The philosophy of Balinese offerings - or the essence of a beautiful purpose

All tourists who visited Bali sooner or later noticed small baskets of flowers, which Balinese carefully put at the doorsteps of houses or on a holy place in the house. They set fire to an aromatic stick and make enchanting gestures with their hands as if directing the smoke and fragrance of flowers to the sky.

How did the tradition of making flower gifts come about and why?

Bali legends say that the tradition of making flower and leaf gifts comes from saint Mpu Sangkulputih, who was the supreme spiritual leader on the island and served in the Temple of Pura Besakih.

The Indian epic of Mahabharata, deeply revered in Bali, gives us a philosophical and poetic explanation of this tradition.

Mahabharata tells us about the struggle of two related family clans, the Pandavas brothers and the Kauravas brothers. At a certain point in time, history reaches its peak before the final battle of the brothers. One of the heroes, Arjuna's warrior, delays before the battle. And then his comrade Krishna reveals to him his true face as the god Vishnu and explains the teachings of Bhagavad Gita.

It contains the lines about the things that God expects as offerings:

"If a sincere man offers me a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water with devotion, 

I'll accept that offer with love.

Everything you do, eat, sacrifice and give, and all austerity

-- do it, son of Kunti, as an offering to me. 

These lines lie at the heart of the philosophy of Balinese offerings. They can be either the most modest or the richest. But they usually contain what was mentioned in the Mahabharata - flower, leaf, fruit and holy water.

Offerings on holy springs; photo: Seakayem

The offerings can be seen anywhere in Bali. Small leaf baskets filled with flowers stand at almost every home and office. They often decorate cars and bikes. In the temples you can find more serious kinds of offerings - daxine, which consist of a basket of 20 centimeters high, which, among other things, placed purified coconut as a symbol of loyalty. 

Temple offering for big celebrations - daxine; photo: Tokopedia

During special ceremonies, Balinese people erect grand gifts - banten tegeh with fruits, flowers, rice cakes, which women carry during special processions on temple holidays - odalan.

Banten tegeh during a big celebration; photo: Ed Luna

banten tegeh from meat products ; photo: @martawan

The offerings in Bali are always made of the things that are familiar to the local area, objects of everyday life. It can be food, it can be intertwined objects such as leaves, flowers and leaves. These can be ingredients used in food - onions, ginger. It is always something tangible, something that is presented to God at the moment of prayer.

The gifts that Balinese make to the highest gods and spirits, betara-betari, must be fresh and beautiful. Offers that are made for negative forces, bhuta and kala (bhuta, kala) are made with less effort. The Balinese believe that evil spirits are voracious and will eat almost everything. Their offerings are made from food that was cooked some time ago and may even have deteriorated a little.

The offerings left on the ground for evil spirits; photo: Victoria Brewood

Good-for-nothing gifts are always placed on a high place in the house. As a rule, it is a family altar in the yard or a small altar, fixed on the wall. The offerings for demons are left on the ground by the Balinese.

Offerings for evil spirits; photo:

A special place in the offerings is given to objects woven or "woven together". This whole class of objects is called jajahitan. In Indonesian, this means "something woven together". Of course, no one literally weaves objects together. But coconut leaved are intertwined, connected with thin sticks or stapled with ordinary paper clips.

Balinese women are "weaving" coconut leaves; photo @Bali Art and Culture

A huge coconut leaf is a central stem, along which there are two broad canvases. If the leaf is mature, these canvases will split like a feather, which we can see on the palm trees growing on the island. But until they ripen, these canvases are continuous and therefore serve as an excellent material for packing products and creating wicker objects of offerings. 

From a philosophical point of view, offerings are a form of donation. A man donates his time and money to create a gift. Thus, by donating something to God, he expresses his gratitude to him. 

Photo: AFP, Sonny Tumbelaka

Simple offerings are the most common. Among them is the shogihan. It is a small triangular bundle of coconut leaf. Almost every Balinese woman puts a small piece of food that she has just cooked into it. Thus, she thanks God for the food she is going to eat. 

Segehan, the smallest offerings; the photo:

Some Balinese can spill the first few drops on the ground before drinking tea or coffee. This is a small offering designed to quench the thirst for demons and to appease them. 

Each time the offering is accompanied by a special ritual. A gesture called ngayab is made three times. It is done three times with the right hand, directing the aroma and essence of the offering towards God. 

The most common offerings you can see every day in Bali are the Canang sari. The word comes from the ancient Javanese kawi language, which is now used for worship. 

