Small Offerings: Canang Sari
BY Faythe Levine | January 6, 2011
Counting Your Blessings
Having the dedication of doing something every single day. This is a consistent trait with the many, many ceremonies surrounding the Hindu religion that dominates over ninety percent of the Indonesian island of Bali. On my first day there, one of the first things I noticed were the offerings that were placed nearly everywhere, often underfoot. It’s difficult to not step on them while walking around and usually by mid-day they are scattered around on the sidewalk and pathways. They were also stacked high in certain important places (over the river, near the doorway to a temple and in the temple itself).
The uniqueness of each individual offering is amazing; the attention to detail, placement of the elements on each tray, and amount of time that put into each offering is difficult to wrap one’s mind around the amount of time that would go into this daily routine. My understanding is that the time spent putting offerings together every day is used to reflect on giving thanks for what has been provided. Seeing piles of dried out old offerings swept into the gutter and in piles on the street made me realize it was a part of the cultural ebb and flow of the Hindu Balinese lifestyle.
It seemed natural to photograph the beautifully arranged offerings. They were most often square pieces of folded leaves, but sometimes on more ornate circular trays. I quickly learned that these offerings are called Canang Sari. “Canang” refers to the tray and "sari" to the "essence" of the offering. The palm size canang, is most often made from folded coconut or palm leaves. The sari, items that are placed upon the trays, were often a mixture of flowers, dollops of rice, candy, crackers, and incense.
I was told that it’s a part of the women’s duties to make, bless, and place the canang saris daily and I started to imagine having a duty like this as a part of my life. It was nearly impossible to imagine within the context of my very western life the amount of time spent daily putting together the offering’s, or for that matter even being at home to take care of such a duty. So, out of curiosity, I asked one woman I met who takes care of the offerings when you are away? She told me she very rarely goes far from home--the majority of Balinese live with their families—but if she leaves, her mother makes, blesses, and places her offerings for her while she is away.
I shared with my new friend that I haven’t lived at home with my family since I finished high school. In fact, I lived over a two day drive away from them, a drive that could circle her country twice, my life to her was as unimaginable as hers to mine. And it made me smile when she told me she had no desire to come to the United States. Too far away from my family and this place I love.
Her sentiments about her home were consistent with everyone I met there. And, out of all my world travels, Bali is the one country I visited that I bought tickets back to before I even left.
Faythe Levine curates the Sky High Gallery. Every year in Milwaukee she produces a show called Art vs. Craft. Levine also films documentaries, creates set design for music videos, and is an avid photographer, collector of good things, artwork; and a world traveler. She is a regular contributor to the weekly blog column called SNAPS for the Journal Sentinel's Art City section.