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Acta Botanica Brasilica

Print version ISSN 0102-3306On-line version ISSN 1677-941X

Acta Bot. Bras., ahead of print  Epub Nov 11, 2019 


Patterns of plant use in religious offerings in Bali (Indonesia)

1 Bali Botanical Gardens, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, 82191, Bali, Indonesia

2 Department of Science, University Roma Tre, 00146, Rome, Italy

3 Department of Sciences and Biological and Environmental Technology, Salento University, 73100, Lecce, Italy


Balinese Hinduism has incorporated local animistic traditions and offerings, which play a key role in the religious ceremonies called “five holy ceremonies” or Panca yadnya. Since plants constitute fundamental elements of these offerings, we aimed to contribute to their knowledge. We analyzed plants used during ceremonies by interviewing key informants in four ancient villages of Bali (Bali aga). We identified exclusive and common species associated with different kinds of ceremonies and assessed whether there was any pattern in the selection of plants for the various offerings. We recorded 125 species (112 genera, 49 families), most of which belong to the wild ethnoflora of Bali, but also 36 species that are not native to the Malesian region. The religious relationships among ceremonies, called yadnyas, reveal specific compositions of the offerings, with the plants falling into two main groups: common, which comprises 58 plants shared by all yadnyas, and specific, mostly connected to a single yadnya. This pattern of plant use is similar to the previously detected pattern in the traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of aga villages. The use of plants for Panca yadnya can help avoid cultural erosion related to globalization.

Keywords: Bali aga; ceremonies and rituals; floristic similarity; orthopraxy; plant pool; traditional ecological knowledge


Hinduism gives great importance to plants and, in particular, trees and forests (Krishna 2017). A fundamental sense of harmony with nature is shared in several Hindu texts (Hockings 1993; Jansen 1993; Jones & Ryan 2007; Cush et al. 2008), where forests are depicted as a sources of life and inspiration. As a matter of fact, some trees are worshipped and associated with deities, and have become part of the Hinduism mythology (Sharma 2003; Krishna 2017).

Balinese Hinduism has diverged from the Indian Hinduism by absorbing local practices of local animistic indigenous religions (Jones & Ryan 2007). For instance, Balinese people often use plants or plant parts to make offerings to ancestors, spirits, and supernatural forces (Belo 1960; Geertz & Geertz 1975; Geertz 1980). In Bali, a set of Hinduism principles is represented in a complex ancestral cult, with gods and devils but also deities of fertility, fire, water, the earth, the sun, mountains and the sea (Covarrubias 1937). Balinese Hindus do not recognize a secular reality because their philosophy is based on an understanding that the world in its materialistic aspects is determined by the invisible power of spiritual beings (Picard 2011).

In Bali, traditional and religious ceremonies are more frequent than in any other place in the wider Hindu world (Jones & Ryan 2007). Offerings are a key element in these ceremonies, and some are quite elaborate, making them one of the most stunning local cultural phenomena, highly appreciated by tourists (Barth 1993; Hobart et al. 2001; Bakan 2011). Balinese Hindus use the term yadnya to describe the ritual ceremonies involving offerings (often material, such as plants, animals, metals) (Monier-Williams et al. 1992; Barth 1993). There are five kinds of yadnyas in Balinese Hinduism, related to different forms of worship, and they are collectively called Panca yadnya (panca meaning five). Plants, or their parts, are the most important element in material offerings and probably provide symbolic meaning related to the ceremonies. Plant species used in Balinese Hinduism offerings were not deeply analyzed, and we wish to test if their patterns of uses are characteristics of the ceremonies, and if the choice of plants can be influenced by different ceremonial meaning.

