02 August 2013

Balinese offers

Offerings are called banten in Balinese. It is possible that the word comes from the Sanskrit word bali, which means tribute, obligation or gift. Or it may be derived from the word enten, which means to wake up or be conscious. It is a consciousness of the gods.

Offerings are gifts. They are a means of giving something back. But, of course, gifts obligate the recipient and so the system creates mutual obligations and favors, even between humans and spirits. With offerings to the demons, however, the offers does not expect a gift in return, just the favor that the demons will go away.

One of the most striking things about Bali is the daily profusion of offerings. Offerings are important: they are to give pleasure to the gods (and the demons). They provide good karma to those involved in their preparation. Nearly every village has its own unique forms of offerings. Some Balinese spend all their lives making them. Women mostly, but not exclusively: it depends on type of offering. Men prepare offerings made of flesh and meat. Men make offerings made of pig skin, fat and entrails. They kill and clean roast pigs, grill chickens and ducks and cook satay. They also prepare sacrificial animals and the temporary shrines and ritual accessories made of bamboo. Some can only be made by Brahman women. The work in preparing an offering, itself is an element of worship, and is regarded as part of its content.

The tall offerings have a soft banana tree trunk in the center to serve as a core for inserting bamboo skewers to which the fruits and other things are attached. Every offering has at least three ingredients: areca nut, betel leaf and lime. The reason is symbolic; the colors, red, green and white are the colors associated with Brahma, Wisnu and Siwa. These three ingredients allow the gods actually to be present. Rice is also always a component. Offerings accompany ceremonies and prayers. They vary considerably in complexity. Some are very simple, some very tiny; others can be several meters high. If there is an important ceremony, such as a temple ceremony, enormous towers of flowers, fruit, cakes, meats and eggs are made at home and carried to the temple by women on their heads, often for long distances. Offerings are made of entirely natural things. They all have a very short life, but they contain the things that the gods like, the things that the Balinese like.Another kind of offering, much smaller, is made by palm leaves and sewing them together with little pins of bamboo into little containers. These are fashioned in numerous quantities.

Temple offerings
You may stumble across a long procession of women, dressed in fine Balinese costumes, offerings on their beads, threading their way to the temple. It makes for a great photograph. It is, of course, appropriate for offerings to be carried on the head, as the head is the most sacred part of the body. Offerings are gifts to the gods and deified ancestors. When they are brought to the temple they are placed on special pavilions and sprinkled with holy water symbolically to remove any impurities. Then the priest offers the spiritual essence to the deities, after which the worshipers pray. Once the deities enjoy them and take their essence, their Sari, their function has been fulfilled. They are usually taken home and eaten and never re-used.

Family compound offerings
Family shrines are given daily offerings in the morning - after the meal has been prepared, but before it is eaten. On important days there are special offerings: days like Kajeng-Keliwon, Tilem, Purnama, the Tumpeks, Galunggan and other festivals. A female family member presents the offerings. She must be dressed in Balinese dress. The offerings are carried on a tray with a stick of burning incense. She wafts the essence of the offering towards the shrine.

Penjors are tall, decorated bamboo poles, whose curved upper ends, on which are attached elaborate offerings, dangle graciously over the middle of the road. The gods on Mount Agung and visiting ancestors will see them clearly. They are erected outside temples and family houses during certain ceremonies, and always at Galungan, beside a temporary altar.

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