Everyday Rhythms: Exploring the Daily Routine of a Balinese Woman

Embark on a journey into the heart of Balinese culture through the lens of a local woman.
From serene mornings in rice paddies to bustling markets and sacred rituals, this article provides a unique perspective on the ordinary yet extraordinary life of a Balinese woman.
Written by Bali visitor Julia and translated by bali.live, this article explores the timeless traditions and spiritual essence of the Balinese community, providing readers with a captivating glimpse into the vibrant daily life of Bali:
As I pedal my bicycle, I am captivated by the serene beauty of the rice fields, nestled amidst towering coconut palms that stretch towards the horizon. The tranquil azure sky and the gentle murmur of streams flowing from the rice terraces create a peaceful backdrop to my journey. However, amidst this idyllic scenery, there are also hazards to navigate. Chickens and dogs roam freely, testing their fate as they wander across the roads.
Suddenly, a lively commotion catches my attention. Laughter, chatter, and the hum of activity fill the air. Turning a corner, I come upon a typical sight in Bali: a small temple tucked away from view. Despite its unassuming appearance, the temple is a hive of ceremonial preparations, bustling with the activity of dozens of women and men. Here, they weave, craft, tie, and sort through an array of small yet significant items with care and precision.
Preparations are in full swing for the sacred temple day, known as piodalan, which occurs every 210 days according to the Balinese calendar called pawukon.
The occasion is quite remarkable from a Western perspective, as participants set aside their daily duties and concerns to come together for a collective endeavour, creating something beautiful for the gods.
I pause to reflect.
Usually, the entire community, or banjar, gets involved in the preparation. Neighbours and relatives from the village gather for a common, beneficial task—creating and organizing a multitude of details for the upcoming ceremony. All this unfolds without a visible plan or a to-do list. The work is organized through communication and an inherent understanding of each person's role. There's no confusion, rush, or stress; everyone is engaged in their task, carrying it out steadily and with inspiration (with pure thoughts, as they would say in Bali).
From generation to generation, they perform this work. Their hands move automatically, using tools like knives and twigs to create beautiful items from coconut leaves, flowers, bamboo, rice, and hundreds of other natural products. They then assemble these items into stunning compositions to be offered to gods and spirits during the ceremony. How they remember what item to place where is beyond me! There are dozens, if not more, variations of offerings, each comprising at least three ingredients. This is where the advice of the pemangku (temple priest) or, at the very least, his wife comes in handy. It is their job to know all the details.
When I take a seat next to a group of women weaving intricate offerings for the gods, known as banten, I naturally attract attention. As I am dressed in the traditional ceremonial attire of kebaya, sarong, and belt, I'm met with warm smiles and quiet whispers of approval. The sight of a foreigner in traditional Balinese dress is both unusual and welcomed in Bali.
"Om swastyastu," I greet the women in Balinese.
"Om swastyastu," respond the women, without pausing their work.
One woman, around 40 years old, smiles at me and offers coffee.
Balinese coffee is prepared by steeping it in boiling water and covering it to infuse. It's strong, served without milk, but with plenty of sugar, and is typically drunk from glasses. It's polite to fill just half the glass with coffee, never the full glass. In Bali, if a wife serves her husband a full glass of coffee, it means she's upset with him for something.
I take a sip of the coffee, offer the woman some nuts I brought with me from home, and ask:
“Siapa nama anda?” (What's your name?)
“Saya Made” (I am Made)
“Saya Julia … Apa kabar?” (I'm Julia…How are you?)
“Kabar baik” (I am good), replies Made.
Made shows me how she makes a simple canang, a small square offering used all around the island for daily rituals. Over coffee and weaving offerings together, Made shares stories about her life. Through her narrative, I gain an understanding of what "kabar baik" (I'm good) means for an ordinary Balinese woman.
“What's your daily routine like?”
“I typically rise at five in the morning. First thing, I sweep the yard.”
I nod. These are the sounds I hear every day when I wake up. Everywhere you go in Bali, early in the morning there's usually the swishing sound of brooms sweeping. It's a common sight to see Balinese women starting their day by clearing yesterday's offerings from the ground.
"After that, I head to the market around six. It's quite lively at that time, with plenty of chatter and haggling. I stock up on fresh food for the day and buy flowers for offerings."
