What are all the offerings on the ground in Bali?

Religion in Bali stops traffic, literally. There is always something going on, with over 300 ceremonies a year (not including individual family ceremonies and temple anniversaries) so it’s common to see traditionally dressed Balinese walking with gifts perched on their heads or a tray with offerings. Ceremonies take place at a central focused point, depending on what the offering is for. It could be at home, the end of the laneway, the community temple or a major intersection. Crossroads are literally the place where intersecting worlds meet and hold deep significance to the Balinese people. That means travellers here are used to finding ‘shortcuts’ around main roads which can often be cut off for an entire day for ceremony.

The Balinese practice their own version of Indian Hindu. It melds with their own ancient beliefs that incorporate a deep sense of inner spirituality and the divine balance of the three realms; the gods in the section above the sky, the people and energy of the earth, and the spirits who live below. Keeping a balance with yourself and with the three worlds is the key to happiness, therefore the people of Bali embrace, celebrate and nourish all three.

It’s amazing to see the daily customs, hear the song of prayer, feel the atmosphere and smell the wafting incense on the breeze. This is Bali magic that even the hubbub of Kuta Beach nightlife cannot smother.

Understanding the customs and rhythm of daily life in Bali takes some time, and some things can never quite be explained, maybe that’s the case with all religions and cultures. I dunno, you just….do.

Daily Gifts – Canang Sari

The first thing people notice when they arrive in Bali is the daily gifts, usually because they step on one. The little woven leaf baskets with flowers and incense are just about everywhere, in the middle of intersections, on footpaths, sitting on a wall, on the road curb, on a shop counter, on a dune of sand at the beach or in a little chicken coop like thing on a wall. The name for them is Canang Sari (pronounced Cha-nung CD). Made of tightly woven pandan leaves or coconut fronds they contain an offering of gratitude. The point of them is to be beautiful and fragrant and satisfying, to in turn receive beauty, sweetness and a satisfying life.

In a similar concept to the Japanese ramen bowl, the Canang holds the world in replica, with included elements to represent the three realms, flower petals to represent North South East and West and gifts to represent the sky, the moon, the earth.

The flowers and careful weave make up the beauty, the squiggly soft pandan moss like curls and incense are the fragrance. What you use to satisfy the basket is completely up to you. Fruit pieces; a tiny wedge of watermelon, a slice of banana, a slither of apple, tobacco, rice, biscuit, coins, a candy, it really doesn’t matter, as long as it sustains a desire or deep need. The flowers, incense and pandan are constant, the rest is completely up to the giver and are almost impossible to guess the reason for the offering unless you ask them, even then, the answer might be…vague.

Offerings are given to the spirits of the earth to keep them satisfied below, these Canang are the ones you will step on, cycle over or see getting squashed by car tyres. There are also offerings of gratitude made to the spirits above. These are elevated, either by placing on a wall, a temple statue, a hutch, or, if on the street, a bucket or tin with a pole and bracket that lifts the gifts up to the heavens.

If you step on a Canang, kick it or trip over it, don’t feel guilty, once they are blessed with a circle of sacred water and splashed with a blessing or prayer they are completed and no longer sacred, (they are still beautiful though so maybe don’t step on them on purpose).

How Canang Sari Works

Watching an offering being placed is special and magical, although the process is quick and the dogs just as quick to close in, so enjoy it while it lasts. Almost always an offering is placed by a woman of the household, unless she is menstruating, in which case she is unclean and a man may need to take her place. Offerings are made after a meal is prepared and before it is eaten and are usually walked to their resting place on a tray that contains the incense, sacred water in a cup as well as a sauce bottle, and anything they wish to add around it. It is usual for a Canang to be placed in multiple places around the home, in different compass points and entrances as well as the main entrance (i.e. the road). It is possible to see a glowing bundle of lit incense on the tray, waiting to be threaded into each offering. The prayer or thanks is given after waving the incense stick around in just the right way for the smoke to curl elegantly and seductively.

The placement comes with prayer, thanks and sprinkles of water from the cup. Lines of water are traced around in a circle for protection (which is why a sauce bottle is so useful). Added to this might be some scattered raw rice or tiny rice portions on 1cm square banana or pandan leaf plates.

Large ceremonies offer coconuts, whole fruits such as pineapples, pears and apples, eggs, live chickens and ducks in little woven cages (it’s okay they get released afterwards) and cooked rice in intricately woven square pouches. Eggs, cooked rice and desserts are usually placed in plastic bags so the Bali dogs can’t run off with them.

The sacred water comes either from either a priest’s blessing or from a holy source such as Tirta Empul, where there are spouts especially for taking water home. Each family stores their water inside the home compound’s shrine, this one sits outside the separate closed off family temple section. The water (stored in whatever plastic vessel you have on hand) is hidden in a tiny space with doors at the highest point of the structure.

You can experience the giving of Canang Sari and feel the incredible power of gratitude at Tirta Empul on a cycling holiday in Bali. Use pedal power to take you on smooth black roads, though incredible rice field terraces at the break of day and see the purifying pools at their calmest and most tranquil. Locals are so happy to share their bathing (they call it swimming) experience with foreigners and to have you partake in their religion. They ask that you wear a sarong and sash and bring a gift to use the waters. The more happiness and love in the world, the greater the abundance for everyone.

We think it’s one of the cycling trip’s best experiences. It’s definitely our favourite spot for photographs.

Come cycle with us and see the true heart of Bali. You will never forget the magic.