On a quiet morning in Ubud, I was invited to the rice paddy-encircled home of Nyoman and family to learn the art of making the beautiful Balinese canang sari that adorn village and family temples, intersections, home entrances and any spot that the Balinese hold to be sacred (special tree, statue, etc.)
Since the Balinese believe that offerings should be created with a thankful spirit, it was fitting that I made the visit on the American Thanksgiving holiday. Also, I was utterly thrilled to have a master teacher show me the ropes!
Canang is a small, square coconut-leaf basket overflowing with a variety of brilliant flowers, whereas sari means ‘essence.’ (For example, a modest amount of money could make up the essence of a Balinese offering known as kepeng. One night while walking along the beach in southern Bali, we saw a canang sari waiting to be carried out to sea, along with a modest kepeng.) The Balinese make canang sari offerings on a daily basis.
Nyoman crafts 100-150 canang sari per day, using all organic materials. This labor of love and devotion takes her approximately two hours. In addition to the mounds of vibrant buds, Nyoman uses coconut leaves and bamboo that is shaved into a toothpick-like thread. When I took my first shot at weaving this ‘thread’ through the various loops of the frilly basket, the session concluded with multiple snaps of the thread and giggles on my and Nyoman’s part.
Canang sari embody Balinese Hinduism and the religion’s aim to make the world balanced through Tri Hita Karana. Parahyangan means ‘God’, Pawongan means ‘human’ and Palemahan means ‘nature.’ Tri Hita Karana is represented with a special three-piece component that is included in every canang sari. Nyoman instructed me to place this at the bottom, underneath the flowers.
The philosophy behind the offering is self sacrifice – it takes an extraordinary amount of time and effort to prepare canang sari, and as Nyoman attested (by showing her calloused and cut fingers) the offerings can also take a toll on their crafter’s hands.
After my lesson, as well as a fun interaction with Nyoman’s grandson (who loved the Haribo gummy bear finger puppet we left with him), we returned to our home away from home, Nirwa Homestay, where we left the banana leaf-wrapped offerings at the entry way of our room. It was a fitting way to say thanks for the wonderful people we have met in the Bali, as well as our special family and friends around the world.