Food of the Gods

In Bali, Religious festivals begin with elaborate culinary sculptures

by Ni Wayan Murni
Saveur, 13 March 2012

 

Like every girl in Bali, I was taught how to make banten, food offerings, at an early age. We make thousands of different offerings; it’s a key practice of Balinese Hinduism, which is influenced by veneration for the dead and the spiritual forces of nature.

We use offerings to please the gods and our ancestors and to placate malevolent spirits. We make offerings to certain animals, trees, and objects. The biggest are created for holidays, for weddings and other rites of passage, for full and dark moons. These are made mainly by professionals, Brahmin women who specialize in the constructions required for a cremation, say, or for a tooth-filing ceremony.

Some, called ajuman, are carried in baskets or bowls. Others, called gebogan, are formed around a banana tree trunk. Fruit, grilled chicken or duck, coconut, rice, palm leaves, and flowers are attached with bamboo skewers in rings of decreasing size to form a pyramid shape. The whole thing – which can stretch nearly five feet high and weigh more than 40 pounds – is carried on the head of a woman to a temple. It’s a spectacular sight, a procession of gebogan-carrying women. The offerings are presented to the deities, who partake of their essence. Afterward, worshippers can take them home to enjoy foods that have been touched by the gods.

More Info

When in Bali, Indonesia, stay at Murni’s Houses and Tamarind Spa (Jalan Raya, Ubud; 62/361/975-165), where you can obtain instruction on creating traditional Balinese food offerings.

Visit her restaurant, Murni’s Warung (at the bridge, Campuan, Ubud; 62/361/975-233), and her shop next-door called Murni’s Warung Shop (62/361/972-146).