Women would pluck flowers from bushes, chop leaves off coconut, palm and banana trees, then weave and arrange the precise placement of all elements according to instructions handed down through generations. They had all they needed. Right outside their front door. In their backyards. And all for free.
Aduh! How times have changed…
These days, many women work outside the home, a shift that has brought with it significant societal changes around Bali. With more a Westernized lifestyle and greater earnings – combined with the culturally centered pressure to ‘keep up with the Agungs,’ other options have become possible – including creating fragrant displays topped with cigarettes, wrapped candies and Ritz crackers. (Have the gods in Bali developed a sweet tooth and smoking habit?)
Some Balinese diehards, determined to preserve traditional rituals despite increasing pressures to modernize (or in fear of under-appreciated gods and spirits), continue to prepare offerings at home. Such is the case at the guesthouse-non-grata (my previous abode), where among the staff they employ Kadek to prepare offerings for daily prayers, special occasions and ceremonies..
On the other hand, many cannot afford staff so they too continue at no or little expense, to weave baskets, pluck petals off trees and cobble together the best possible offerings they can round up each day.
Those who have the desire and means to do so, now have a choice of buying bag-fuls of flowers (hydrangea, marigolds, frangipani etc) and baskets already woven in different sizes and styles – depending on the particular offering that must be made.
The result is that the most labor-intensive and time-consuming dimension of preparations is undertaken by others. As if they were part of an industrial assembly line, women huddle closely together early mornings at the market, laying out flower petals, rice and dried grass in a checkerboard formation of woven baskets.
But the ‘best’ was yet to come.
One day, on a walk just after dawn, I noticed plastic bags hanging off door handles, in front of stores, banks, restaurants. I approached and, to my amazement, I realized that, like a newspaper or piping hot pizza, the pre-dawn, pre-fabricated pile of offerings had been delivered for that day’s prayers. Convenient shortcuts to forgiveness and redemption.
And with that, disappears the most critical and core aspect of daily preparation of offerings; the work itself is a manifestation of human beings’ communion with the divine.
It’s a slippery slope.
Drive-thru worship venues?
High priests sending out pre-packaged prayers?
Temple ceremonies attended via Skype?