Canang What? Canang Sari

There is nothing like the captivating island of Bali. The first time I was there, I was totally blown away by its people, culture, food and lifestyle. Ubud is in the middle of nature; surrounded by rice terraces and thick jungle. As the sun rises at Villa Tanah Shanti, the jungle becomes alive with birds and insects singing you back to this earthly realm. The air is filled with magic and you’ll learn early on that spirituality is an integral piece of Balinese culture. You won’t go far without seeing a small square or round palm leaf offering filled with flowers and rice, Canang Sari, on the streets. The phrase “Canang Sari” is derived from the Balinese words sari means essence and canang means a small palm-leaf basket. Canang Sari is the symbol of gratitude and are offered every day in the morning, afternoon and evening as a form of thanking the Gods for peace given to this world. Canang sari can also be used to ward off negative energy, attract prosperity or honor ancestors.

These beautiful offerings also represent the elements (fire, water, earth and air), the directions (north, south, east and west) and Hindu Gods (Shiva, Brahma,and Vishnu). One of my favorite aspects of Canang sari are the colorful flowers that delight anyone who is lucky enough to see one in person. The colors of the flowers are white, red, yellow, blue or green. These colors are not randomly chosen:

  • White-colored flowers that point to the east as a symbol of Iswara, also known as Shiva. Shiva is as one of the Trimurti, holy trinity of supreme divinity in Hinduism, Gods.
  • Red-colored flowers that point to the south as a symbol of Brahma, God of Fire. Brahma is often referred to as the great grandsire of all human beings and another pillar of the the Trimurti.
  • Yellow-colored flowers that point to the west as a symbol of Mahadeva. Mahadeva means “Great god”.
  • Blue or green colored flowers that point to the north as a symbol of Vishnu. Vishnu is conceived as “the Preserver” within the Trimurti.

The average Balinese familial compound requires around 15 canangs to be placed in strategic areas within the home three times each day. The Padma, or temple statue in the north-eastern corner, needs two. The statue next to it – the Tugu, responsible for home security – also receives two. A fifth is left on the ground in between them to placate the lower spirits. The next is balanced on top of a compound’s well or water-bore – for watery Vishnu. Brahma is offered one in the Kitchen. Another single offering is placed in the main bedroom, on the family gazebo (or bale bengong), and one on the ground in the middle of the compound for Ibu Pertiwi, Mother Earth. The last four go outside. The Pengapit lawang – the little shrines either side of a compound gate – receive one each, and the final two are placed between them on the ground for the lower spirits. Only by honouring both the higher and lower spirits of a household can negativity be balanced with positivity – thus ensuring family harmony. Overall, canang sari powerfully illustrates a culture that values its rituals and beliefs.


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