Subak Irrigation System

Subak is a traditional organization of farming communities in Bali that specifically and traditionally regulates the management of irrigation system of ricefields, the existence of Subak is a manifestation of the philosophy/concept of Tri Hita Karana.

The word “Subak” comes from Balinese language, which was first seen in Pandak Bandung inscription from 1072 AD. The word subak refers to a unique social and religious institution, has its own arrangements for farmers in determining the fair use of irrigation water for rice growth.

Subak for the Balinese people is not just an irrigation system but also a concept of life for them. Subak is a direct implementation of the Tri Hita Karana philosophy in real life.

Tri Hita Karana comes from the words “Tri” which means three, “Hita” which means happiness or prosperity and “Karana” which means cause. So the Tri Hita Karana means “Three causes for the creation of happiness and well-being”. Its application in the subak system is:
Parahyangan is a harmonious relationship between humans and God.
Pawongan is a harmonious relationship between humans and each other.
Palemahan is a harmonious relationship between humans and nature and their environment.

As a method of managing living together among member of community owning ricefields, Subak was able to survive for more than a century because the people obeyed their ancestral traditions. The distribution of water is carried out fairly and equitably, all problems are discussed and solved together, even the timing of planting and the determination of the type of rice to be planted are carried out together.

Sanctions for various forms of violations will be determined by the residents themselves through ceremonies or rituals carried out at the temple. This kind of harmonisation of life is the main key to the preservation of Subak culture on this island.

Subak Organizational Structure

Members of subak or also commonly referred to as krama subak are farmers who own the fields and get a share of the water in their fields. Within subak members there are also several groups called Sekaa. Krama subak is classified into 3, namely:

  1. Krama active is an active member such as Pekaseh, Sekaa yeh or Sekaa Subak.
  2. Passive members, namely members who replace their obligations with money or its kind due to several causes which are commonly referred to as Pengohot or Pengohot.
  3. Krama lupus namely members (krama) who are not active in all kinds of subak activities because of their duties such as role to be village head or Indigenous Bendesa.

Management (Prajuru) Subak consists of:

  1. Pekaseh/Kelian is the head of the subak.
  2. Pangliman/Petajuh is in charge of being the deputy head of the subak.
  3. Peyarikan/Juru tulis is the secretary.
  4. Petengen has the duty as treasurer.
  5. Saya/juru arah/juru uduh/juru tibak/kasinoman have duties in matters of notification or announcement.
  6. Pemangku has special duties in ritual/religious matters.

The group (Sekaa) within the subak is divided into:

  1. Sekaa Numbeg, which is a group that regulates land management.
  2. Sekaa Jelinjingan, a group in charge of regulating water treatment.
  3. Sekaa Sambang, namely the group that has the task of controlling water from theft, catching or deterring plant-destroying animals such as birds and rats.
  4. Sekaa Memulih/Nandur, namely the group in charge of planting rice seedlings.
  5. Sekaa Mejukut, the group in charge of weeding rice.
  6. Sekaa Manyi is a group in charge of harvesting/cutting/planning rice.
  7. Sekaa Bleseng, which is a group that has the task of transporting bundles of rice that have been planed from the fields to the barn.

As an organization that is autonomous in managing its own organization, Subak can establish regulations known as awig-awig, sima, perarem. The awig-awig contains the main things and provisions, the main content in awig awig is to regulate the matters of parahyangan, pawongan and weakening while the provisions and more detailed matters are contained in the pararem as the implementation of awig awig subak. Awig awig subak contains the rights and obligations of subak residents and contains sanctions for violations of these rights and obligations.

Subak Irrigation Network

Experts also mention that Subak is also a technology system that has become a culture in Bali. Subak as a technological method from the indigenous culture of Balinese farmers. The main facilities of subak irrigation (palemahan) for each subak member farmer are in the form of pengalapan (water dam), jelinjing (trench), and a cakangan (a place/tool ​​to enter water into arable fields).

If in a ricefield location there are two or more “cakangan” that are close to each other, the height of the cakangan are the same (the ease and smoothness of the water flowing into each farmer’s field is the same), but the difference in the width of the hole holes can still be tolerated, adjusted for differences. area of ​​rice fields cultivated by farmers. The manufacture, maintenance, and management of the use of subak irrigation facilities are carried out jointly by subak members (krama).

Rice Temple
Cakangans (image source:

The irrigation system network in subak if sorted from water sources consists of:

  1. Empelan/empangan as a source of water flow/dam.
  2. Bungas/Buka is as intake.
  3. Aungan is a closed water channel or tunnel.
  4. Telabah aya (gede), is the main channel.
  5. Tembuku aya (gede), is a building for the distribution of the main water.
  6. Telabah tempek (munduk / branch / kanca), is a branch water channel.
  7. Telabah cerik, as a branch water channel.
  8. Telabah panyacah (tali kunda), in some places known as Penasan (for 10 parts), Panca (for 5 people), and Pamijian (for alone/1 person).

Through this Subak system, the farmers get their share of water in accordance with the provisions set by the deliberation of the subak residents/krama subak and is still based on the Tri Hita Karana philosophy. Therefore, activities within the Subak organization do not only cover issues of agriculture or farming, but also include issues of ritual and worship to ask for fortune and fertility.

Ricefields, rice plants, and water have an important role in the subak irrigation system and are even related to the religious aspect. All three are related to the power of Dewi Sri (Goddess of fertility and prosperity). Therefore, subak does not only regulate technical issues of water regulation and distribution, but also social and religious (religious) aspects.

Each Subak usually has a temple called Pura Ulun Carik or Pura Bedugul, which was specially built by farmers to worship Dewi Sri. This irrigation system is regulated by a traditional leader and also a farmer called Kelian (Klian) who has the task of supervising and managing the subak. Kelian subak job is voluntary in nature, the kelian does not get salary or reward. The distribution of water is customized to the membership of farmers in subak, there are active and passive members, both of whom receive different water distributions. This is the basis of justice where the distribution of water is customized to the degree of contribution.

All the cluster sites of the Cultural Landscape also directly demonstrate the capability of the Balinese to make their unique cosmological doctrines a reality, practiced in their daily life through spatial planning and land use (cultural landscape), settlement arrangements, architecture, ceremonies and rituals, art, as well as social organization. Indeed the implementation of the concept has evidently generated a beautiful cultural landscape.
For these reasons, UNESCO has designated the “Subak” – Bali’s Cultural Landscape – as World Heritage in St. Petersburg, Russia on 20 June 2012.