Friday, August 17, 2018

Canang Sari

The rich cultural heritage of Balinesian Hindu worship can be traced back to the 5 century B.C. and continues today with around 84% of the population claiming to be Hindu.  The influence of this heritage is evident everywhere one travels in beautiful Bali in the form of ancient temples and ritualistic offerings.  It was a delight to see these small, sweet offerings, called 'canang sari', that are seen everywhere.


They adorn every small shrine, every large temple, businesses, homes, streets, car dashboards, and even perched on the handlebars of motor scooters. They may be pretty and interesting for tourists to see, but they hold deep meaning for Balanese who carefully and lovingly prepare multiples of them each day. 

The wife of an average family might prepare 15 canang sari each morning to be placed in and around the home and this daily task is as important as cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children.  This ritual is done carefully and lovingly as to demonstrate thankfulness and gratitude to the gods in heaven who are the creators of life, while at the same time appeasing and providing protection from the demons who live in the underworld.  The ultimate purpose is to maintain balance and peace on earth between gods, humans, and nature, amidst the opposing forces of good and evil, gods and demons, heaven and hell.


A small square (or round) tray or basket is made of fronds or palm leaves, and then colorful flowers and other specific items with special meanings are placed inside.   White flowers are placed pointing east as a symbol of Iswara, a primary Balinese god.  Red flowers are placed pointing south to represent Brahma, the Progenitor.  Yellow flowers are placed pointing west to symbolize Mahadeva the Great God.  Blue or green flowers are placed north and represent Vishnu, the Presever.  Often a few coins are placed on top to represent sacrifice and humility.  A ritual prayer is said which is meant to deliver the sari (essence) of the offering to heaven.  For this, a jepun flower is dipped in water taken from a holy spring and sprinkled on the canang sari as a symbolic fusion of earth, fire, wind and water.  Then a stick of incense is placed and lit so the smoke can carry the essence of the offering up to the gods.

The canang sari are made and offered every day except when there is a death in the family or village.  At the end of the day, they are all swept away and will be replaced the next morning.  It is disrespectful to step on or step over a canang sari, and one has to be careful, because many are placed on sidewalks, doorways and floors.  It is especially disrespectful to disturb the offering while the incense is burning and the smoke is carrying the essence up to heaven.

If you are looking for a rich, cultural experience on your travels, in addition to a beautiful, tropical paradise, you won't be disappointed in Bali!