Every morning, the guesthouse owner’s daughter walks around the grounds, placing meticulously-made flower arrangements by each temple, no matter how tiny. Silently, peacefully, slowly. It’s the ultimate Balinese ritual.
It’s difficult to walk the streets of Bali’s towns without accidentally stepping on a prayer offering. It seems inevitable; they’re everywhere. The crunch. The guilt, the panic. Did anyone see me?
They’re not just on the ground. On motorbike seats, at the beach, on car bonnets. On my daily stroll, the same women (few men) sit outside their shops or homes, making pallets from palm leaves, cutting flowers and lighting incense sticks, to honor the gods and demons of Balinese Hinduism. Bali is an Indonesian anomaly, a Hindu island in a mainly Muslim nation.
More than a thousand years ago, embattled by internal divisions and an increasing Muslim majority, the Hindus of Java fled to neighboring Bali where they adapted pragmatically to the indigenous animism. Bali’s Hinduism now has more in common with the ancient form followed in Nepal than in modern India today. It honors Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva but keeps the shamanic spiritual realm in balance by appeasing the forces of dark and light.
That’s why the Balinese place these offerings every day before the gods at family, business and temple altars, and even on the dashboards of their cars. Faith is a part of everyday life and the Balinese even attribute their escape from the 2004 tsunami to the spiritual power they have harnessed here.
Here in the countryside, the spirituality is almost tangible. It’s not uncommon to see a procession of people carrying their offerings to the temples. Some women spend their lives making them – the very act itself is considered a prayer offering. It’s easy to see romance in the ritual, but for these women, these time-consuming acts may prevent them from going out to work or to educating themselves. That’s the other side.
At the Pondok Pekak Library and Learning Center, an unassuming community space, I book a lesson to learn the art. It’s a valuable lesson in mindfulness. I sit in the shade of the courtyard copying the actions of an 80-year-old Balinese woman who speaks no English.
Back on the street, trampled petals and burnt-out incense sticks are all that remain. At daybreak, pavements are swept and cleaned. A new day, a fresh set of offerings.
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