Canang sari (read: “chanang”) is one of the daily offerings made by Balinese Hindus to thank the Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa in praise and prayer. Canang sari will be seen in the Balinese temples (pura), on small shrines in houses, and on the ground or as a part of a larger offering. The phrase canang sari is derived from the Balinese words sari (essence) and canang (a small palm-leaf basket as the tray).
Canang itself consists of two syllables from the Kawi language: ca (beautiful) and nang (purpose). Canang sari is offered every day to Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa as a form of thanking for the peace given to the world; it is the simplest daily household offering. The philosophy behind the offering is self-sacrifice in that they take time and effort to prepare. Canang sari is not offered when there is a death in the community or family. Canang sari is also used on certain days, such as: Kliwon, Purnama, and Tilem.
Canang sari has some parts; there are peporosan, ceper, raka-raka, and sampian urasari. Peporosan or the core material is made from betel leaf, lime, gambier, prestige, tobacco and betel nuts. Material of peporosan symbolizes the Trimurti, the three major Hindu Gods. Shiva is symbolized by lime, Vishnu is symbolized by betel nut, and Brahma is symbolized by gambier. Canang sari are covered by ceper (a tray made from palm leaf) as a symbol of Ardha Candra. Raka-raka is topped with sampian urasari, which are in turn overlaid by flowers placed in a specific direction.
Each direction symbolizes a Hindu God (deva): White-colored flowers that point to the east as a symbol of Iswara, Red-colored flowers that point to the south as a symbol of Brahma, Yellow-colored flowers that point to the west as a symbol of Mahadeva, Blue or green colored flowers that point to the north as a symbol of Vishnu. A canang sari is completed by placing on top of the canang an amount of kepeng (the coin money) or paper money, which is said to make up the essence (the “sari”) of the offering.
Janur is a young leaf of big palm tree, especially coconut, sugar palm (Arenga pinnata) and sago palm (Metroxylon rumphii or Metroxylon sagu). Janur is used as a tool by tribes in Indonesia as part of their daily lives. It is also called yellow coconut leaf, the colour could be light green or whitish green.
Janur, placed in the roadside at a single bamboo adorned with complicated plaits indicates that a wedding party is being held in the street where it is erected. Janur and canang sari are really important part for Balinese people. We can’t talking about Bali without mentioning these two. Canang sari are made from janur, that is also the reason why they are always come together hand in hand.
From the moment one arrives in Bali, it’s difficult not to notice the canang sari. They’re everywhere: in front of shops and homes, on top of statues, at the foot of temples, sometimes almost right below your feet. If you don’t notice them for their visual beauty, you might catch their scent — wafting aromas from tropical frangipani petals or wisps of incense. With the passage of time, these miniature works of art transform from the holy to the earthly, as the petals and ashes of today are swept and gathered, only to be replaced by the next day’s creations and prayers — a daily reminder of the impermanence of our world. This can be describing that canang sari is something that really related with Balinese people. Janur also can be seen everywhere, especially during a big day such as galungan and kuningan where every home in Bali creates “Penjor” as a sign of those days.
Although Bali sees a great deal of tourists, these traditional daily offerings and rituals have remained the same for more than 1,000 years. Their creation and placement are both a delight to watch, but canang sari are not made for travellers — or for show. They are integral to Balinese culture and to the practice of Hinduism on the island.
They are said to maintain balance and peace on earth, amidst the forces of good and evil, among gods and demons, between heaven and hell. Through the traveller’s eye — an unaccustomed eye — the canang sari looks like a woven basket tucked with a decorative collection of brightly coloured items that may appear to have been placed at random. However, placement is deliberate and meaningful.
Every piece in an arrangement is selected for what it symbolizes, or which specific Hindu god it represents. For example, the three major Hindu Gods known as the Trimurtri are often represented in the canang sari by a white lime for Shiva, a red betel nut for Vishnu, and a green Gambier plant for Brahma.
The colour and placement of the flowers also bears significance; white petals to the east representing the god Iswara, red petals to the south for Brahma, yellow flowers to the west for Mahadeva, and blue or green ones to the north for Vishnu. A small amount of money — coins or bills — is often placed atop the arrangement to demonstrate selflessness, which is the core essence of the offering. It’s also common to see food items — such as crackers, cookies, or candies — placed alongside flower petals. This is for a symbol that the Balinese people giving a feedback to the nature and to the God for everything that they already have.
In Balinese Hinduism, the cosmos is divided into three layers: suarga (heaven), where the gods live; buwah, the world of man; and bhur (hell), where demons reside. The canang sari ultimately serve as a way to demonstrate gratitude and honour to those gods in suarga, who are the creators of life, while appeasing or satisfying the needs of the demons so that they remain where they are, undrawn to the world of man.
The canang sari ritual aims to maintain balance between suarga and bhur so that there may be peace in buwah. Embedded in this belief is a pragmatic understanding that both positive and negative energies exist in the world, yet it’s up to us to seek balance and harmony in our personal lives, the community, and the greater world.
Next time you visit Bali, or see a photograph of a canang sari, you won’t just see a woven box filled with colorful flower petals. Instead, you’ll have a deeper sense of the gratitude and care that went into its deliberate creation, and you’ll understand its purpose: a prayer for peace and balance in our world that is renewed each day.