After four years of living in Bali I decided not to postpone any longer. I’d seen it happen hundreds of times, at first with great interest and wonder and as time passed without much notice. It was something I had considered doing, but thought I might appear inauthentic or disrespectful. I’m not Hindu, after all. Then I heard that 20 years ago if you moved to Bali many expats were given a sarong and shown how to do it, I thought, why not start? I threw my inhibition aside and consulted the women who work in my home about what they thought. They were delighted and all smiles! They told me it didn’t matter that I wasn’t Hindu and thought it was a very good idea. Maybe the conversation was 4 years too late?
Before we began I was asked to take a shower and reminded that I was not to do the offering while menstruating. For daily offerings at family compounds its not unusual to put a sarong and tie over ones daily clothes. We put all the banten’s (offerings) onto a large tray and lit a number of incense sticks beside a bowl of holy water.
My main questions to my teachers, the pregnant Ibu Yoni, and Ibu Kadek (and the first time photographer!) were what exactly I should pray about and to who. They conversed back and forth with each other and then gave me what I would call, ‘praying guidelines’. It turns out there was no script, nothing to recite, nothing they had ever been specifically taught. In fact they comparing notes which made me feel reassured. The general premise, as I was told , was to start by giving thanks for what I had, and then pray for my own good health and prosperity. Next I would ask of this for my family and ancestors of the land, and finally pray to the Gods and Spirits.
The way to do the offering is exactly the same way each time, so learning it is quite easy. First, lay the offering down and put the incense on top or in front of the offering. Next, take the white frangipan from the small bowl of holy water (from Titra Empul, a nearby temple with a sacred spring) and hold it between the middle and ring finger of the right hand. Dip the flower in the water and flick it on the offering. Finally simultaneously pray (with eyes open or shut) while waving the hand with the flower over the incense in your direction.
Yoni lead me on a route through our home that should be followed each time. We started at the north-east facing small temple (Padma Sana) and weaved our way through the house and garden. We placed some offerings high up on the ‘mini-orange temples’ known as the pelang kiran, and put other’s on a variety of places like the stove, the entrance to our home, the pool pump and on my scooter. We ended at the front door with two offerings on the ground, pointing towards the big road that leads to our place.
Upon completion Kadek and Yoni were supportive. They said that although they prayed each day for my family, they were pleased that I was going to do it too.
They welcomed my contribution, though they did say that my offerings didn’t really ‘count’ and that they would continue to do them. My work was just ‘extra’. Fair enough. I can’t really be sure I am having much effect on the spirits as a rookie.
Of course, there is much more to explore. Offerings in Bali have a fascinating, rich and vibrant history that I am not qualified or able to explore in a short blog posting.
With love and gratitude to Yoni and Kadek.
Photograph by Kadek Citra