Daily Practices of Balinese Hindu

Balinese Hindus (or other Indonesian Hindus) mainly are not vegetarian as the majority of other Hindus should. They are similar with the Thais or Cambodians who also have a long history of Vedic civilization but mainly not vegetarian. Even the other Indonesian tribes who still lead traditional customs and life highly influenced by earlier Vedic civilization are mainly not forbidding meat in their diet. The only strict vegetarians I ever know were a certain esoteric communities, such as the Dayak Bumi Segandu of Indramayu in West Java, or some hermit-like traditional Javanese spiritualist, and certain peoples in mountainous range. These peoples of course are still following the Dharmic thoughts and some Hindu-Vedic religious practices in very special and unique way, superficially differs from common Hindus today. They tried to avoid Islamic domination by fled to remote areas with any little Vedic wisdom and practices left by their ancestors from the past. As prime targets of missionary works and dakwah activities, these communities are always struggling very hard to keep going with their inherited Vedic-influenced traditional customs.

Though meat wasn’t forbidden, but unlike Westerner’s meat eating habit, the Balinese Hindus as the only “clearly” existing Hindu community of Indonesia for example, don’t take meat as their daily food. Today, of course we can find meat of all sort everywhere because modernization of cattle-breeding, etc. But in older days the only domestic animals such as chickens, ducks and pigs, commonly take care by the Balinese Hindu families at house backyard. Cows and bulls are precious animal for agrarian peoples like Balinese. They have important role as co-worker for farmer to cultivate the land for rice fields. Beef is forbidden and strictly avoid by the upper class societies and nobilities. So practically the Balinese only eat chicken and pork, or fish for they who live near the sea. By such fertility of land there were no scarcity of rice, grains, fruits, and vegetables. In the past these natural products were daily consumed by the Balinese, without any dependency upon meat based cooking.

Meat only consumed in religious festival as remnants of sacrificial offerings. Cooked meat only offered to the Bhataras, ancestral spirits, or very specially honored guest such as the visiting aristocratic nobilities. Such kind of foods is only available on special religious occasions and feasts (weddings, tooth filling, or funeral rites). So they eat meat rarely and that also from animals ritually killed. In older days every Balinese before kill an animal will pray both mentally and by utter some words. “As we know every life is sacred and precious, now I beg you to let me kill you to attain your flesh. This is for sacrificial rites and offering to the honorable ones. I thank you for your sacrifice. May you in the next life attain a precious human form. If you’ll be male, may you become Undagi (an expert in construction work). If you’ll be female, may you become an expert offerings maker.” Unoffered meat, gotten without any religious purpose or not according to traditional customs, especially the raw one, considered only fit to consume by the Bhutas and other ghostly lower beings. Meat eating habits in Bali, even among Hindus, grows because easy availability of feast fashioned, previously complicated cooked meat dishes. We can get any kind of meat, raw or already cooked in the markets and restaurants. Everywhere! With no more proper ritual or complicated cooking process.

Raw meat offered to the Bhutas only and never to the celestial beings. There is one kind of Balinese Bhutabali offering called caru. Balinese Hindus today, after more globalized contact with other Hindus all over the world, and also by influence of the Satvata and Bhagavata Sampradayas' teachings begin to looking for more non-violance caru by avoiding meat usage and substitute them. This kind of Bhutabali also authorized by the Sastras and such revolution has been initiated by Srimad Madhvacharya in India centuries ago. Even now, many Balinese cuisines, previously made from meat also have their vegetarian substitutions. This is favorable for Balinese or other Indonesian who still "loves" the taste of their original food but also trying to take the purer path of Hinduism, such as Bhagavatas or Vaishnavism.

