During your visit in Bali , you will undoubtedly step on a basket filled with rice and flowers or two. These are small offering baskets called â€˜canang sari ' that Balinese offer to their Gods three times a day. What are these baskets for, and why do people place them on the sidewalks?
It is basically a ritual of giving back what has been given to you by the Gods. It is a sharing that is not based upon fear, but on gratitude to the richness of life. Offering appeases the spirits and brings prosperity and good health to the family. It is a duty and an honour at the same time, and in Balinese perspective a very natural and almost logical thing to maintain a good relationship between people and spirits.
As many Balinese believe, the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu are all manifestations of one and the same supreme spirit Sanghyang Widhi. It is a common misconception that Balinese Hinduism subscribes to a multitude of Gods, that all have to be worshipped and offered upon. In reality, Balinese Hinduism is strongly influenced by animism and naturalism, where the power of spirits houses in all objects and elements of life. All elements of nature are manifestations of the supreme spirit, in the same way that sun, moon and stars are all different manifestations of planets.
Good spirits are believed to reside in the mountains, whereas the seas are home to demons and ogres. Then there are the spirits of the deceased. Balinese believe in reincarnation of the spirit, the partition of the spirit from the body is a process that is not an end in itself, but merely a continuation of cycles. All basic principles in Balinese Hinduism revolve around obtaining balance and harmony between the different elements in life and afterlife, the dasar asasi. The key to balance in life is obtained through a harmonious relationship between the spirits other human beings, and the nature that surrounds us.
This sense of seeking harmony is ultimately what drives Balinese life, and can be seen in all aspects of life. It begins with the design of the home, where a Balinese version of Feng Shui ascribes different rooms and places to different people and functions. The kitchen's place is South, the temple North East, bedrooms for adults in the North and for younger people in the West and ceremonies are to be held in the centre.
Then there are the different temples. The temple dedicated to origin is the pura puseh which faces the mountains. The village temple can be found in the centre and it is called pura desa. The pura dalem is aligned with the sea and dedicated to the dead. Even in cooking, the search for harmony is the underlying ideology and a balance between the sweet, sour, salty and bitter is the aspiration of every cook.
Essentially all things have a place and all relations between elements are ultimately what life and death are about. The smallest gestures have an impact and throughout time, maintaining a balanced relationship with spirits, people and nature is the key. So next time you stumble upon an offering tray, remember that it may seem like a small thing but the whole cosmos is related to it, so it's best not to step on it.