The essence of Bali lies in its rural areas where farmers toil year round planting and harvesting different varieties of rice. The rice terraces, some exquisitely sculptured out of hillsides, present stunning images of life far from the pulsating nightlife of south Bali.
The Balinese mantra of rice is sacred. For within the cycle of the seasons of life the vital ingredient for sustenance is rice. It is the staple food of every Indonesian. The goddess of fertility and rice is Dewi Sri. Her avatar in Bali Hinduism is Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth and family prosperity. Lakshmi is the wife of Lord Vishnu of the Hindu Holy Trinity.
Rice is used in religious ceremonies and offerings. Worshippers are anointed with Wija, rice grains wet with holy water, which is placed on the forehead (for wisdom), throat (for happiness) and some in the mouth (for prosperity).
The origin of rice is steeped in controversy. The Chinese claim that the first domesticated rice was grown in the Yangtze River valley as early as circa 8,000 years ago. Korean archaeologists dispute this by presenting evidence that rice was first grown in Korea around 15,000 years ago. For Indonesia this really doesn’t matter for it is part of a group of Asian nations that produce 92% of the world’s rice!
The mantra of rice is reflected in the daily diet of every self-respecting Balinese. No meal is complete without the ubiquitous bowl of rice: Padi Gaga (white rice), Ketan (glutinous white rice), Barak (glutinous red rice), Injin (glutinous black rice). Steamed rice, sticky rice, rice pudding, Indonesian layered rice cakes (kue lapis), rice noodles, edible rice paper used as wrapper for rolls, and more are part of the endless stream of goodies.
Rice cultivation is sustained by the Subak system: an ancient religious-socio-economic system of water distribution that irrigates the fields, which is believed to have been developed in the ninth century. But more of this in another post.
Meanwhile, a trip around Tabanan Regency will reveal the UNESCO World Heritage site ─ the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces. It is truly a celebration of man’s devotion to Nature in all its finery. The symmetry, the flow of water and the superbly graded slopes makes it a perfect canvass for a celestial painter to add the subtle colours of green and gold. The seasons create a montage of flickering images that dissolve into one another. It gives the onlooker a reason to pause, to reflect on the essence of Bali and why rice is in fact the food of the gods.
A short drive away is the sacred Pura Luhur Batukaru (Batukaru temple) on the slopes of Mount Bakukaru, Bali’s second highest volcano. It is one of nine kayangan jagat built to protect Bali from evil spirits. An offering of flowers, fruits, rice with dhupa (incense sticks) is usually made when visiting this temple. It is inextricably linked to Jatiluwih both historically and religiously.
A fabulous WakaLandCruise will take you to all these beautiful places in the comfort of a Classic Land Rovers Defender Jeep. There is nothing like a trip across rural Bali to rejuvenate the spirits and reaffirm the harmonious connection between humankind, nature and the gods.