Last updated on January 2, 2023
The grandmother figure at my guesthouse in Ubud didn’t speak a lick of English, but her friendly smile—coupled with a gentle beckoning of the hand—was the only invitation I needed to sheepishly shuffle over to the assembly line of family members weaving and plaiting palm leaves into tiny three-inch by three-inch containers.
The little pallets of offerings in Bali take so many different forms and are one of the first things I fell in love with wandering the streets of Ubud. Bali is a little anomaly in the middle of Indonesia; the daily nature-based worship of Balinese Hinduism is a stark contrast to religious practices in the rest of this majority-Muslim country.
Every day as I dashed in and out of my guesthouse, these little carafes of flowers and piles of petals dotted the perimeter of the compound—some of these unique Balinese offerings appeared in the early morning hours as I sipped my tea (I’m an early riser and was able to silently watch the construction and distribution of these dozens of daily offerings), and others replaced the trampled petals later each afternoon.
And on the days when I slept in until the sun rose, I awoke to pretty offerings perched on the table of my patio area.
Life Cycle of a Balinese Daily Offering
Before most tourists are wandering the streets the Balinese are out sweeping up all of the previous day’s offerings from around their businesses and homes. Using buckets of water, they wet the sidewalks and scrub not only the perimeter around the doorways, but the gutters too.
The streets of Bali are spotless in the early morning hours as locals prepare the sidewalks, steps, statues, and temples for the daily gift of offerings meant to appease and please the various gods and demons of Balinese Hinduism.
These little tributes are perched all over the city. Some are as simple as a small and fragrant frangipani adorning each and every step leading into a housing compound.
Others are more elaborate, designed to guard the house’s doorway and appease the gods—these are often represented by statues placed throughout the house.
Detailed and complex or simple and plain, the Balinese place offerings simply everywhere.
These offerings represent daily devotional gifts to their belief system. When I put it more in the context of my Christian background I think of it like saying the rosary—a repeated act of faith.
The darker side of it is that they use these offerings to appease demon spirits hanging around. So, as much as I present this sunshine-y side to the offerings, they are so much more than mere street decorations to the Balinese—they form a cornerstone of the daily practice of nearly every Balinese person I met.
Locals spend large parts of their day in the construction of new offerings, then dispersing them around their compounds. Once it’s seemingly completely, they make more holders and palm leaf patterns to distribute in other forms.
These abundance of flowers adorning buildings, homes, and businesses are a lovely addition to wandering Bali, but more than anything, sitting and watching the women and men plait palm leaves day after day took what I had viewed as a cute religious practice and grounded it into a much clearer window into the beliefs and daily lives of the Balinese people.
It’s so easy to travel to these countries and pick out the fun parts and view it from the outside—as a Westerner looking in on what could be regarded as cute or kitschy practices. But sitting there, with them every day? It’s so very much a lovely and honest part of their everyday life that these ornate offerings provide such a pretty opening to something deeper within the Balinese culture.
Why do the Balinese make these daily offerings?
The Balinese make daily offerings as a way to express their devotion to the gods and to maintain a sense of balance and harmony in their lives. In Balinese Hinduism, it is believed that everything in the world, including inanimate objects, has a spirit or essence. Daily offerings are made to these spirits as a way to show respect and to ask for protection and blessings.
The offerings to thank the Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa, called “canang sari,” are small baskets or trays made of woven palm leaves that are filled with flowers, rice, and other small items such as incense and fruit. They are placed in various locations throughout the home, temple, and village as a way to honor the gods and the spirits. The offerings are also believed to help keep away evil spirits and to bring positive energy to the environment.
Making daily offerings is an integral part of Balinese culture and is practiced by the majority of the population. It is seen as a way to connect with the spiritual world and to maintain balance and harmony in daily life.
How Respect This Aspect of Balinese Culture
- Be aware of the cultural significance of the offerings: The daily offerings in Bali are an important part of the local culture and religion. It is important to understand the significance of the tradition and to be respectful of it.
- Don’t touch or disturb the offerings: The offerings are considered sacred by the Balinese, and it is not appropriate to touch or disturb them. If you see an offering, it is best to simply acknowledge it and move on.
- Don’t take photographs of the offerings: It is not appropriate to photograph the offerings without permission. If you would like to take a photograph, it is best to ask permission first.
- Don’t make your own offerings: It is not appropriate for travelers to make their own offerings. The offerings are an important part of the local religion, and it is important to respect that.
- Be mindful of your behavior: As a visitor, it is important to be mindful of your behavior and to follow local customs and traditions. This includes dressing modestly and behaving respectfully when visiting temples and other sacred sites.
Learn More About Bali and Balinese Hinduism
- Bali: Sekala & Niskala: A wonderful book if you want to truly understand Balinese culture and thought. The book is a collection of essays with topics life Hindu mythology and modern gamelan music.
- Balinese Food: The Traditional Cuisine and Food Culture of Bali: This is not a cookbook, but rather in-depth look at the traditions and history of Bali’s food culture. Beautifully written travel and food prose.
- Island of Bali: Written in 1937, this book is a must read for anyone who is planning a trip to Bali. A fascinating and engaging read.
17 thoughts on “A Little Ritual… Frangipani, Incense, and Balinese Beliefs”
The long poles with hangings coming from them are called Penjors. They are put out at gallungan and a few other times a year in from of every home and business.
Thanks CJ! I didn’t know that but always love knowing more nuances of the cultural significance of these beautiful offerings.
Happened to see some beautiful hangings in every street in Bali. Any idea what that is?
Hate to say that I am just not sure! If you have a photo of it that you can link to, that might help! Or if you find out, let me know! :)
i love frangepanis ♥ hehehehehe
Me too! They might fight for being my favorite flower – they look so pretty
if you wear one in your hair too :)
Great post! I love the pictures, but also your explanation of the practice and your realisation that there is more to it.
Thanks Maria – I wish I had gotten to stay longer and figure out more, it’s
way more complex than I was able to uncover in just a couple of weeks! :)
I loved this post! I could almost smell the flowers when I looked at the pictures. :)
I loved this post! I could almost smell the flowers when I looked at the pictures. :)
Thanks Andi! It’s even better when you can smell them – they are simply
This was one of my most fave things about Bali. I thought the beauty of the flowers, their deelish scent that wafted all around me throughout the day and the care and dedication that each woman put into making these offerings was so beautiful and really helped keep me present. Thanks for the reminder. It’s almost as if I can smell them now :)
Once you see how much daily effort it takes to make these flower offerings
it really is just amazing – and the strong scent of the frangipani will now
always and forever remind me of Bali; glad to have shared with you such a
lovely visual reminder :)
This is awesome! I felt in love with Bali last week while reading ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and sice then I found out lots of interestig info about the place. I have to make it there someday.
It’s definitely a gorgeous spot with so many different pieces and parts to
the culture and scenery that make it oh so worth traveling too! Eat, Pray,
Love gives a really lovely account of Gilbert’s experiences there and I
found the Balinese just as friendly and sweet as she made them sound!
Love this post — beautiful pictures! Can’t wait to get to Bali!
Thanks Kate – you’ll love it and I love your idea of going to surf camp
there, can’t wait to read about it :)