What to know about general offerings in Bali

From the smallest saiban to the towering gebogan, offerings are inseparable from Balinese culture. Balinese offerings are present in different forms and colours at every religious practice in Bali and are a central part of life.

Balinese Hinduism philosophy emphasises maintaining a harmonious relationship with God, nature, and the lesser forces of life. As an implementation of this philosophy, the Balinese make offerings to please the gods and hope for their continuing guidance and protection. In contrast, for the lesser spirits and demons, offerings are made to appease them so that they do not disturb life. To nature, the Balinese provide offerings in the hope that the protective spirits will continue to maintain resources (water, air, crops, etc.) for the continuity of life. 

While walking in Bali, you may also see various offerings placed on the streets and other unusual places with small shrines. Those offerings are usually for protective spirits in the area. Perhaps the area was once dangerous with an evil spirit running amok, and the priests managed to tame and cleanse it. The people routinely provide offerings to keep the spirit from becoming evil again. Such is the importance of offerings in Balinese life.

In Balinese society, women play a major role when it comes to offerings. Balinese women are expected to know how to make at least the simplest of offerings and how and when to offer them to the gods. That’s why Balinese women are often the busiest during ceremonies and always quick to rise!

There are many types of offerings, but here we’ll discuss the three general offerings in Balinese life.

The most common and simplest offering is known as the saiban. It is a simple offering, usually just some cooked rice and pieces of meat or vegetables placed on a small banana leaf. The Balinese typically offer the saiban three times a day after they cook a meal. The offerings are usually placed on the stove, the family shrines, and the front door to show gratitude for the food and to “feed” lesser spirits so they do not become angry.

Next, let’s talk about canang, the most ubiquitous offerings in Bali. It is a step above the saiban; the canang is made from young coconut leaves weaved together into a small tray, which houses five differently coloured flowers. It is considered a multipurpose offering, meaning that it can be used for almost any occasion or purpose. It can also be offered anywhere. However, it is mainly used as offerings in temples during religious ceremonies. Unlike the saiban, the Balinese usually offer canang once a day. When going to temples, money is put on the canang atop the flowers. The money will then be collected by the priests.

Every fifteen days, on a Kajeng Kliwon, the Balinese offer an additional offering along with the canang. On Kajeng Kliwon, the Balinese offer segehan. The segehan is made of five differently-coloured rice (white, yellow, red, black, and mixed), a dash of ginger, and red onion put on a dried coconut leave weaved into a small triangle. The segehan is complemented by some palm liquor and rice wine sprinkled around the area the offering is placed. It is so evil spirits are pleased and to cleanse the area.

So those are the three primary offerings most often found in Balinese life. Perhaps we’ll discuss the bigger offerings in the next post.