The mere mention of Bali invokes the image of its varied landscape of lush rice terraces and barren volcanic hillsides, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches, making it one of the world’s best known paradises on earth. The small Indonesian island is rich in traditions and culture, making it known as the Island of the Gods.
Wherever you go in Bali, you’ll always find the multi-colored flower offerings dotting the streets, trees and statues draped in checkered cloth, and the swastika symbol everywhere. While most of us vaguely know they resemble something religious, they have a very deep meaning for the Balinese. We’ve summed up their connotations for your easy enlightenment below.
Most of the time, these small offerings are accompanied by a tiny portion of food, even if it’s just a pinch of vegetable or meat, and sprinkled with salt. Some devotees add specific elements to their offerings, for example, a bakery might add some bread crumbs and a warung would put rice and chicken as part of their offering.
In temples, the canang sari is placed on the shrines for the higher deities and on the ground for the lower spirits. These small offerings are placed everywhere, and the locals believe that it’s bad luck if you accidentally step on one. So, watch your step!
Another common (well, common for the locals!) sight when you drive through the roads in Bali is the black and while checkered fabric which the locals called kain poleng. It’s normally found wrapped around tree trunks, statues and temples. The black and white fabric is not for aesthetics, but it’s actually a symbol of “Rwa Bhineda”, which refers to the balance of nature. The Balinese believe that everything that exists in this world has two contrasting forces that need to be equally respected, like day and night, and sadness and happiness.
Kain poleng symbolizes this concept perfectly as the black color represents the dark, while the white color represents the light. The pattern represents duality, and the whole fabric serves as a reminder for us all to keep the balance in harmony. So, whenever you see kain poleng in Bali, remember to create harmony within yourself and with others, as well as nature and the unseen spirits.
A majority of Balinese people are Hindu, and because of its very religious society and its numerous Hindu temples, the island is also known as the Island of Thousand Temples. There are many worship ceremonies conducted every day and at the end of the ceremony, you’ll receive the bija.
What is bija, you ask? It’s a grain of rice that has been washed with holy water and sometimes, mixed with turmeric. It’s usually placed in three places and the placements also have different meanings. When it’s placed on the forehead between the eyebrows, it is believed to give wisdom rays to the person. When it’s on the neck area, it symbolizes happiness. If one swallows the rice grain, it is believed that your life will be filled with prosperity.
During festival season in Bali, you’ll see many penjor bamboo poles lining the street. These towering bamboo poles are decorated with young coconut leaf ornaments as well as local produce such as rice stalks, fruits and coconuts — just like a Christmas tree!
They might be a pretty sight, but they’re more than just beautiful decoration. While it’s usually used during the time of Galungan and Kuningan (a 10-day festival to celebrate the triumph of Dharma over Adharma, or good against evil), it’s also a common feature during weddings, art performances and temple festivals.
Each pole has a small woven bamboo shrine where offerings are placed for deities who descend from the heavens for the celebrations. Once the festival is over, the poles are pulled out, burned and its ashes are buried inside the compound in a final endeavor at producing fertility and prosperity.
While the swastika has been closely linked to Nazism in recent years, it is actually the oldest religious symbol (all the way from 10,000 BCE) that represents good fortune. In fact, the name is derived from the Sanskrit word “svastika”, which literally means “auspicious object”.
Balinese used the swastika symbol to enhance their belief in the Almighty and you can often find this sign painted on the baskets, trays or prayer accessories that are used during religious ceremonies. Sometimes it’s also painted on buildings and temples!
So, if you’re a Western visitor and may not be familiar with the positive meaning of the swastika, fret not, there is no rise of pro-Nazi movement here. In fact, Balinese may be the most friendly and peaceful people you’ll ever met!
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