In Bali, “Canang Sari” Flower Offerings Are a Way of Life
One of the loveliest aspects of visiting Bali, the Hindu-majority resort island in Muslim-majority Indonesia, is the flower offerings you see everywhere. On sidewalks in front of shops in Ubud, in temples, on family compounds, and inside hotels– even on beaches!– it’s possible to spot little piles of colorful petals in square baskets made of palm tree leaves, which are then topped by a single stick of incense.
Flower offerings are a daily act of nature-based devotion; a Thank-You to the gods and a way to placate demons; a selfless act in a selfie-obsessed universe.
Called canang sari, Balinese flower offerings are made by women, who arrange the petals that symbolize different gods, braid or sew the palm leaves, and then bless them with a douse of holy water. Red flowers represent Brahma, yellow flowers (generally frangipani), stand for Shiva (Mahadeva), and blue or green ones represent Vishnu. It’s easy to trip over the offerings, but don’t step on one or kick it aside if the incense is burning: that means it’s still wafting the essence of a gift to heaven.
There’s lots to do on Bali, especially in Ubud– the artsy city immortalized by Eat Pray Love– on an island that lives and breathes both art and nature. Below, we explore some of Bali’s best offerings.
The most spectacular of Bali’s hundreds of Hindu temples are its sea temples south of Ubud, which are especially photogenic at sunset, silhouetted againt the sky. Pura Tanah Lot is actually built on a black rock in the sea near shore. Pura Luhur Uluwatu, which crowns a clifftop 250 feet above the Indian Ocean, dates back to the 10th century. (Though visitors should beware of its larcenously-inclined monkeys, adept at grabbing anything from cellphones to cameras– but they can be bribed with fruit.)
For traditional food from across Indonesia in a four-level space near the Campuhan Bridge, Murni’s Warung has been around since 1974. Browse in the owner’s antiques and collectibles shop on the ground floor while waiting, for everything from masks and jewelry to statues and textiles. Delightful cooking classes are available at hotels and inns like Bisma Eight, Casa Luna, Four Seasons Sayan (just outside Ubud) and Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay (just south of Denpasar Airport).
Few wine bars have jungle views, but Divine does, as well as one of Bali’s biggest wine lists (350+ labels, most European), wine tasting classes on Friday nights and a wine shop. The classy bar, with velvet sofas and an open-air jungle-facing counter, is part of Bridges, a multi-level restaurant at the Campuhan Bridge.
Many open-air Balinese dance performances that tell stories take place nightly in Ubud or at waterside temples like Pura Tanah Lot and Pura Luhur Uluwatu. There are many different styles. Legong dance features graceful young women in ornate brocaded costumes and headdresses. Barong dance has a mythical lion-like animal. Kecak has 100 men in a circle chanting repetitively in a trance-like state.
For a terrific overview of Balinese painting, from religious to secular themes from village scenes to landscapes, and the role of expatriates like Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet in encouraging and influencing art here, visit the Museum Puri Lukisan. Different schools of art are in different buildings. Know that many villages on Bali specialize in making one art or craft, like stone carving, mask-making, gold or silver jewelry, wood-carving, and even wood carvings of the eagle-shaped god Garuda. It’s fascinating to drive through a village and view hundreds of the same art form.
A distinctive feature of the landscape near Ubud is the rice terraces in Tegallalang, emerald-green ribbons on steep hillsides that are a centuries-old form of irrigation. You can walk the rice terraces on private tours (check local listings), but the real magic of Ubud is to just go with the flow– there are idyllic, scenic surprises to be found around every corner.