One of the most conspicuous aspects of the Balinese landscape is the ubiquitous temple. If they seem to be everywhere it's because they are; in 1983 Stephen Lansing estimated there to be upwards of 20,000 temples on the TK square kilometer island. The Hindu temples (pura) are one of the things that make Bali what it is. They are also one of the main attractions responsible for the hoards of unwashed backpackers laden with Lonely Planets, pastel sets, and Bintang t-shirts that clog up the roads. But as we'll see in this post, the function of Balinese temples are not limited to the spiritual realm; they are also an important pillar of civil society. The temples also are aspects of a uniquely Balinese time-space geography.
Temples Temples Temples
A Balinese temple is best understood as a place where several cycles periodically coincide--cycles that connect the Upper, Middle, and Lower worlds. Many of the most powerful forces at work in the Middle world originate outside it. For life to continue in the Middle World, these forces must be accomodated--Lansing 1983:55.
|Balinese Plintangan calendar from here.|
Villages in Bali have three main types of temples:
- Pura Pusah--These are dedicated to Vishnu and are considered to be the "highest" temples. They deal with the realm of water.
- Pura Desa--These are dedicated to Brahma and deal with the realm of fire.
- Pura Dalam--These are considered to be the "lowest" temples and deal with matters of "black and white", or cosmic balance.
Subaks and Water Management
One often-cited example of a temple network that transcended the petty principalities is the system of puras that regulates irrigation across Bali. As you know by now, rice is the staple crop of most of Indonesia and Southeast Asia in general. Rice is more than just food, though. It's the foundation of society. Think of it this way: in order to have a state or government, you need to be able to produce a surplus of rice, because you have to support people that don't work in the rice fields. The production of agricultural surplus is probably the most important enabling factor in the rise of "civilization". Wet rice is a good crop for producing surplus, because you can grow a lot of it in a relatively small area. But in order to produce a surplus of rice, it's important to be able to control the flow of water, because wet rice is a fairly complex crop to grow. Wet rice needs dry periods, but it also needs to be flooded for a good portion of the growing season. So you have to be able to inundate and later drain the fields, and you can't always rely on the seasons for this. Irrigation is really important but irrigation works take the cooperation and coordination of a lot of people to build and maintain. So although it's hard to know for certain, here in Bali (and in many other places across Southeast Asia), people organized themselves to build irrigation works and terraces, and later complex government apparatuses grew out of this.
|Diagram from Lansing, 1983; see references|
- Seka numbeg: provides labor for land preparation
- Seka tandur does rice transplanting
- Seka mejukut does weeding
- Seka merana does pest control
- Seka manyi does harvesting
- Seka gebros does rice selection
- Seka sambang monitors water consumption.
|Juwuk Manis Subak Map|
(1) This is something of a simplification.
(2) In the Balinese conception of the cosmos, "devils" and "gods" aren't good or bad. Rather they represent natural forces that are part of the larger cycle of existence. According to this world view everything goes through a natural cycle of growth and decay. The upper world represents the growth part of the cycle, whereas the lower realm represents the decay part of the cycle.
(3) Since Bali is very close to the equator, there isn't a lot of seasonal variation other than the monsoons. This means that you can grow rice year-round.
References and For Further Reading
Geertz, Clifford. 1980. Organization of the Balinese Subak. In Irrigation and Agricultural Development in Asia, Coward, E. Walter, ed. Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press. 384pp.
Lansing, J Stephen. 1983. The Three Worlds of Bali. NY:Praeger. 170pp.
Suradisastra, Kedi, Wahyuning Sejati, Yana Supriatna, and Deri Hidayat. 2002. Institutional Description of the Balinese Subak. Jurnal Litbang Pertanian, 21:1 pp11:19