When you are in Bali, there is no doubt about the fact that you see offerings everywhere you look. You can’t go around them and it is a very essential aspect in the Balinese street view. You will see offerings on the ground in front of every house, you will see them in and around the house and village temples and you will see Balinese women walking around with offerings on their head.
As the offerings are always so colorful, it colors the streets of Bali and it is one of the reasons so many people feel comfortable and nice here in Bali. The smell of the incense is part of the Balinese feeling and you would feel very weird being in Bali without it.
But do you know what all these offerings are actually for? Why do the Balinese spend so much time making offerings on a daily base and why is it such an important aspect of the Balinese life?
Firstly let us break it down a bit for you. There are many different kind of offerings, all used for different kind of occasions. The exact meaning of all the different offerings are usually only known by the priests. Especially when there are big ceremonies, the offerings are endless and not everyone knows exactly what the meanings are, but they do know it is very important and they spend lots of time making them.
Offerings are called ‘banten’ in Balinese. It is possible that the word comes from the Sanskrit word bali, which means tribute, obligation or gift. Offerings are gifts. They are a means of giving something back. But, of course, gifts obligate the recipient and so the system creates mutual obligations and favors, even between humans and spirits. With offerings to the demons, however, the offeror does not expect a gift in return, just the favor that the demons will go away.
Let’s start with the daily offerings. These are called ‘canang sari’ and are being placed in and around the house every day. Mostly the Balinese women make these offerings themselves as they are relatively easy to make. Balinese kids, especially girls, learn from a young age how and where to place these offerings and how to make them.
The canang is made from young coconut leaves weaved together into a small tray, which houses five differently colored flowers. It is considered a multipurpose offering, meaning that it can be used for almost any occasion or purpose. It can also be offered anywhere. However, it is mainly used as offerings in temples during religious ceremonies. The Balinese usually offer canang once a day. When going to temples, money is put on the canang, atop the flowers. The money will then be collected by the priests.
Every fifteen days, on a Kajeng Kliwon, the Balinese offer an additional offering along with the canang. On Kajeng Kliwon, the Balinese offer segehan. The segehan is made of five differently-colored rice (white, yellow, red, black, and mixed), a dash of ginger, and red onion put on a dried coconut leave weaved into a small triangle. The segehan is complemented by some palm liquor and rice wine, which are sprinkled around the area the offering placed. It is so evil spirits are pleased and to cleanse the area.
Every month, on full moon and on new moon, special offerings are also placed in and around the house. The moon circle is very important for the Balinese and these days are auspicious for them and therefore proper offerings are being used to bless the house and everyone in it.
When there is a ceremony in the temple, everyone from the village will bring their own offerings. The exact type of offerings depends on the type of ceremony, but in general the offering box consists of fruits, cakes, flowers and money. The offering box will be placed in the temple and incense will be burnt with it. When the ceremony is finished, the offering box can be brought home and the whole family can enjoy the fruits and snacks. Nothing will be thrown away!
As said before; there are so many different types of ceremonies and different types of offerings, it is impossible to go into detail of all of them.
The essence of all offerings is the same; it is a gift towards to Gods, to ask for protection, health, balanced life between human, earth and the afterlife. The purpose is for all things good, and to defeat the bad.