The Sacred and The Profane: Restoring Cultural Resilience in Bali

Modos Header Image
Lower Realm: Nature

The Indonesian island of Bali has established its position as one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Its popularity started in the 1920s when the Dutch colonised Indonesia and successfully cultivated a tourism strategy that has subsequently shaped Bali’s social construct and physical domain. Tourism has replaced agriculture as the main contributor to the local population’s livelihood. And while there is no precursor for resorts as a building type in Balinese tradition, driven by the economics of modern tourism, resort buildings are reshaping the face of the island. This phenomenon has influenced the current touristic culture within the island and questioned the authenticities of Balinese identity, traditions, and values.

Modos Content 1
The term 'subak' refers to the Balinese heritage of rice terraces and traditional water irrigation system.

To understand Bali as perceived through the locals’ lenses, a thorough study on two fundamental traditional philosophies has been undertaken for this thesis. The Tri Angga philosophy manifests in the island’s topography and dictates the order and hierarchy of every element in both natural and built environments. And the Tri Hita Karana philosophy, which is embodied in the locals’ rituals and way of life to create harmony and balance within their everyday lives. The wisdom of this philosophy is also foundational to subak, the ancient water irrigation system that is treasured as the island’s heritage. 

In the present day, the global pandemic has brought great hardships to the Balinese. Change is on everyone’s mind, and a growing number of people are re-evaluating their sole reliance on the tourism sector. The pandemic has also given Bali a chance to reset its course. In its current state, there is an opportunity to interrogate the status quo that has been the norm for the last century in Bali. Is there an alternative model for tourism that is sustainable and resilient for both the industry and locals while also reflecting the traditional cultural value? 

Modos Content 2
The journey’s first stop denotes the Palemahan aspect or the natural world that stands on the lowest tier of the Tri Angga order, corresponding to the profane — with the subak rice terraces as the context.

The project sees the potential of the existing subaks to become the backbone of a regenerative tourism model – to support the locals’ livelihood through agriculture and tourism while also preserving the cultural heritage. As a response, the project will adopt the foundational Tri Angga concept that establishes the tripartite hierarchy within the landscape — consequently identifying three parts to construct a journey. 

Modos Content 3
Middle Realm: Community

Each stop is the embodiment of the three aspects of Tri Hita Kirana philosophy: 'Palemahan—Nature', 'Pawongan—Community', 'Parahyangan—Spiritual', which also reflect the progression from the profane to the sacred. Furthermore, the provision of these spaces places visibility and importance on the integrated subak rituals, which ensure the regeneration of its whole system.

Modos Content 4
The second stop represents the Pawongan aspect or the human world which is portrayed by the interaction within the local community — it occupies the middle place within the hierarchical order, where people dwell.
Modos Content 5
Higher Realm: Spiritual
Modos Content 6
The third stop signifies the Parahyangan aspect or the spiritual world. It resides on the highest tier of the tripartite universe, denoting the sacred — the structure is nestled within the forest and sits beside the Pakerisan River that flows through the Water Temple above
Modos Content 7
The structure provides a means to carry out a sequence of rituals – from cleansing the body and moving up to the spiritual ablution chamber to partake in a purification ritual.
Modos Content 8
The sacred water flows from the mountain beyond to purify visitors prior to entering the main temple.
Modos Content 9
Villagers perform the procession ritual leading to the main water temple — prayers are carried out and offerings given. At the top of the structure, a direct view of Mount Agung, the highest and most sacred mountain in Bali greets the visitors.