When you walk around Bali you are sure to see small palm leaf baskets containing flowers and other objects on the ground or on small platforms at the front of houses and you may wonder what they are.
They are Canang Sari where canang means basket and sari means essence. They are offerings (banten) made 3 times per day as a symbol of thanks to the Hindu God Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa for giving peace to the world and bringing prosperity and good health to the family, at the same time appeasing the spirits.
Avoid stepping over them or kicking them especially while incense is burning as the essence of the offering is still rising to heaven. Though if you step on them accidentally nobody will take offence. Once the incense goes out the offering is complete and will be soon swept away.
Canang sari offerings are also made on special days such as Purnama (full moon), and Tilem (dark moon - when the moon cannot be seen), and Kajeng Kliwon (special mind cleansing days) but canang sari is not offered when there is a death in the community or family.
Up to 15 canang are placed around the home and family temple of the average Balinese family compound. The Padma, or temple statue in the north-eastern corner, needs two. The statue next to it, the Tugu, responsible for home security – also receives two. A fifth is left on the ground in between them to please the lower spirits.
Another canang is put on top of a compound’s well or water-bore – for Vishnu.
Brahma, the God of Fire in the kitchen, is offered one. One is placed at the main bedroom, another on the family gazebo (or bale bengong), and one on the ground in the middle of the compound for Ibu Pertiwi, Mother Earth. Four are placed outside. One each in the shrines (pengapit lawang) on each side of the compound gate and two more between them on the ground for the lower spirits.
Young women dressed in a kamen or sarong , kebaya blouse and waist-sash known as a selendang, usually peform the ritual of placing the canang sari around the house. After lighting an incense stick that they fix below or on top of the canang sari they dip a frangipani flower in a bowl of tirta (holy spring water) and sprinkle drops over the canang sari and incense to indicating the combination of earth, fire, wind and water. Then gracefully waving their hand 3 times with palm facing down, the flower in their fingers, they offer a prayer and the incense smoke carries the essence of the offerings upwards.
Traditionally Canang sari are made by the women in the family. Palm leaves form an open topped square basket and core material (peporosan) made from betel leaf, lime, gambier plant, tobacco and beetle nuts is added to the tray. The material for the peporosan symbolises the Trimurti , the three major manifestations of the Hindu Gods. Betel nuts are a symbol of Vishu, Lime a symbol of Shiva and gambier plant is a symbol of Brahma.
A palm leaf tray (ceper) the symbol of ardha candra is then used to cover the little basket, over which is placed sampian urasi that serves as a base for the flowers to placed on top.
Flowers are aligned in 4 different directions, each symbolising different forms of the Hindu God.
Blue or green flowers, the symbol of Vishnu face north, white flowers the symbol of Ishwara or Shiva, face east, red flowers the symbol of Brahma face south and yellow flowers the symbol of Mahadeva face west. The white flowers are frangipani, known as jepun in Bali.
Often the canang sari is completed by placing coins (kepeng) or paper money on top.
Mahadeva means “Great god”. The main iconographical attributes of Mahadeva or Shiva are the third eye on his forehead, the snake Vasuki around his neck, the crescent moon adorning, the holy river Ganga flowing from his matted hair, the Trishula as his weapon and the Damaru as his instrument.
Brahma is often referred to as the progenitor or creator of all human beings. Brahmā is traditionally depicted with four heads, four faces, and four arms. Unlike most other Hindu gods, Brahmā holds no weapons. He holds a scepter, a book, a string of prayer beads and the Vedas.
Vishnu is conceived as “the Preserver” within the Trimurti, the Hindu Trinity of the divinity. He is depicted as a blue being, holding a Padma (lotus flower) in the lower left hand, the Kaumodaki gada (mace) in the lower right hand, the Panchajanya shankha (conch) in the upper left hand and the discus weapon Sudarshana Chakra in the upper right hand.