Canang  Sari

During the drive from Denpasar to Ubud, Bali, we noticed small, square containers containing colorful flowers and pieces of snacks on the ground in front of houses, shops, and temples—even on top of statues—in fact almost everywhere. At first, I did not give it much attention, but after about half an hour into driving through Bali, my curiosity got over me I asked the driver about it. He was only too ready to talk about his land, religion, and traditions.

Canang-Sari

He told us that it is a daily Balinese offering called canang sari (pronounced chan-ang sah-ree)—canang means a small palm-leaf basket and sari means essence. Apparently, canang sari  is the simplest form of daily household offering to God. It is a part of Balinese Hinduism ritual for daily prayers, usually in the early morning or dusk. The canang sari is the symbol of thankfulness to the Hindu god.

The Canang sari is small square container woven from coconut/palm leaf, and it is filled with flowers, a bit of rice (or snacks made of rice), traditional herbs, and small portions of food the people have prepared in their house. The core material is made from betel nut, lime (not the fruit), tobacco, gambier, and betel nuts. These materials represent three Hindu deities: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Together they form the Tri Murti which is the combination of their powers, respectively, as creator, preserver, and distroyer.

Every piece in an arrangement in the container is selected for what it symbolizes, or which specific Hindu god it represents. The base tray is made of palm leaf and is a symbol for the earth and the moon. Decorations of coconut leaves symbolize the stars. With respect to the core materials:

  • Shiva is symbolized by white lime
  • Vishnu is symbolized by red betel nut
  • Brahma is symbolized by green gambier (it is an extract derived from the leaves of Uncaria gambir, a climbing shrub.)

The flowers are placed on top of these. The color and placement of the flowers also bear significance. They are also placed in specific directions.

  • White flowers pointing to the east is a symbol of God (Iswara)
  • Yellow flowers pointing to the West is a symbol of Mahadeva
  • Red flowers pointing to the south is a symbol of Brahma
  • Blue/green flowers that point to the north is a symbol of Vishnu

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Each little basket is folded by hand using strips of coconut palm leaves before being filled with betel nut leaves, sugar cane, sliced banana, rice, sweet-smelling pandan leaves, lime and adorned with indigenous flowers of many hues. Each of the little baskets is topped with different gifts—burning incense stick, cigarettes, sachets of coffee, rice crackers, biscuits, coins and sometimes even a piece of deep-fried tofu. It is completed by placing on top of the canang an amount of money (coin or paper), which is said to make up the essence (the sari) of the offering.

The philosophy behind the offering is self-sacrifice in that they take time and effort to prepare. Canang sari is not offered when there is a death in the community or family. In Balinese Hinduism, the cosmos is divided into three layers:

  • Swarga (the heaven) where the gods live
  • Buwah, the world of man
  • Bbhur(hell), where demons reside.

The canang sari serve as a way to demonstrate gratitude and honour to those gods in suarga, who are the creators of life, while appeasing or satisfying the needs of the demons so that they remain where they are, undrawn to the world of man. It is offered every day thanking the God for maintaining balance and peace on earth, amidst the forces of good and evil, among gods and demons, between heaven and hell.

canang-sari-ceremony

After making the canang sari, and placing it on its designated spot, the incense is lit, holy water is sprinkled on the canang sari with a flower, and a prayer is recited. The thought is, the smoke from the incense stick carries the prayer from the canang sari to the gods. Even this ritual is full of symbols: water, wind, fire, and earth. While praying and putting the offerings around the house or business, the women will wear a sarong and if this is not possible they wear a sash out of respect for the gods.  The final step involves the ceremonial sprinkling of holy water and application of a few grains of rice onto the forehead, the location of the third eye chakra.

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Usually, the offerings are set on a pillar-like structure in the front yard of big houses and restaurants. They are considered to be a small version of a temple. I do not know what it is called and so I shall refer to it as a pillar. It is usually as high as a human figure. You can understand the social standing of the family. The richer families have a grand pillar with a lot of work/sculpture on it. Others are simple as shown in the figure above. I also came across stands made of metal frame on which the canang sari was kept!

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In most cases, the body part of the pillar is covered with a black-and-white check or yellow sarong. Sometimes it has a small umbrella made of fabrics (usually black and white or yellow) in order to protect the offerings from the rain.

If you see canang sari on the ground when you are walking around the street, do not step over or step on it because it is considered as not respecting the culture and the religion. Especially the ones with incense that is still burning.

Each canang sari lasts only one day. The ritual is repeated every morning.