Ca means "beautiful" and nang means "purpose", "destination". The word sari - meaning essence or aroma - is actually what is presented to God during prayer and is taken to heaven with the smoke of an aromatic stick.

Canang sari for sale on the morning market; photo: Jean-Claude WINCKLER

Several important rules and components must be taken into account when designing a vending sari.

1. coconut leaf

Each sari vat is made on the basis of a box, usually rectangular in shape, which is made of coconut leaves. It is a symbol of the power of Ardha Chandra or the moon. The length of the side is usually 10 centimeters. In ancient times, the box was fastened with small sticks. Now the Balinese use for this purpose the usual stapler with paper clips.

Canang sari production; photo: Giorgio Grande

2. Rice

Rice is a symbol of the god Sang Hyang Atma, who fills the body with life and symbolizes the grain of the birth of life.

3. Porosan

This component is made of betel leaf, lime and areca nut. Each of them individually symbolizes the triunity of the Bali gods - Brahma (it is symbolized by the areca), Vishnu (symbol - betel) and Shiva (symbol - lime). 

Components for porosan; photo: Hindu Alukta

In ancient times, all these components were used in the compound for the stimulating chewing mixture. Nowadays, the betel is chewed only by very old people in the villages.

Also these components symbolize the unity of deeds (Bayu), words (Sabda), and thoughts (Idep). Another philosophical significance of this component is that every person should have a heart (poros) full of love and compassion, as well as gratitude to the supreme god Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa.

All these components are combined together - a small piece of lime paste, a piece of areca nut wrapped in betel leaf and called porosan.

Ready-made porosan are very small but of great value; photo:

4. Pieces of cane sugar, banana and rice cake

5. Sampaian urasari

This part has a round shape like a flower with petals. 

photo: @widyacempaka

To do this, long sheets of paper are screwed in and fixed in the middle. Sampaian ursari is used as the place where flowers will be placed. It serves as a symbol of the power of the Windhu sun and is equipped with arrow-shaped jewellery coming from it. 

A photo: @widyacempaka

6. Fresh and fragrant flowers

The order and combinations of colors are governed by different rules and intentions. 

A woman selling flowers and canang on the market; photo: Andrew Zhang

Different sequences of colors are used to decorate the Changzhou sari. One of them is called Purwa Murwa Daksina, where the arrangement of flowers is arranged around the world.

- White flowers (if difficult to find, they can be replaced by pink ones) are placed from the east as a symbol of purity and power of the god Iswara.

- Red flowers are placed from the south as a symbol of the strength and authority and power of the Brahma god.

- Yellow flowers are stacked from the west as a symbol of intuition and power of the god Mahadewa.

- Black flowers (if difficult to find, they are replaced by blue, green or purple) are placed from the north as a symbol of purification from all forms of pollution of the body and soul and the power of the god Wisnu.


A finely sliced leaf of fragrant pandanas is placed in the center as a symbol of liberation from the chain of rebirths and the power of Panca Dewata, five manifestations of the supreme god Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa.

7. Aromatic oil

It symbolizes a peaceful state of mind and self-control in human life.

8. Aromatic sticks

In order for the offering to happen, the essence of the gifts must somehow reach heaven and god. This is done with the help of smoke, which should direct the essence of the offering upwards. This is the function of the dupa, an aromatic stick, which is set on fire and placed in canang, daksina and other kinds of offerings.

To direct the essence of the offering to God, the Balinese take the flower from the basket with their right hand and make three passes with their palm towards the scented stick.

Coconut husks, sandalwood chips or coconut coal can be used as a source of smoke. But dupa is the most common.

Photo: Hindu Alukta

Canang sari can be supplemented with cookies, candy, small bills, coins or even cigarettes. Canang sari, which are put for demons, Balinese can spray alcoholic beverages.

Canang sari can do any Balinese person regardless of whether it is a man or a woman. Only women during menstruation are not allowed to make canang sari, so as not to disturb the sacredness of this object.

velvet flower plantations; these flowers are used to make canang sari; photo: Jean-Claude WINCKLER

An average Balinese house may need more than a dozen chanang sari in order to install them in the most important places of the house and temple.

A family temple requires two venders. The statue of Tugu, which is responsible for home security, is also two. Another vandalism sari is left at the temple on the ground to encourage demons.

Another one is installed at the water source - for the god Vishnu. Chanang is installed in the kitchen as a source of fire for the god Brahma. 

One vat is placed in the master bedroom, in the family gazebo (gazebo) and one on the ground in honor of the goddess Ibou Pervi - Mother Earth. 

Two more vests are placed outside the courtyard on both sides of the gate on small temples or statues of spirits and two are left on the ground for evil spirits.

