Sacred banyan tree. Botanical gardens, Candikuning, Bali, Indonesia. 2010

Nearly every where one looks in Bali, there are stones and trees that have been religiously decorated. The decoration can be as simple as a chequered cloth or the whole shebang with umbrellas and little shrines. Even on little walking tracks out in in what seems to be the middle of nowhere, it’s possible to come across little shrines with fresh offerings, in amongst some rocks or in a tree .

The Balinese are Hindus with a fair amount of animism thrown in, and as such they have no problem believing that spirits might inhabit trees and rocks. To a Balinese, it’s perfectly rational and just plain good manners, to have seats in their shrines and temples for the gods to sit in if they should want to visit.

It’s not hard to see where James Cameron got some of his ideas for his movie “Avatar”, from.


Early every morning, women go out and place offerings at all the places that have any kind of religious significance. The offerings are usually quite beautiful and consist of little woven palm baskets, that would fit in a child’s hand, filled with a bit of rice, a flower or two, some incense, and sometimes even money.  All throughout the day, it’s possible to see women preparing offerings in open doorways or by the side of the road while at work as they sell things.

Over the years I’ve found myself thinking about how much industry religion has created. Huge stone cathedrals in Europe, religious statue sellers in Italy and Thailand, etcetera ad infinitum. Thousands of acts, great and small to try and relate to a deity. To me, the idea of trying manifest faith in the material world is such an odd thing. To somehow bridge the gap between the corporeally knowable and the incorporeally unknowable.

Perhaps Marx was right, when he said, “religion is the opium of the masses”. I’m pretty sure Marx didn’t mean that religion was an addictive drug, but rather something that takes pain and care away.

9 thoughts on “Sacred banyan tree. Botanical gardens, Candikuning, Bali, Indonesia. 2010”

  1. Hooray! You’re back! Hope you and Engo had a lovely relaxing break. I thought you might be interested to see Eat Pray Love at the cinema soon. Probably more up Engo’s street but I loved the book which follows author Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey as she tries to get her life back on track following a messy divorce. Part of her journey took her to Bali, where she met amazing characters and had some incredibly spiritual experiences. Not sure what the film will be like but you can be assured of some wonderful Balinese scenery.

    I love your shot of the tree. They’re so majestic, aren’t they? I’m pretty sure the animism of the locals is spot on. To think these beauties don’t have souls is hard to conceive.

  2. Scratch that. Just saw Pat’s review of the film: Eat Pray Puke. I think that must sum it up. Apologies. I genuinely thought it would be a good film. Sorry, Razz. Ignore please ignore above comment. Apart from the bit about trees that is…

  3. Epic

    Yep I’m back and just getting over the jet lag. Just 2 hours difference and it’s taken me a week to get a decent night’s sleep. I’m getting weak in my dottage!

  4. Many years ago, I went to a posh restaurant in Hawaii. Sitting on a table of honor just as you walked in was an oxymoron. It was a massive banzai banyan tree. I have no idea how they did it, but it was something well beyond enchanting.

    I have a huge soft spot for banyan trees. Living where I do, I don’t get to see them unless I travel but when I spot one, I always try and stop. There’s just something magical about them. It’s like every childhood fantasy of what you’d want in a tree. The Swiss Family Robinson immediately springs to my mind every time.

    For what ever reason, I can see why a banyan would be seen as a place of worship. It seem to make sense. Why we, as people, feel that we need to try to add to this magic with our own hands, I’m not so sure… but we seem to. I can’t really talk it down with a clear conscience, though. On the summit of Haleakala, in a small, now cold steam vent sits the offering I left for Pele, Goddess of the Volcanos.

  5. Turkish

    It’s funny how different cultures see the same thing and come to such different conclusions. The Hindus see banyan trees as the resting place of Krishna and I see them as “strangler figs” that have grown over a host tree and eventually killed it.

    Your mention of The Swiss Family Robinson brought back memories of one of my favourite childhood movies. I know that when I was a kid I would’ve loved to have seen such a tree and I’d have also entertained fantasies of living in one.

  6. These trees, remind me of Devil’s island. No religious meaning there though. They give anyway such an atmosphere, almost spirit to this place charged with history…

  7. Vanille

    Devil’s Island! Just the name makes me want to go there, but I have to ask, what were you doing in such a remote place? Isn’t that the place that “Papillon” was sent to?

  8. Yes exactly ! One of my sister were living in French Guyana for a couple of years and we went to visit her and ended up in the main touristic attractions too 😉 And the place worth a visit.

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