Balinese Hinduism ceremonies

What mostly surprises tourists in Bali about the Balinese Hinduism is the great deal of ceremonies and rituals, their attractive aspects, the fervent devotion and the active involvement of local people. Geertz (1973) even said that the Balinese people seem more busy practicing than believing in their religion and many anthropologists agree with this idea (Yamashita 2003; Picard 2011). For instance, Acri (2011) says that “more attention is given to a correct conduct, ethical and liturgical, (orthopraxy) rather than a right belief (orthodoxy)”, and the approach of Balinese towards religion and spirituality is more practical (related practices that need to be carried out) than doctrinal. Even though the Balinese Hinduism has ancient Indian roots - religious teachings have been based on oral tradition or traditional performances about stories from Indian epic poems - there has not been a holy Book of Balinese Hinduism until the mid-20th century (Dibia & Ballinger 2011). As such, traditional ceremonies have a great relevance to the transmission of religion in Bali, and they are a crucial element to understanding the Balinese Hinduism (Hornbacher 2011).

Balinese people believe in a Supreme God manifested in three main forms: i.e., the Creator, the Preserver, and the Destroyer (more worshipped than the other two) (Wiener 1995). All deities are worshipped through daily and periodic offerings, with celebrations and events in villages and temples (Jones & Ryan 2007). A general description of the five groups of ceremonies (Putra 1988) is provided: 1) Bhuta yadnya is a ceremony of offerings to spirits and demons, i.e. Pengerupukan by burning a giant puppet (ogoh-ogoh) the day before Silent Day (Nyepi). 2) Dewa yadnya is a set of rituals to worship gods and deities, i.e., the recurrent ceremonies of the full moon and new moon, the annual Silence Day, and several bi-annual ceremonies including Galungan and Kuningan (both are relevant feasts for Hindus in Bali; Galungan refers to the time when the ancestral spirits visit the Earth. The last day of the celebration is Kuningan, when they return). 3) Manusa yadnya is intended to celebrate the different stages of human life. There are 13 ceremonies in Manusa yadnya that use plants as symbols. They include the tooth filing ceremony - where the upper front teeth are filed flat - and are performed to rid the spirit of the six negative emotions in humans (lust, greed, anger, confusion, drunkenness and jealousy). 4) Pitra yadnya is a ceremony for death and reincarnation. This ceremony aims to restore the body and soul to their place of origin through burial or cremation (Ngaben). Various plants are used during this ritual. 5) Rsi yadnya is a consecration of the clergy and it is carried out with the nomination of a new priest. Reed leaves are often tied around the head of the celebrated priest.

Materials and methods

Study area

The island of Bali has a land surface of 5,577 km2, with less than 20 % covered by forests (7.8 % primary forests, 10.1 % secondary forests, and 0.3 % artificial forests (BPS 2017). The study was conducted in four Bali aga villages located in the northern part of the island (Fig. 1). The people of these four villages belong to the Bali aga ethnic group. Bali aga people are considered as the native Balinese, since their ancestors have lived on the island long before the 15th century when the later Bali people (known as Bali Majapahit) firstly arrived on the island (Sujarwo et al. 2015). Bali aga people have maintained a traditional lifestyle including ancient Hindu traditions and an economy mostly based on agriculture (e.g., green vegetables, fruits, beans, and rice) (Sujarwo & Caneva 2015). A detailed analysis of the factors (e.g., age, gender, education level) affecting differences in traditional knowledge of plant uses in the surveyed villages is provided in Sujarwo et al. (2014). Following our previous work (Caneva et al. 2017), we decided to select these four aga villages for the present study, since they represent the core of the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of the aga ethnicity.

Figure 1  Study area. 

Data collection

We carried out key informant interviews, following general guidelines for conducting ethnobotanical studies (Alexiades & Sheldon 1996), to obtain data regarding the plants used in offerings of the Panca yadnya. We used a snowball method to select key informants (Bernard 2002) because it resulted to be the best option for our surveys according to previous experiences in the area (Sujarwo et al. 2014; Caneva et al. 2017). We sought information about potential key informants from village leaders and/or religious leaders, and then the first key informants led us to the next key informants in their village.

Before each interview, prior informed consent (Rosenthal 2006) was requested and during the interview process we followed international codes of ethics (ISE 2006). After obtaining consent, we were able to speak with twenty informants (five informants in each village, 10 males and 10 females) in December 2017. Informants’ ages spanned from 42 to 81 years. Male informants were mostly Balinese Hindu Priests, and teachers (in their role as guru). The female informants were comprised mostly of tukang banten, specialized craftswomen with skills in producing elements of religious offerings (Barth 1993). Interviews were conducted by the first author in the Balinese language.

