Balinese Swag (or Goodies for the Gods)

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There’s no telling when and where the Balinese will hold their next ceremony. Which is why it’s often been said that, every day, somewhere on this island, you will find a ceremony taking place. Even though I own a Balinese calendar  – a reminder about the moon cycle and monthly holidays and festivities – it’s taken me a few years to actually comprehend the magnitude of that truth; it’s happened slowly, and mostly by witnessing the slew of festivals, ceremonies – big and small – that unfold in my own village, and the neighbouring one down the road. It’s mind-bodsc07552ggling.

And sometimes, even when I’m not alerted ahead of time, it hits home.  As in my (current) home. Not only when offerings need to be laid when the moon is full or empty; nor only when the penjors are erected at my gate in anticipation of the bi-annual celebration of Galungan. It turns out that one of the post-death and burial rites, 42 days after an individual has died, his (or her, in this case) relatives must make offerings at all the family’s properties and temples, and invite a priest for blessings and prayers at one of the homes – which happened to be the one in which I live.

dsc07541Ibu Metri (my landlord’s wife) came to clean my house the other day. Before leaving, she said that her family would be coming over the following morning for upacara. Ceremony.

Good thing she’d swept and washed the terrace floor, cleaned up the garden… A priest’s presence demanded a clean sweep!

The next morning, Metri and her daughter arrived, decked out in full traditional dress, and laden with a massive amount of offerings.dsc07557

Offerings. Once, that meant simple, hand-crafted straw baskets strewn with leaves, locally grown fruit, flowers and rice. Maybe sugar and coffee. But these days, offerings – canang – have become an industry in and of themselves; they’re likely to dazzle the eye, as well as the tastebuds. And often, they’re prepared in the morning markets… ready (as if it were pizza) for pick-up or delivery.

dsc07548Such was the case with the mountains of offerings that festooned my terrace – and the mat for the priest, his bell, holy water and accessories.

Metri’s cornucopia of goodies for the gods had blossomed into a visually arresting array, comprising articles that went far beyond traditional and locally-sourced staples: dupa, gula, beras (incense, sugar, rice).

Each pile was laid out on the terrace – folded pandan leaves tucked into each basket, bunches of bananas, mandarins and imported pieces of fruit, rice mounds, flower petals, eggs, rupiah bills and incense. A fancy china teacup. Part of the array in each basket was packaged in plastic: muffins, croissants, and cigarettes too – modern-day additions, indications of wealth, to offer the priest.

When all was said andsc07559d done, when the white-garbed priest had flicked off the last of the petals dipped in holy water, when each of the property’s shrines had been adequately blessed and prayed to, we rose. Brushing off specks of grass, shaking the priest’s hand and seeing him off, I was struck with the lingering scent of incense.

And bananas. Which comprised part of the offerings that Metri offered to me on her way out.

How about that, a loot bag that’s been blessed. Bananas as ceremonial party favours. Balinese swag.

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