Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Understanding the Mysteries of Offerings

17 December 2013

The shrines have been more ornately decorated for the past few days - one man told me it was a special festival for the full moon.  Which explains why we've seen people riding around on their motorscooters, all dressed in white.  White is worn for special festivals, and now we know the full moon is a special festival each month.  (My favourite family was a mother, father, and two small sons, maybe about 4 and 9 years old, all in white, males with the tall white head covering, riding on the scooter, the littlest child standing in front of his father and holding onto the handles along with his father - such a cute child!)

We found an article about the offerings in a magazine for expats living in Bali - article by Stephanie Brookes.  And learned ALL kinds of things about the offerings.

The article focuses on a young woman, 16 years old, who has been making the offerings for her family's shrines or temples for the past six years.  She makes the offerings herself, from making the little leaf baskets to adding the items to carrying them to the shrines.  

She begins with the temple in her family compound, then walks to the rice fields to place the next offerings.  (There are small shrines dotted throughout the rice fields.)  And then she goes to the temple in the village, ending with a villa (article isn't clear if this is another family home or what).

The special occasion offerings (such as the full moon) must have banana, rice, peanuts, and coconut - just one of those things, I guess.

Part of the ritual includes lighting incense and carrying it, burning, while walking to the various places where the offerings are made.  The offerings are set in the location, holy water is sprinkled, prayers are said (usually asking for health, good fortune, happiness, and peace).  And incense may be placed on the offering as well.

The offerings often contain whatever food was just cooked for the family, as well as flowers, and often something sweet.  They must be visually attractive and smell good.  (I suspect there's also an aspect that unites the four major elements - fire, water, earth, air - maybe incense for fire, holy water, flowers and food from the earth, and the scents rising in the air?  Just my instinct.)

This is the part I found most interesting:  "offerings are gifts to the gods which express gratitude to benevolent spirits and as well, they serve to placate mischievous demons who disturb the harmony of life.  These shadow world inhabitants of Bali are treated an honoured guests through this act of offering.  The offerings must always be attractive.  Once an offering is used, it may not be used again, so each and every day, new ones must be made.  Offerings to the gods and ancestors are placed in high altars while the demons receive theirs at ground level."

Fascinating - gods and spirits and ancestors reside in the upper reaches of the world (up always being seen as good?), while demons reside on the ground (or underground?).  Kind of like our Judeo-Christian concept of angels and demons or devils, isn't it?  

I like the fact that these spirits reside beside us in a parallel or "shadow" world.  Not that I specifically believe in this concept, but I can understand it.  Again, the Judeo-Christian cultures believe we have guardian angels - sometimes the spirits of ancestors - who follow us around.  So the offerings - these beautiful, sweet smelling, pretty, tasty offerings - keep them happy.  Same for the offerings for the demons, they too must be appeased so they don't wreak havoc with our lives.  
Don't you love the big candy bar in the offering?  Simple and to the point - here, demons, have some chocolate and hazelnut yumminess, and please don't mess with us, thank you.  Sort of like some of the old practices we use in the western world today - the bridesmaids to confuse demons about who is the real bride, things like that.

Richard and I talked about some of these food items - it isn't as if there are a lot of street people in Bali, but there are the occasional people and children begging for money.  So wouldn't you think there might be some hungry people who would eat the offerings?  There are the occasional dogs, and of course birds and the wonderful monkeys - but we haven't seen people taking these items.  I would think that any Hindu person would believe that these offerings belong to the spirit world, and taking them, no matter how hungry you might be, would be a major taboo, sure to bring horrible consequences.  But what about people of other religions, other beliefs?  I'd think they might be tempted to eat the offerings, but we haven't seen that.

It's just part of the mystery of Bali.

I need to add that I might be off line for a bit, there are a variety of issues we're taking care of and they just need to be dealt with.  So please keep checking back, I'll report in when I'm able.

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