We then asked informants to list all the plants (wild and semi-wild or cultivated) that they use or have used as materials of offerings for religious ceremonies, and then we asked details about the plants and their uses (i.e., the name of the plant, the parts used, and which type of yadnya were such parts of the plant used). Wild plants refers to the species grown or produced without cultivation or human care, and semi-wild refers to partially managed plants (Menendez-Baceta et al. 2012).Plant specimens were collected with the informants, prepared as herbarium specimens (Martin 2004), and then identified and deposited at Herbarium Hortus Botanicus Baliense (THBB) in the Bali Botanical Gardens. Some common plant species were directly identified in the field. The scientific nomenclature used in this study has been verified using online sources (i.e., The Plantlist 2018) and the floristic regions of the plant species were obtained from Takhtajan (1986).

Data analysis

We performed quantitative analyses based on a presence/absence data matrix S of plant parts used in the Panca yadnya (148 plant parts X 5 yadnyas) in order to obtain different pools of vegetal materials used in offerings and to assess similarities among the different types of yadnyas.

Exclusive plant part pools

We determined the exclusive plant part pools using a combinatorial approach (Loehr 2017) based on the matrix S and on the set of plant parts, P. Starting from the set of all combinations of yadnyas, C, given by the power set of the set of yadnyas, Y, all possible ‘not empty’ pools of plant parts were defined according the following property:

Pool (ci) = {plant partj|plant partj is only present in yadnya of ci combination}, i=1, 25, j=1, 148. Where ci = the i-th element of C; plant partj = the j-th element of P; Pool (ci) = the set of plant parts associated to the ci combination.

According to this criterion, a plant part belongs to a specific pool if it is only utilized in the yadnya present in the combination related to such pool. Each pool of plant parts is defined and described by the yadnya in which it is used exclusively.

Similarities in yadnya

We used the resemblance function based on the Jaccard coefficient (Jaccard 1901) to calculate pair-wise similarities between yadnyas in the data matrix S. The average similarity of every yadnya was used to assess a global gradient of similarity in the dataset.


Plant offerings can be seen everywhere, especially the Canangsari (Fig. 2), a tiny coconut leaf basket filled with rice, fruit, and flowers, often in front of houses, shops, hotels and even on cars and motorbikes. There are more elaborate offerings in shrines and temples, and even large offerings, such as the penjor, a three-meter bamboo culm with many elements attached for decoration used in special ceremonies (i.e., galungan feast celebration) (Eiseman 1990).

Figure 2  Example of offerings in Balinese Hinduism (A. Canangsari; B. Mecaru; C. Banten; D. Penjor; E. Ngaben). Notes: Canangsari is one of the daily offerings; Mecaru is one of the Butha kala ceremonies that aim to keep balance between the macrocosm (universe) and microcosm (our inner world); Banten is an offering for gods/spirits and encapsulates Bali’s unique fusion of Hinduism; Penjor is one of the offerings used by Balinese Hindus as part of most important ceremony, especially for the anniversary of temples and Galungan celebrations (one of the biggest feasts for Balinese Hindus); Cremation (Ngaben) is the common word used for the Pitra yadnya ceremony. 

General floristic diversity of ethnoflora of offerings in Panca yadnya

We noted the use of 125 species of plants (including 148 plant parts) from 112 genera and 49 families that are used in rituals of offerings in Bali. There are 67 wild and semi-wild species, 63 cultivated species, and five species are both wild and cultivated (Supplementary material). Six families were considered particularly important in the Panca yadnya by the local inhabitants: Poaceae (15 species), Fabaceae (12 species), Zingiberaceae (eight species), Arecaceae (six species), Phyllantaceae (five species), and Apocynaceae (five species). The dominant life forms are trees, followed by herbs, shrubs, and climbers. The number of plant species used in the Panca yadnya is quite variable: Pitra yadnya with 118 species (136 plant parts), followed by Bhuta yadnya, Dewa yadnya, Manusa yadnya, and Rsi yadnya (Fig. 3). The most frequently used parts are the leaves followed by fruits and other plant parts (Tab. 1). Most plant parts are collected throughout the year.

