small cones of white rice
shaped with a banana leaf,
offerings to the gods
The rising sun casts its light across the white marble platform of the communal bale. Ida Ayu has finished cooking the morning meal and now she is preparing canang sari, morning offerings. These will be presented to the gods and demons before anyone eats anything. Balinese believe that food comes from the gods, so eating food before offering a reciprocal gift is considered stealing from the gods and is a sin. The gods and demons enjoy the essence of the offerings and will reciprocate in turn, the gods with favors and the demons by staying away. Ida Ayu places the offerings wherever she feels the gods or demons need attention, such as the ancestral shrines, the shrines of different deities in the family temple, the woodworking shop, the motorcycle, the little shelf above my bed and the bare ground in front of the entry gate. The ones placed on the ground are for demons and are usually snapped up by street dogs, but not before the demons enjoy their essence.
Ida Ayu shows me how to make little white cones by pressing the cooked rice into a curled up banana leaf with a point at one end. The rice cones represent the holy mountains, especially Gunung Agung, the highest mountain in Bali and the abode of the gods. This mountain connects the upper world with the middle world and the underworld, and provides life-giving streams of water. Ida Ayu places each finished white cone on a bamboo tray. Later she transfers them to small offering trays made of coconut leaf or banana leaf held together with bamboo picks. Each offering is a little work of art and carries with it a deep feeling of devotion born of long practice. Sitting with Ida Ayu on the bale, I sink into the soothing rhythm of making these beautiful offerings together in silence.