Offerings Offer More than Devotion to the Gods

By Hannah Black
The Bali Times

SILAKARANG ~ The upcoming hat trick of Hindu ceremonies, Galungan, Nyepi and Kuningan, has breathed new life into my compound. Slowly, slowly even the most relaxed of family members have cranked themselves into productive mode and there seems to be much less lounging around and much more discussion of what needs to be bought at the market or cut from the jungle.

In basic terms, the holidays mean a huge amount of offerings-making and pretty sore fingers for the soft-handed typist of this article. Of course I’m not forced to make offerings, but I find it both relaxing and a great way to hang out with the women in the family and get all the village gossip.

A few days ago I asked my sister-in-law Kadek if she knew how many of each offering had to be made in the run-up to Galungan and Kuningan, to which she gave me an “of course I do” look at such an obvious question. I suppose, doing the calculations, she has been making the same offerings for these holy days every 210 days since she was a little girl. Pointing at the different offerings, she watched my dumbstruck face as she reeled off “100 of these, 200 of these, 200 of these…” – literally thousands of offerings.

I have to say I often thank my lucky stars for Kadek. Although she is seriously hardworking, she is also riotously funny and does everything with a sense of humor. I truly enjoy my time spent making offerings with her and I think the fact that I do has integrated me into the family. She laughs when I get offerings back to front and helps me to express myself in Bahasa Indonesia, which can be one of the hardest hurdles to overcome when living in a different language.

The funny thing is the real sense of pride it gives me to be praised on my offerings-making. These days, after a couple of years of practice, I often see my mother-in-law watching out of the corner of her eye, nodding her approval. She isn’t the most demonstrative of people and doesn’t throw compliments around, so if she says I’m pintar (clever), I feel like a kid who just did the best cartwheel ever. Those from outside the compound are usually amazed that I can even wash my own dishes, so seeing me working away at almost Balinese speed meets with gaping mouths of pure astonishment.

My one main concern me about the making of offerings and other things needed for ceremony is the amount of money spent on them. It may not seem like a few palm fronds and some flowers would be a huge financial burden, but I figure my family is spending around Rp4 million (US$333) on Galungan and Kuningan, which is a serious amount of cash for them. It’s also common practice for families to borrow money for ceremonies, often from village lenders who charge extortionate interest rates.

One cousin, speaking from under a pile of offerings, asked me last week if I wasn’t sure I didn’t want to convert back to my old religion so I wouldn’t have to be so busy and out-of-pocket for the rest of my days. It was said in jest, but I could see in her eyes that sometimes she wished someone else could do it all for her.

An amazing aspect of the making of offerings is the wealth of knowledge passed down from generation to generation. This is something shamefully amiss in Western cultures and I have often wondered how many traditions, recipes, songs, skills etc. we have lost because of this. I have often watched young nieces and cousins learn the twists and turns of each offering from their mothers, grandmothers and sometimes even great-grandmothers. However, with so many young women starting to go out to work, I wonder how many generations will be able to carry these skills.

When I first arrived in Bali, I was entranced by the women weaving intricate shapes out of palm fronds everywhere I looked, but I couldn’t help but feel they were somehow wasting their time. I also remember a straight-faced cousin saying, “What else would we do and spend our money on if we weren’t making offerings? We would have too much time!”

I can’t say I’ve lost that feeling altogether, but I do have a newfound appreciation for the work they do and why it isn’t a burden for them. I’ve realized now that although it is an obligation, it is also a responsibility and a way to show their love for their gods and keep their families safe from harm – as well as having a cup of coffee and a good gossip.

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My Compound Life

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