Figure 3  The main five Balinese Hinduism ceremonies (Panca yadnya). 

Table 1 General floristic diversity in Panca yadnya

A) General Diversity
Element number
Plant parts 148
Species 125
Genera 112
Family 49
Poaceae 15
Leguminosae 12
Zingiberaceae 8
Arecaceae 6
Phyllantaceae 5
Apocynaceae 5
Type life form Species
Tree 48
Herb 31
Shrub 28
Climber 18
Wild and Semi-wild 67
Cultivated 63
Both 5
B) Diversity in yadnya
Types of offerings Species Plant part
Pitra yadnya 118 136
Bhuta yadnya 76 86
Dewa yadnya 70 76
Manusa yadnya 67 74
Rsi yadnya 57 60
Used parts
Leaves 52
Fruits 33
Flowers 16
Seeds 11
Tuber 11
Wood 10
Culm 6
Stem 3
Bark 2
Sap 1
Black-fibres 1
Midrib 1
Whole part 1
C) Habitat and Vegetation
Habitat types Species %
Tropical 115 77.18
Subtropical 26 17.45
Temperate 8 5.37
Vegetation types
Forests 135 90.6
Grasslands 13 8.72
Ponds/Lakes 1 0.67

The 125 recorded species include tropical plants (77 %), subtropical plants (18 %), and temperate plants (5 %), of which 71.2 % are native to the Malesian floristic region, 38.4 % to the Indochinese floristic region, and 34.4 % to the Indian floristic region. The considerable percentage of species of the Malesian region is possibly influenced by cultural influences. The study recorded 36 species that are not native to the Malesian region (Fig. 4).

Figure 4  Occurrence of the ceremonial species from the different Floristic Regions. 

Species pools in Panca yadnya

Table 2 describes pools of species, or its parts, exclusively present in a specific yadnya combination. Among all possible combinations (32), less than 50 % were not empty combinations (14). The two most frequently occurring species show a bimodal distribution, representing opposite conditions - a combination with only one yadnya and all yadnyas, i.e., two maxima related respectively to a common pool (58) and to exclusive pools of a single yadnya (Fig. 5). Only a single plant part (the flowers of Canaga odorata) is exclusively used in four yadnyas. Also, leaves of Arenga pinnata are used in offerings prepared in all yadnya, while its black fibers, fruits, and sap represent exclusive elements of, respectively, Dewa, Manusa, and Butha yadnyas (Fig. 6).

Table 2  Subsets of plant species, with indication of their use in the different kinds of yadnyas

