumbung (alternate method).

B.Future Challenge and Threat  

The Future Threat of Subak
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Along with the times the physical development in Bali as a world tourist destination. The advancement in the non-agricultural sector is certainly increasing and it can erode the development of Subak in Bali. This can be seen from the reduction in the function of agricultural land that occurs very quickly (an average of 750 ha/year), so that many subak areas are getting smaller. In the present and the future, maintaining the existence of Subak as a world heritage is a challenge and a tough task due to various obstacles and threats amid the increasing image of Bali Island as a tourist destination for local and international tourists.

It is feared that many developments and advancements in the tourism sector in Bali will actually erode Subak. Several rice fields were sacrificed for only business purposes. In view of the economic capitalism, the potential for non-agricultural development tends to be more profitable. Many temptations will be received by the Balinese people regarding the sale of rice field assets because of economic pressure motives to outsiders, in this case, investors or owners of capital.

First of all, it takes preventive steps in maintaining the existence of Subak as a world heritage. The agricultural sector should be prioritized in order to provide benefits, especially from an economic point of view. Farmers as actors certainly expect optimal yields from an economic perspective so that their household economic conditions are in good shape. They do not need to change jobs because of insecurityfuture. There is no need to sell their rice field assets because of economic pressure or think that the agricultural sector does not have bright prospects in the future. If the agricultural economy of farmers who are members of Subak has primarily prioritized, of course land conversion will also decrease and the existence of the subak can be preserved in the future.

Source :

Sutawan, N. 1986. Struktur dan Fungsi Subak. Makalah Seminar Peranan Berbagai Program Pembangunan dalam Melestarikan Subak. Universitas Udayana. Bali.

Sutawan, Nyoman. 2008. Organisasi dan Manajemen Subak di Bali. Denpasar: Pustaka Bali Post

Wayan Windia, Sumiyati, dan Gede Sedana. 2015. Aspek Ritual pada Sistem Irigasi Subak sebagai Warisan Budaya Dunia. Jurnal Kajian Bali Volume 05, Nomor 01, April 2015.

Bali Post. 2020. Alih Fungsi lahan Pertanian di Bali Rata-rata 700 Hektar Per Tahun. Diakses Melalui…html

 Badan Pemeriksa Keuangan (BPK). 2020. Peraturan Daerah (PERDA) Provinsi Bali No. 9 Tahun 2012. Diakses melalui

Windia, W. 2005. Sistem Irigasi Subak Dengan Landasan Tri Hita Karana (Thk) Sebagai Teknologi Sepadan Dalam Pertanian Beririgasi. Jurnal Sosial Ekonomi Pertanian 5 (3), 43939.  Diakses melalui

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