You cannot step on the ground on a vat sari, from which the smoke rises. This means that his essence continues to rise to heaven. When the wand is burned or extinguished, it means that the chanang has become a common household object that can be thrown away or replaced by others.

photo: jaywei80

Another type of offering is called a lamak. Usually this object is made from a lotar leaf. Lamak is a long wicker panel, decorated with leaves painted in different colors. 

Lamak often hang from the outside temporary temples, which are installed on the occasion of special holidays - for example, Galungan. The longest of them can reach 10 meters. Although the lamak itself is an offering, it is more often used as a decorative object.

Lamak on the home altar; photo: @janur_bali

Sampian is another type of decor. It is not used separately as an offering, but is part of it. It can be made in the form of a fan or a circle, but it is always very delicate and elegant. It is often placed in a vat as a base for flowers. It can be placed on the top of the multilevel bow tiered offerings, so that the openworked "arrows" hang down.

An offering with a Sampian; a photo: @janur_bali

a photo: @janur_bali

Daksina is one of the most important offerings. First of all, its creator makes a high basket of about 20 centimeters high. And the diameter should be such that the basket can hold the peeled coconut. The coconut is peeled off and thoroughly cleaned of fibres. The basket is filled with unfinished rice, banana, a mixture of piggybacked leaves, several types of leaves, colored grains, green banana, fresh egg, canang and coconut.

Daksina; photo: matkiding

Daksina are used for big ceremonies. And as a rule, one daksina is stored in a home temple.

The most grandiose offerings are, of course, multilevel bows of tags. Sometimes they are made directly in the temple, as these designs can be difficult to carry.

On the base, a dulang, reminiscent of a vase, is inserted a pin on which a banana stem is placed. And the entire structure is already being assembled around the stem. 

The dulang is a "vase" for the grandiose banten tegeh offerings; photo: @endra_brudch

Dulang - "vase" for the grandiose offerings of banten tegeh; photo: @endra_brudch

The components of this composition vary depending on the village where the holiday is held and the type of holiday. Somewhere they prefer more fruits, somewhere they decorate banter with ducks or grilled chickens or boiled eggs.

Jaja rice cakes can be an important part of the offerings. You've probably seen a lot of these cakes in Balinese bazaars. They are made of rice flour, which is mixed with water, spices and brown sugar. Then the cake is cooked, fried or steamed. It can be painted in different colors or left white. Often coconut chips are used for taste and texture.

The height of bow tags can reach several meters. In order to wear them, a Balinese woman needs a remarkable skill, especially when passing through temple gates. To do this, you can remove the bow tags from your head and place them on the ground in front of the worshippers in the temple or in special ballroom pavilions (bale).

A balinese is holding a banten tegeh offering; photo: @andisucirta

Special parades are held in the villages, during which women dressed up and dressed as women walk in a column, carrying banter tegeh on their heads. Each rural community, the banjar, has its own group that does this. 

A banjar procession with banten tegeh offerings; photo:

Balinese sew the same festive costumes at tailors for holidays to make the procession look harmonious. The procession is usually accompanied by an orchestra of members of the same banjar who carry traditional Balinese instruments and play ceremonial music.

In the village of Selat in the Karangasem area, unusual offerings are made - the barong salaran. The local Balinese make a figure of a good mythical creature, the barong, entirely out of products. It is believed that the barong protects people from evil. Fruits, vegetables and rice can be used to create such a composition. It often takes 20 people to raise such a statue.

photo: @Pura Agung Besakih

photo: @Pura Agung Besakih

In a sense, cockfighting is also a kind of offering in Bali. Gambling is officially forbidden in Indonesia and theoretically fights where money bets are made should also be outlawed. But temple ceremonies are closely connected with fights. It is believed that evil spirits quench their thirst with blood spilled during the cockfighting and calm their anger. Fighting with religion does not involve fighting with money, but when the Balinese get excited, they give themselves to him.

The offering process is called Sembahyang. This word consists of two parts: sembah (bow, prayer gesture) and hyang (the one who is revered is hyang). Accordingly, this process expresses the extent to the greatness of the supreme god of the Balinese, Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa.


A Balinese or Balinese person must wear a Balinese sarong with a belt during the offering. A person must be physically clean. Canang sari is sprayed with holy water to complete the fusion of earth, fire, air and water. 

morning offering ritual; photo: seems33

After several passes by hand, accompanied by a prayer, the aromatic smoke rises to the sky, taking with it an offering to God.

After the offering, the Balinese can take home and eat the products used in these compositions. Since the essence of the components has already ascended to God, they have become common household objects.