No. Plant families & species, [voucher specimen code] Life form Vernacular names Used parts Use in yadnya Villages Number of Informants
Dewa yadnya Pitra yadnya Manusa yadnya Bhuta yadnya Rsi yadnya
1 Asystasia mysorensis (Roth) T. Anderson [WS200] Herb Knuja Leaves 1 P 2
2 Barleria prionitis L. [WS201] Herb Landep-landep Leaves 1 C 2
3 Graptophyllum pictum (L.) Griff. [WS202] Herb Temen Leaves 1 1 1 1 1 C, S 6
4 Justicia gendarussa Burm.f. [WS203] Shrub Dusakiling Leaves 1 1 1 1 1 C, P 4
5 Pangium edule Reinw. [WS204] Tree Pangi Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S 9
6 Celosia spicata Spreng. [WS205] Shrub Keniwan Flower 1 P 1
7 Gomphrena globosa L. [WS206] Shrub Ratna Flower 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 15
8 Allium cepa L. [WS207] Herb Bawang merah Tuber 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 8
9 Allium sativum L. [WS208] Herb Bawang putih/kesuna Tuber 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 10
10 Mangifera caesia Jack [WS 209] Tree Wani/poh Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 P, S, T 7
11 Cananga odorata (Lam.) Hook.f. & Thomson [WS210] Tree Sandat Flower 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 17
12 Hoya heuschkeliana Kloppenb. [WS211] Climber Tebel-tebel Leaves 1 C 2
13 Plumeria alba L. [WS212] Tree Jepun Flower 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 20
14 Alstonia scholaris (L.) R. Br. [WS213] Tree Polegamongan/pulai Leaves 1 1 C 2
15 Calotropis gigantea (L.) Dryand. [WS214] Shrub Medori putih Flower 1 T 4
16 Nerium oleander L. [WS215] Shrub Kenyeri putih Flower 1 1 T 5
17 Tabernaemontana divaricata (L.) R.Br. ex Roem. & Schult. [WS216] Shrub Tuludnyuh Flower 1 C 2
18 Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott [WS217] Shrub Keladi/don kembang Tuber 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 16
19 Schefflera elliptica (Blume) Harms [WS218] Climber Tulak Wood 1 1 C, P, S, T 15
20 Areca catechu L. [WS219] Tree Pinang Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 20
21 Arenga pinnata (Wurmb) Merr. [WS220] Tree Aren/jaka/ beluluk/enau Leaves 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 20
Fruit 1 C, P, S, T 20
Black fibres 1 C, P, S, T 20
Sap 1 S 1
22 Caryota mitis Lour. [WS221] Tree Dudu Stem 1 1 1 1 1 C, S, T 11
23 Cocos nucifera L. [WS222] Tree Kelapa/nyuh gading/nyuh gadang/nyuh sudamala Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 20
Leaves 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 20
Midrib 1 S 2
24 Pinanga coronata (Blume ex Mart.) Blume [WS223] Tree Peji Stem 1 1 1 1 1 C, S, T 12
25 Salacca zalacca (Gaertn.) Voss [WS224] Shrub Salak Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 10
Leaves 1 C, S 4
26 Cordyline fruticosa (L.) A.Chev. [WS225] Shrub Andong bang Leaves 1 1 C, P, S, T 10
27 Dracaena angustifolia (Medik.) Roxb. [WS226] Shrub Kayu sugih Leaves 1 1 1 1 1 S 4
28 Diplazium esculentum (Retz.) Sw. [WS227] Herb Paku jukut Leaves 1 1 1 C, S 4
29 Protium javanicum Burm.f. [WS228] Tree Tenggulun Wood 1 1 S 1
Leaves 1 1 S 2
30 Carica papaya L. [WS229] Tree Gedang/ pepaya Fruit 1 1 C 3
31 Garcinia × mangostana L. [WS230] Tree Manggis Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 13
Leaves 1 1 1 C, S 4
32 Blumea balsamifera (L.) DC. [WS231] Tree Sembung Leaves 1 1 S 2
33 Cosmos sulphureus Cav. [WS232] Herb Padang berman Leaves 1 C, P, T 13
34 Tagetes erecta L. [WS233] Herb Gumitir Flower 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 20
35 Benincasa hispida (Thunb.) Cogn. [WS234] Climber Blego Fruit 1 S 2
36 Cucumis sativus L. [WS235] Climber Ketimun Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, T 6
37 Cucurbita pepo L. [WS236] Climber Waluh/labu Leaves 1 P, S 7
Fruit 1 P, S 7
38 Momordica charantia L. [WS237] Climber Paya Leaves 1 1 C 2
Fruit 1 1 S 2
39 Dioscorea alata L. [WS238] Climber Ubi aung/ubi liyan Tuber 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 17