Even if there are meat offerings involved in sacrificial rites, but as I observed there’s no fleshy-bloody things in the offerings put regularly inside the shrine’s tiny room. The room believed to occupy by the Bhataras or served as their seats. According to the traditional custom of my ancestral house, we daily serve the Bhataras with offerings called canang, pesucian, rantasan, banten alit, and some water with drinking utensils, a silver small cup and little pitcher with sprout.

may be the most common offerings for all Balinese Hindus. You can find it everywhere all over the islands. In every place, every time, every occasion. A canang was made from various small amounts ingredients. Put on a small square or round tray made from young coconut leafs (called busung or janur) were a little fruit (usually slices of banana), a pinch of washed and scented rice, and the most important stuff called porosan. It is made from betel-leaf, lime, and rolled inside a small square of mango leaf. This is actually like tambulam or pan. On the top of these things were put another tray, also made artistically from busungs. It is a work of art and creativity; only a photo could describe its real beauty. Atop this tray arranged flowers of various types and colors. The fragrant ones were preferred with four colors correspond to four cardinal points. White for east, red for south, yellow for west, and blue or dark color for north. At the centre of these arranged flowers we put a pinch of shredded fragrant pandanus leafs called kembang rampe, scented with sandalwood powder and perfume.

Next offering is pesucian. It is like some sort of make up stuffs put on a small square silver tray. We have two containers with fresh water and scented water in it. Also some soft black sand or ashes of burned rice cakes for tooth brushing. Little pinch of shredded hibiscus leaf (traditional shampoo for hair) and shredded fragrant pandanus leafs scented with perfume. Then we also have sandalwood powder or other natural herbal paste for body lotion and a little bit sugarcane to sweeten the mouth. Finally we put a small comb, fragrant flowers for decorating the hair, and a small mirror. Rantasan or tigasan is a set of cloth and some time jewelries. It is a set of “mini” traditional clothing; neatly fold on a small silver plate.

Banten alit
means a small offering. It consist of small cone made from rice, some vegetarian side-dishes (fried peanuts, spiced grated coconut, basil leafs, etc.), some little cakes, and flowers. Of course we also provide water for drinking by filled the silver pitcher and the cup. In some shrines believed as occupied by Bhataras with negative power, the shelter of Yaksas, Raksasas, or Bhutas also offered some liquor from fermented rice (same sort with Japanese sake). At the place considered as occupied by ancestral spirits whose final purification ceremonies didn’t performed yet, that’s the bed-like structure in the twelve pillared hall (Bale Gede) of the house, we also offered a cup of coffee or other non alcoholic beverages. A more earthly or humanly food, not as highly symbolical and pure as offered to the higher celestial Bhataras. Then whenever we offered these stuffs, incense sticks were litted or a mixture of fragrances was burned in hot charchoal. The sweet aroma from the smoke purified the atmosphere and invoked the Bhataras to take the essence of the offerings.

The offerings are of course not as pure as Vaishnavites ones, offered daily to The Supreme Lord Sriman Narayana and the Divine Entourages. But the ingredients for pure celestial Bhataras were similar with daily Pancaratrik nitya-aradhana offerings. As we know from the previous post, for the common householder, The Supreme Being was worshiped at the main shrine with three compartments (The Kemulan, Shrine of Origin). Only the pure things should offer to this shrine. Also as a custom in Vaishnava or other Hindu-Vedic societies, no one may take any food before these offerings and its procedural rites already finished.

Appreciation to other lesser subtle beings, celestial or even demonic in nature, were common in all Hindu communities. We can found it in Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and I think as the most similar with Bali is in Karnataka and Kerala, where we also found altars for Bhutas, the Bhutasthana or Bhutagudi or even medium-trancelike-state rites such as Bhutakola to communicate with these Bhutas. The same practices are also common in Bali. I have already explained the real purpose to propitiate such beings besides performing our pure devotional service to The Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Of course the forms of offerings were variate from place to place and from community to community. In Java or other parts of Indonesia, who still practicing Hinduism or Hindu influenced traditional rites, the offerings were less elaborate. Only Balinese Hindus famous for their highly artistic and elaborately made offerings.