The duality of Bali5 min read
Each morning, Martina wakes up at 5 o’clock to prepare the food for her baby, cook rise for gods and demons, and pray. Martina is my host at the local home where I am living in Ubud and her morning routine resembles that of most women in Bali. Well, may be except for the baby food.
As you walk up and down the curvy streets of the island, you will notice leaf plates with rice and flowers placed on the ground. They are meticulously put in front the entrances of temples, homes, shops, supermarkets, restaurants – everywhere. Initially, you may think:
Oh, look, someone dropped this beautiful…umm, what is it?
As you keep wandering the streets, you will stumble on more plates. Your thoughts may evolve into considering them to be decoration – a lovely addition to the surrounding architecture.
The leaf plates are offerings called ‘Canang Sari’ and an integral part of Balinese culture. Before the first sun beams caress the fairytale-like rooftops of the buildings, local women are already cooking rice and plaiting leafs into small containers. The ritual is both time and resource consuming. Yet, not only is the ritual daily, it repeats in the afternoon.
Beyond any religious beliefs, this dual daily act of devotion shows humility and dedication. A rare encounter of people sticking to their customs and roots. It is also a beautiful routine that unfolds the creative expression. From small and simple plates to richly ornamented ones, the streets of Bali blossom in colour. Please, mind your step!
The colours of the Canang sari are anything but random and the direction towards which they are placed carries a particular meaning. To the East, white flowers honour god Shiva. Those placed to the West are yellow and honour god Mahadeva. To the North, blue or green for god Vishnu. Red flowers are placed to the South in honour of god Brahma.
Good vs. Evil
What mostly fascinates me about this ritual, though, is that the act of offering is not only to the gods but also to the lower spirits. In Bali people believe that for harmony to exist both gods and demons are to be respected. If there is balance between the polarities, there shall be harmony within the family.
I think of how most cultures and religions have been fighting evil with the intention for good to prevail. It has been the all-time grand battle: good vs. evil. A battle that seems to be endless. And after an infinite number of rounds between the two forces, which is the pretender that dominates? If good knocking down evil is not the key to harmony, than why not try otherwise? Why not offer evil our respect and instead of fight it, tame it? Without evil, good cannot exist.
Hot and cold.
Light and darkness.
Good and evil.
One is only possible with the other. In fact, they are one and the same thing, stretched into polarities.
Everything is Dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.
— The Kybalio
Maybe Balinese people have found the key to harmony by honouring both high and low spirits. It reminds me of an old Cherokee legend about the wolves and the continuous battle within ourselves – between our darker side and our noble one.
Each side is represented by two wolves and according to the Cherokees, whichever you feed with your thoughts, will prevail. But if a Balinese was to tell you this legend, he’d probably say that one must feed both, so they never have to fight over food and tear you apart.
Just like the offerings to both high and low spirits, Bali also offers a polarity of experiences. On one side there is the promise of peace, on the other—the breeze of the party. The lush green central part around Ubud accommodates those in search of spiritual awakening and yoga practices. The coastline spots like Seminyak and Canggu are all about the hip/surf vibe. In Ubud you will drink detox cocktails with extremely unusual ingredients that feed your chakras. In Canggu you will enjoy a state of the art cocktail in a hip setting.
The duality here goes beyond the lifestyle. Yes, people are giving and smile a lot, but there is also greed rooted in the need. While women are busy with offerings to gods and demons, some men are busy with offers for the tourists. From money exchange to taxi services, the ugly truth is that if you have Western features many will try to rip you off. It is, to say the least, annoying. What was once a small and peaceful island paradise, has now transformed into a touristic hell.
The world we live in is based on paradoxes – extremes that pull us in various direction. Some of us skilfully master the art of balance. Others— flip and fall. The important thing is to stand up tall again. Torn between polarities, we wander our way through the labyrinth of life, and that is fine. Imagine if the coin had only one side or the world was one-dimensional. What if it were a plain straight road with no rebound? How boring would it be?
I always learn to say thank you in the language of the country I am about to visit. Bali is part of Indonesia but has its own language, so even saying thank you here has two options: in Balinese – suk sumo; or in Indonesian – tarima kasi. Worry not, for once you hold your palm together and your eyes show gratefulness, the spoken language doesn’t matter. It is the body and soul that speak.