If you have visited Bali, you must have wondered what the small baskets of flowers and incense must mean. It is a common site across Bali. This is a classic Balinese offering, and we in this article we explore what these mean to the people of Bali.
Bali’s spirituality lies at the core of Balinese life, which in turn, is inextricably linked with nature and the environment. There is meaning in all vegetation, not surprisingly, as the land was the only source of sustenance for the Balinese. And there are gods everywhere, governing every aspect of Balinese life.
Not only do the gods of the mountains need pacification, nowadays so do the gods of metal from which cars are made. Naturally, rice harvests require protection from the spirits inhabiting the shrines that sit in a rice field. Even roadside banyan trees are given due respect; a priest must be present at the cutting of overgrown branches that dangerously obscure road vision, to ensure that the truncation of this ancient and holy entity does not cause offence.
The island’s myths and legends, traditions and habits are a delightful blend of the old and the new. Spiritual reverence remains strong and Balinese family and community life are defined by the rituals of temple visits, praying to the gods and making beautiful offerings to them to ensure a peaceful and trouble-free existence.
What makes these offerings so exquisite is the Balinese eye and skill for crafting beautiful objects. Wander into the most commercial of tourist areas in Bali and on the ground outside every souvenir, surf, massage or tattoo shop, will be a little basket made of coconut leaf and filled with red, purple, yellow, orange flowers, perhaps a little cooked rice and sometimes even a sweet wrapped in plastic. It is a charming creation serving an important purpose to ask the gods to protect against intruders, or any harm that may befall the occupants of the establishments. One can only be lifted, inspired, sometimes tickled by the wonderful aesthetic of the Balinese in their sense of style.
The closer one gets to a temple, the grander, more colourful and flamboyant the offerings. During Melasti, a ceremony that takes place shortly before the Balinese New Year (Nyepi), whole villages march to the sea in their sparkling ceremonial white costumes to pay homage to the sea goddess and to seek purification. It is spectacular, moving and visually magnificent.
Today’s Bali has embraced suave nightclubs, neon lights and billboards. However, despite the march of progress, look on the ground and around you, and it’s not difficult to catch a glimpse of Bali’s cultural heritage in the form of an offering.