Banten: Traditional Offerings in Bali

Offerings in Bali are called ‘banten’. Bantens consist of several meals, fruits and other food, which are then placed on one or more dishes. In most cases, a Balinese does not prepare his offering by himself, for the banten offerings are considered a communal activity. Both men and women of the village community participate in the preparations of the offerings. This illustrates the Balinese ideal  in which the establishment of a harmonic unity requires men and women working together. The unity, then, transcends the dualistic differences between both sexes. And so, men use raw materials like bamboo and wood to make ritual paraphernalia whereas the women work with softer materials like leaves, flowers, fruits and rice. The men will also take care of the meat for the offerings. The women, however, are the ones doing the most.

The banten offerings are made according to fixed patterns and motifs. The primary motif being that of a mountain, which is also why most bantens are made in the shape of a tall cone. The combination of colors is based on the pattern of colors of the Nava Saṅga – the Balinese concept of the nine cardinal directions. In this way, then, all aspects of the banten offering resemble cosmic order; hence, the banten offering as a miniture of the cosmos, represents the micro-cosmos. With every banten the world is created anew through offerings that symbolize the various forms of existence. For instance, meat dishes symbolize the animal world, and rice symbolizes the plants.

The island of Bali itself represents the macro-cosmos; the Balinese concepts of high and low –between the gods (dewa and dewi) that reside high up in the mountains, and the demons (bhūtas) that reside in the lower planes, namely at the shores of the Balinese coast – are applied to the banten offerings, too. Whereas the tip of Gunung Agung is considered the most sacred place in Bali, the tip of the banten cone is the most sacred part of the offering. On top of the banten cone there usually are also some (chewing) tobacco leaves (sirih) and other ingredients which are used for chewing tobacco; these ingredients are white, red and black – the colors of the Trimūrti. Similarly, when the Balinese offer their guest some chewing tobacco, they symbolically offer this as a gift for the gods as well.

Banten offerings are not only dedicated to the gods alone, for the Balinese also prepare offerings for the demons (bhūtas) to whom are given meat and alcoholic beverages. When all the preparations of the offerings are done, the women will place the bantens on their head and carry them in a ceremonious procession to the temple. Once the women arrive at the temple they hand over the offerings to a priest (pamangku) who places the bantens for the gods on high altars whereas he puts those for the demons on the ground. When the pamangku offers the bantens to the gods he lights incense sticks and starts chanting mantras.

After the villagers have offered their bantens they kneel down and raise their hands in prayer to the sky three times; when they bown down they take from off the ground a flower, which, they, then, keep between the tip of their fingers each time they raise their hands. Then, they take a small and empty cup in their hands and hold it in front of them, so that the priest will pour some of the holy water in it. They, then, first take a few sips from the water before spraying it on their head the three times. This is considered an important gesture, because when the lips taste the holy water it is believed that in this moment one is in touch with God, thereby experiencing coolness (of desires in one’s heart). Holy water is an essential element of Balinese Hinduism, therefore Hinduism in Bali is often also refered to as Tirta Agama – Religion of Holy Water.

Reference:

Bakker, Freek L., 2001: ‘Balinees Hindoeïsme: de Godsdienst op het Eiland Bali in Indonesië’. Uitgeverij Kok – Kampen; pp. 35-39.