"Next, I prepare food for my family. I cook a large pot of rice, some veggies, eggs, a spicy sauce, and occasionally, chicken or fish. What I cook in the morning gets eaten over the course of the day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
"After that, I shower, dress in kebaya and sarong, then go to pray. I place offerings to the gods at our family temple, in the kitchen, and at the gate. I include some of the freshly cooked food in the offerings, sharing with the gods first before we eat. Doing the offerings in the morning ensures that our home is safe and protected for the rest of the day. The gods are pleased; they particularly appreciate the flowers in the canang and the holy water."
"And even the spirits are appeased; I leave segehan (another type of offering, for the spirits) for them on the ground at the doorstep each morning."
"And what do the spirits like?," I ask.
"They like ituk-ituk – a combination of hot and cold energy. This is why I include ginger root (hot) and onion (cold) in the segehan."
"In our free time, women weave offerings for the gods using coconut leaves, flowers, and rice to safeguard our homes for the next day. This practice has been passed down through generations, from my great-grandmother to my grandmother and mother, who began teaching me at the age of seven."
"Now I can do it with my eyes closed," Made laughs. "When there are big ceremonies in the village, we gather with other women and spend days preparing offerings..."
I see now what Made is getting at. Daily offerings are a kind of meditation. You focus on pure thoughts about family, children, husband, yourself, your community, and the gods. You infuse the offerings with positive energy and then present these gifts to the gods, the wind, and the sun. The outcomes may be fleeting, but it's the act of creation that holds true importance.
"Then I take care of our domestic animals," Made continues, her hands deftly weaving coconut leaf ribbons into intricate baskets. "Sometimes we keep pigs, but now we have only chickens, ducks, a dog, and a cat. Of course, they all want to eat."
“After everyone is fed, it's time to do laundry in the canal near the house and then hang it out to dry. By the way, do you know, hanging laundry helps protect the house from thieves? Passing through someone’s laundry is a very bad omen. You'll attract bad energy to yourself. That's why no thief would risk breaking into a house if laundry is hung around the perimeter,” Made whispers conspiratorially.
“At times, I assist with temple construction or other communal projects, which are obligatory for all members of the community. Temple restoration demands significant quantities of volcanic sand, transported by trucks from the Batur volcano. Men load baskets with roughly 10 kilograms of sand each, and we women transport these loads to the temple, carrying baskets atop our heads. To ease the burden, we place towel turbans on our heads, upon which we balance the baskets.”
"This tradition has been passed down through the ages: when something heavy needs to be carried, it's considered a woman's duty. Carrying heavy items on the head is the most efficient method. As women, we are accustomed to carrying heavy offerings on our heads since childhood. The head is revered as a sacred part of the body, akin to a temple. Hence, offerings for the gods and volcanic sand for temple construction are exclusively transported atop the head."
"We are paid for this work, but only symbolically. I sew clothes for my family and sometimes make clothes to order for neighbours. It's all just a little extra money."
"During the harvest season, I join my fellow villagers in the fields to harvest rice. We head out early in the morning, shielding our faces and shoulders with scarves and dressing in warm clothes. This helps us endure the heat as we spend around 12 hours manually pounding rice, which is no easy task. However, rice is life—it sustains us, and we are grateful to the gods for it.”
“You know, we only began processing government-subsidized rice in the fields in the 1960s, after the powerful eruptions of Mount Batur and Mount Agung. Many suffered during that time, and the fields were devastated. Special rice imported from the Philippines was introduced, which yields four times a year."
"Government-subsidized rice helps a lot in times of hardship, but our traditional Balinese rice, cultivated on the island for centuries, is deemed a divine gift. It's an offering to Dewi Sri, the beautiful and benevolent goddess. We cherish Dewi Sri as a nurturer who brings abundance and joy into our homes. Each household contains a small cloth dedicated to her. From her essence sprout the miraculous rice shoots that sustain us. We hold reverence for this gift, performing all fieldwork under the guidance of our priest, who dictates the auspicious days for planting and harvesting, ensuring each task is accompanied by rituals and ceremonies."
"In the evenings, after a hard day, I just watch TV or sometimes play badminton with my son.”
"This is my life," Made beams with a sincere smile.
"Are you happy?" I ask directly.
"Yes. Happiness is what the gods bring into each day of our lives. And they bring different things. There's a balance in that too..."
So simple and yet so wisely spoken.
Messages will appear here soon.
You can add one right now!