The island of Bali. The name alone conjures images of a tropical paradise with pristine beaches, monkey-filled jungles and an ancient smoking volcano at its center.
Also known as The Island of the Gods, Bali is nestled among thousands of islands in Indonesia. It is a place that’s full of magic, layered mystery and beautiful flowers. But the flowers grown on Bali aren’t for you and me. They are gifts for the unseen and the sacred. In daily nature-based worship, Balinese Hinduism is a centuries-old practice that is rich in custom and colorful ceremony. In Balinese culture, flowers are one of the most important components of everyday life. Fresh flowers and millions of flower petals are used each day in prayer and ceremony as a way to reconnect and to focus on their faith. But more than a religion, this is a way of life. The Balinese say that praying with flowers is done with the essence of the flower’s highest vibration.
The exquisite white, yellow or pink Plumeria (frangipani) flower is a recognizable symbol of the Balinese. It is worn in the hair of women; adorns the steps to a family temple; and even used as a blessing on the millions of motorbikes, which are the main form of transportation on the island. Cananga (ylang-ylang), Michelia/Magnolia (champaca), Hydrangea (hortensia), Jasminum ( jasmine), Hibiscus (mallow) and Impatiens ( jewelweed) are other flowers that are typically used in offerings and ceremonies, along with stunning floral garlands of bright yellow Chrysanthemums that adorn the necks of the mythical statues everywhere. All of these blooms grow abundantly on the island, mostly in the higher elevation locations of Bedugal and Kintamani.
When you walk down any street on Bali, you’ll see small offerings everywhere. They consist of miniature square woven baskets, hand-made from cut coconut and banana leaves and filled with flowers, along with an assortment of gifts for the Gods such as coins, candy or rice – and topped with a single smoldering stick of incense. The smoke from the incense swirls up to the heavens to carry their prayers. Called “canang” (pronounced “cha-NANG”), these humble but beautifully crafted offerings capture Bali’s unique fusion of Hinduism, different than anywhere else in the world.
Every day, vibrant ceremonies take place on Bali, which include celebrating a wedding, the cycles of the moon, a cremation, a bountiful rice harvest or the annual day of silence, called “Nyepi” – among thousands of other ancient rituals.
In the belief system of the Balinese, spirits dominate everything on the island, so these offerings must be made every day. The women are in charge of making the offerings, and at least 50 percent of the average Balinese woman’s life is spent preparing for a ceremony, participating in a ceremony or cleaning up after a ceremony. Generations of women work together to create these sometimes very elaborate offerings, ensuring that the artistic skills are passed on. And at the heart of every one of these ceremonies are beautiful flowers. Ni Ketut Perwiti, a Balinese café owner tells us, “Flowers are the language we use to speak with our Gods. Without flowers, you cannot pray. And we must always begin by giving thanks. If we don’t say ‘thank you,’ what else is there?”
With the help and collaboration of our friend John Haines, AIFD, and fashion designer Ali Charisma, along with two local photographers, we set out for one of the largest flower markets in Denpasar, Bali, to watch as the flowers arrive directly from the gardens and how they are bought and sold by the local population.
It was a busy, vibrant scene, with huge woven hampers of Plumeria (frangipani), Hydrangea (hortensia), Tagetes (marigold), Jasminum (jasmine), Hibiscus (mallow), Cocos (coconut palm) fronds and tons of fresh exotic fruits being brought to market, as they are every day of the year.
Next we visited the home of Devi, a Balinese woman who allowed us photograph her while she made daily prayers in her family temple. She had spent the morning crafting offerings, and we watched as she silently made her way through the grounds, stopping at important spots that indicate the four sacred directions. There, she would place an offering, dip a flower into a bowl of holy water and gracefully sprinkle the gift while her prayers floated to the heavens with the sweet aroma of incense smoke.
Surya Rizky – Instagram: Soerya Rizky
Made Suwastika – Instagram: Kadek_Suwastika
Donald Muliawan – Instagram: JoeDonals
John Haines, AIFD – Instagram: JohnHaines
BaliAli Charisma – Instagram: AliCharisma