40 Dioscorea hispida Dennst. [WS239] Climber Gadung Flower 1 1 1 1 1 C 2
41 Aleurites moluccanus (L.) Willd. [WS240] Tree Kemiri/ tingkih Seeds 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S 9
42 Manihot esculenta Crantz [WS241] Shrub Sela sawi/ketela Tuber 1 1 1 1 1 C, T 5
43 Elsholtzia pubescens Benth. [WS242] Shrub Junggul Leaves 1 C 3
44 Plectranthus scutellarioides (L.) R.Br. [WS243] Shrub Reng-reng Leaves 1 1 1 P 2
45 Arachis hypogaea L. [WS244] Herb Kacang tanah Seeds 1 1 1 1 1 C 2
46 Caesalpinia pulcherrima (L.) Sw. [WS245] Shrub Kemerakan Flower 1 T 3
47 Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp. [WS246] Shrub Undis Seeds 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 7
48 Canavalia gladiata (Jacq.) DC. [WS247] Climber Juleh Leaves 1 P, S 3
49 Clitoria ternatea L. [WS248] Climber Teleng Flower 1 C 2
50 Entada phaseoloides (L.) Merr. [WS249] Climber Cikal Fruit 1 1 P 1
51 Erythrina crista-galli L. [WS250] Tree Canging Leaves 1 S 2
52 Erythrina subumbrans (Hassk.) Merr. [WS251] Tree Dadap tis Leaves 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 17
Wood 1 1 1 1 1 C, S, T 8
53 Lablab purpureus (L.) Sweet [WS252] Climber Komak Seeds 1 1 1 1 1 C, S, T 13
54 Psophocarpus tetragonolobus (L.) DC. [WS253] Climber Botor Seeds 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 11
55 Pueraria phaseoloides (Roxb.) Benth. [WS254] Climber Ucu Seeds 1 1 1 1 1 P, S, T 7
56 Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp. [WS255] Climber Kacang panjang Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C 2
57 Lygodium circinatum (Burm. f.) Sw. [WS256] Climber Paku ata Leaves 1 1 1 P 3
58 Punica granatum L. [WS257] Shrub Delima Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C 3
59 Michelia alba DC. [WS258] Tree Cempaka Flower 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 13
60 Durio zibethinus L. [WS259] Tree Durian Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, S 7
Leaves 1 C 2
61 Hibiscus rosa-sinensis L. [WS260] Shrub Pucuk bang Flower 1 C, S, T 10
62 Melochia umbellata (Houtt.) Stapf [WS261] Tree Bentenu Leaves 1 1 P 1
Bark 1 P 1
Wood 1 1 C 3
63 Maranta arundinacea L. [WS262] Shrub Celengidi Leaves 1 P 1
64 Lansium parasiticum (Osbeck) K.C.Sahni & Bennet [WS263] Tree Ceroring Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 13
Bark 1 C 2
65 Dysoxylum parasiticum (Osbeck) Kosterm. [WS264] Tree Majagau Wood 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S 13
66 Sandoricum koetjape (Burm.f.) Merr. [WS265] Tree Sentul Fruit 1 1 P, S, T 8
67 Artocarpus heterophyllus Lam. [WS266] Tree Nangka Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C 3
68 Ficus benjamina L. [WS267] Tree Bingin Leaves 1 C, P, S 10
69 Moringa oleifera Lam. [WS268] Tree Kelor Leaves 1 C 2
70 Musa × paradisiaca L. [WS269] Herb Pisang/biu/ dak/biu susu/biu mas/biu raja/biu kayu/biu bunga/biu gancah/biu tembaga Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 20
Leaves 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 20
71 Psidium guajava L. [WS270] Tree Sotong Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 15
72 Syzygium polycephalum (Miq.) Merr. & L.M.Perry [WS271] Tree Kaliasem Fruit 1 1 P 2
73 Nephrolepis cordifolia (L.) C. Presl [WS272] Herb Paku pipid/paku lipan Leaves 1 1 1 C 5
74 Nymphaea lotus L. [WS273] Herb Tunjung Flower 1 1 1 1 1 C, S, T 13
75 Pandanus tectorius Parkinson ex Du Roi [WS274] Shrub Pandan/ pudak Leaves 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S 14
76 Antidesma bunius (L.) Spreng. [WS275] Tree Buni Fruit 1 1 1 P 2
77 Baccaurea racemosa (Reinw. ex Blume) Müll.Arg. [WS276] Tree Kepundung Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 14
Leaves 1 C 2
78 Phyllanthus emblica L [WS277] Tree Kalimoko Fruit 1 1 C 5
Leaves 1 C 2
79 Phyllanthus buxifolius (Blume) Müll.Arg. [WS278] Shrub Sisih Wood 1 1 C, P, S, T 15
80 Phyllanthus niruri L. [WS279] Shrub Menirang Leaves 1 P 4
