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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Gift for Gods, Ancestors, and Demons

Gift for Gods, Ancestors, and Demons
The many unseen inhabitants of Bali – gods, ancestors, and demons – are treated by the Balinese as honored guests through the daily presentation of offerings (banten ) of every imaginable  shape, color ,and substance . These are first and foremost  gifts expressing gratitude to benevolent spirits ,and placating mischievous demons to prevent them from disturbing the harmony of life.
Simple offerings are presented daily as a matter of course, while more elaborate ones are specially produced for specific ritual. After the daily food is prepared , for example, tiny packets are presented to the resident gods of the household before  the family eats. Every day , too ,the spirits are presented with tiny canang  ,palm leaf trays containing flowers and betel as a token of hospitality.
Being gifts to higher beings , these offerings  must be attractive ,and great deals of time and effort is expended to make them so. Leaves are laboriously cut ,plaited and pinned together into decorative shapes ( jejaitan ) .Multi-colored rice flour cookies ( jajan ) are modeled into tine sculptures and even into entire scenes ,which have a deep symbolic significance quite apart from their decorative function. In many ways , therefore  , the production of offerings may be regarded as an important traditional art form that still flourishes on Bali

Materials and preparation
Aside from a few durable element employed , such as coins cloth and an occasional wooden mask, offerings  are generally fashioned of perishable , organic materials. Not only the materials , but be used again and similar ones must be produced again and again every day .
The preparation of offerings is one the many tasks undertaken by every Balinese woman.Within the household , women of several generations work together , and in this way knowledge and skill are handed down to the young . To a limited extent , men also cooperate ; it is their task to slaughter animals and prepare most meat offerings.
Many women in Bali even make a living by acting as offering specialists ( tukang banten ). Their main task is to direct the armies of people who collectively produce offerings for large rituals at home or in the communal temple. They are able to coordinate this work because they know the type and ingredients of offerings required for each accasion.
As more and more Balinese women work outside the home in office or tourist hotels ,they have less time to undertake elaborate ritual preparations .This result in an increasing demand for ready –made offerings that many tukang banten produce in their own home , in spite of this commercialization , the meaning and ritual use of offerings is not diminishing in Bali.

Ritual Uses
For almost any ritual ,the enormous number and variety of offerings required is quite astounding. There are literally hundreds of different kinds ,the names ,forms sizes ,and ingredients of which differ greatly .There is also considerable variation from region to region, and even from village to village .The basic form of most offerings is quite similar ,however .Rice , fruits ,cookies , meat , and vegetables are arranged on a palm leaf base  and crowned  with a palm leaf decoration called a sampian ,which serves also as  a container for betel and flowers.

Certain offerings are used in many rituals ,whereas others are specific to a particular ceremony . Basic offerings form groups ( soroh ) around a core offering ,and since most rituals can be performed with varying degrees of elaboration ,depending upon the occasion and the means and social status of the participants ,the size and content of these  offering groups vary also according to the elaborateness of the ritual.
The size of an offering may be scaled up or down to match the occasion. For example ,an ordinary pulagembal contains ,among other things ,dozens of different rice dough figures in a palm leaf basket. In more elaborate rituals , this becomes spectacular construction of brightly colored cookies ,measuring several meters from top to bottom.
Besides  the major communal offerings associated with a particular ritual , each family brings its own large and colorful offering to a temple festival. It is a spectacular sight when women of a neighborhood together carry offerings in procession to a temple.
At the temple , offerings are placed according to their destination and function .Offerings to gods and ancestors are placed on high altars ,whereas  demons receive theirs on the ground .An important differences is that offerings to demons may contains raw meat ,while those for the gods and ancestors may not. Specific offering required for ritual are placed in a pavilion temporary platform .
During the ceremony ,a priest purifies the offerings by sprinkling them with holy water and intoning prayers  or mantras .The smoke of incense then wafts the essence of the offerings to their intended destination . The daily presentation of offerings at home takes place in a similar way, through the use of holy water and fire .After the ritual is over and their “essence “ has been consumed  , the offerings may be taken home and eaten my the worshippers.

The elements that make life on earth possible are transformed into offerings and thus returned as gifts to their original Creator . But an offerings not only consists of the fruits of the earth ,but also mirrors its essential structure ; decorative motifs often symbolize the various constituents of the Balinese universe . The colors and numbers of flowers and other ingredients refer  to deities who guard the cardinal direction . The requisite betel on top of every offerings symbolizes the Hindu Trinity  , as do the three basic colors used : red for Brahma ,Black or Green for Wisnu ,and White for Siva.
Conical shape , whether of offerings as a whole  or of the rice used  in it ,are models of the cosmic mountain  whose central axis links the underworld  , the middle world ,and the upper world  ,symbolic of cosmic totality and the source of life on earth .Rice dough cookies represent the contents of the world : plants , animals, people , building , or even little market scenes and gardens ,Pairs of such cookies ,like the sun and moon  ,the mountain and sea  ,the earth and sky  ,symbolize  the dual ordering of the cosmos in which complementary elements cannot exist without one another.
The unity of male and female ,necessary for the production of new life , is in many ways represented  in the composition of offerings . By recreating the universe through the art and medium of offerings  , the Balinese hope that the continuity of life on the earth will be assured.

By Francine Brinkgreve                     

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