Offerings Are Everywhere

One of the first things a visitor to Bali notices, after the tropical air, the hundreds of roaring, beeping motorbikes carrying entire families, and the incessant, wild flow of traffic, are the offerings you see everywhere. These small square flat green boxes, 3-4 inches wide, start with a base of young coconut or palm leaves, woven together to form an open box, which is filled with rice, flowers (red flowers for the south, white for the east, yellow for the west, deep purple for the north), incense, sometimes palm wine or palm beer, perfume, bits of meat, or a cigarette—for the tobacco. You see them on the ground: on the street, on the sidewalk, in storefronts, on steps; also placed higher up on shrines and altars of all kinds.

At any hotel, restaurant, store, or establishment in Bali, you’ll always see the owner or a staff member, early in the morning, carrying a tray of offerings and placing them carefully around the property. The person places them for the benefit of all their family members—and all guests or visitors to their establishment.

Basic daily offerings in Bali are called canang sari. A Balinese woman might make up to 100 of these each day. If she doesn’t have time to make them herself, she can buy them the woven bases or entire offerings pre-made at the market. Making them yourself is not a requirement.

You see them everywhere.

How many and where they’re placed depends on where you live. Different villages have different customs. Some put out offerings several times a day, some do it once a day; others do it according to the dictates of the Balinese calendar.

Offerings are placed to appease the high and low spirits. The ones on the ground are for the low spirits and the ones up on shrines are for the high spirits. All homes have shrines dedicated to the high spirits. The ones in the northeast are the most important because the Balinese consider that to be the most sacred direction. And with the ground offerings, those dedicated to the low spirits, the Balinese are basically saying, “Take this offering and leave us alone.”

The most important moment in the life cycle of an offering is the moment it is offered with a prayer. It is assumed that the spirit takes the essence of the offering, and what happens to it from that point on doesn’t matter. It can get run over by a car or a scooter; it can be eaten by a bird or a dog or a chicken or a monkey. It’s not even bad if you step on one. It has already performed its function during the moment it was placed with a calm, focused mind and with reverence.

I’ve been collecting pictures of offerings during the month I’ve been Bali—here are some of my favorites both at the beginning and end of their daily life cycle.

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