81 Piper betle L. [WS280] Climber Sirih Leaves 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 20
82 Bambusa vulgaris Schrad. [WS281] Tree Tiing ampel gading Culm 1 C, P, S 8
83 Coix lacryma-jobi L. [WS282] Herb Jali-jali Seeds 1 1 C, P, S, T 16
84 Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers. [WS283] Herb Padang lepas Leaves 1 C, P, S, T 13
85 Dendrocalamus asper (Schult.) Backer [WS284] Tree Tiing jelepung Culm 1 1 1 1 1 C, P 4
86 Eleusine coracana (L.) Gaertn. [WS285] Herb Godem Seeds 1 1 C, P, S, T 16
87 Eleusine indica (L.) Gaertn. [WS286] Herb Padang belulang Leaves 1 P 2
88 Gigantochloa apus (Schult.) Kurz [WS287] Tree Tiing tali Culm 1 1 1 1 1 C, S, T 8
89 Gigantochloa baliana Widjaja & Astuti [WS288] Tree Tiing bali Culm 1 C, P, S, T 15
90 Imperata cylindrica (L.) Raeusch. [WS289] Herb Lalang Leaves 1 1 1 1 1 C, S 12
91 Oryza sativa L. [WS290] Herb Padi/padi gaga/ketan/ injin Seeds 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 20
92 Panicum miliaceum L. [WS291] Herb Jawe Seeds 1 1 C, P, S, T 16
93 Saccharum officinarum L. [WS292] Herb Tebu cemeng Stem 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S, T 20
94 Schizostachyum brachycladum (Kurz) Kurz [WS293] Tree Tiing buluh gading/ tamblang Culm 1 1 C 5
95 Schizostachyum lima (Blanco) Merr. [WS294] Tree Tiing buluh Culm 1 1 P, T 4
Leaves 1 1 P 1
96 Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench [WS295] Herb Jagung kedu Seeds 1 C, P, S, T 15
97 Pityrogramma calomelanos (L.) Link [WS296] Herb Paku sudamala Leaves 1 P, T 4
98 Rubus buergeri Miq. [WS297] Shrub Gunggung bukit Leaves 1 C, P, S 9
99 Rubus rosifolius Sm. [WS298] Shrub Gunggung bali/lengis Leaves 1 1 C, P, S 11
100 Gardenia jasminoides J.Ellis [WS299] Shrub Jempiring Flower 1 1 1 1 1 P, S 6
Leaves 1 1 P 1
101 Morinda citrifolia L. [WS300] Tree Tibah Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 P 1
102 Neonauclea calycina (Bartl. ex DC.) Merr. [WS301 Tree Daun bengkel Leaves 1 T 2
103 Citrus × aurantium L. [WS302] Tree Semaga Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, P 2
104 Citrus maxima (Burm.) Merr. [WS303] Tree Jeruk Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, T 6
105 Murraya koenigii (L.) Spreng. [WS304] Tree Pupug Wood 1 C, P, S 9
106 Santalum album L. [WS305] Tree Cendana Wood 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S 12
107 Nephelium lappaceum L. [WS306] Tree Buluan/ rambutan Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, S 3
Leaves 1 C 2
108 Manilkara zapota (L.) P.Royen [WS307] Tree Sawo Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, P 4
109 Selaginella delicatula (Desv. Ex Poir.) [WS308] Herb Bekenying Leaves 1 1 P 2
110 Capsicum annuum L [WS309] Shrub Cabai/tabia Fruit 1 1 1 1 1 C, S, T 5
111 Solanum melongena L. [WS310] Shrub Tuwung/ terung Fruit 1 C, T 5
112 Styrax benzoin Dryand. [WS311] Tree Menyan Wood 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, S 13
113 Boehmeria nivea (L.) Gaudich. [WS312] Shrub Bagu Leaves 1 P 1
114 Dendrocnide stimulans (L.f.) Chew [WS313] Tree Lateng Leaves 1 C, P, S 8
Wood 1 P 1
115 Leucosyke capitellata Wedd. [WS314] Tree Patih kalah Leaves 1 C, P 7
116 Cissus javana DC. [WS315] Climber Dinding ai Whole part 1 C, P, S 11
117 Leea angulata Korth. ex Miq. [WS316] Shrub Kelawasan Leaves 1 P 2
118 Alpinia galanga (L.) Willd. [WS317] Herb Isen/ lengkuas Tuber 1 1 1 1 1 P, T 4
119 Amomum maximum Roxb. [WS318] Herb Kase Fruit 1 P 3
120 Curcuma viridiflora Roxb. [WS319] Herb Kunir/kunyit Tuber 1 1 1 1 1 C, P 7
121 Curcuma zedoaria (Christm.) Roscoe [WS320] Herb Kepanggean Leaves 1 C 3
Tuber 1 S 2
122 Etlingera elatior (Jack) R.M.Sm. [WS321] Herb Kecicang Flower 1 C, S 7
123 Kaempferia rotunda L. [WS322] Herb Cekuh/kencur Tuber 1 1 1 1 1 C, T 4
124 Zingiber montanum (J.Koenig) Link ex A.Dietr. [WS323] Herb Gamongan Tuber 1 1 P 1
125 Zingiber officinale Roscoe [WS324] Herb Jahe Tuber 1 1 1 1 1 C, P, T 9

Figure 5  Plant parts exclusively present in different numbers of yadnya

Figure 6  Arenga pinnata, an example of one of the most-used plant species in Panca yadnya

Floristic similarity in Panca yadnya

The similarities between yadnyas, obtained with the Jaccard coefficient, are shown in Figure 7, where yadnyas are ordered according to the increasing values of total richness of plant parts. The average similarity for a single yadnya ranges from 0.5 - 0.67 and there is a rather high variability of resemblances between yadnyas based on floristic data, with the highest value observed between Manusa yadnya and Rsi yadnya (0.81), while the lowest one was between Pitra yadnya and Rsi yadnya (0.43). In Figure 7, it is notable the separation of Pitra yadnya and, to a lesser extent, of Bhuta yadnya from the others.

Figure 7  Similarities between yadnya based on used plant parts 


Ethnoflora of offerings in Panca yadnya

An offering can be seen as a sort of self-sacrifice, as people spend time and money to make objects to offer (Eiseman 1990). In Bali, offerings are often labor-intensive as they should be attractive, not necessarily complex (although often so), and well prepared when presented to higher aspects of God. However, if they are offered to negative forces and demons, they may be less carefully composed. Also, with minor exceptions regarding the worship of demons, an offering must be fresh and cannot be used more than once. Though beautiful, offerings are never long-lasting because they are mainly made of natural materials directly coming from Balinese customs and traditions (Eiseman 1990) and plants are a key element both for their appearance and symbolic meaning.

Species, or their parts, are used to convey general religious meanings in the various ceremonies and it can be inferred their relationship with right practices of custom and rituals. From our results, the high diversity in species of the Balinese ethnoflora of offerings seems to be correlated to the heterogeneity of religious customs (Reuter 2012), and plants are not accidentally used. Each plant can then express a precise meaning related to ceremonies and offerings in which it occurs and provides a specific word of an elaborate vocabulary of symbols to show devotion to gods (Barth 1993).

Plant species present in offerings are often native (Girmansyah et al. 2013) or easily reachable by the Balinese because they are cultivated in home gardens, otherwise commonly sold in traditional markets (Sujarwo et al. 2018). Moreover, alien species (e.g., Celosia spicata, Eleusine indica, Imperata cylindrica, Phyllanthus niruri) are well-known and frequently used by the Balinese. Among the non-indigenous species, it is noteworthy to mention the coincidence of the first appearance in Indonesia of species of the Indian region (e.g., Cajanus cajan, Cucumis sativus, Momordica charantia, Solanum melongena, Tabernaemontana divaricata) with the introduction of religious and cultural Indian influences in the eighth century (Rao 2001). Other plants have been incorporated later into the offering. For instance, the Dutch were responsible for the introduction of plants native to Central and South America (e.g., Arachis hypogea, Capsicum annuum, Carica papaya, Manihot esculenta, Plumeria alba, Psidium guajava, Tagetes erecta) during the sixteenth century (Simmonds 1976). Also, the selection of species (Silva et al. 2018) seems to follow criteria (e.g., aesthetic such as colors, shapes, smell; apotropaic; curative; food; function) based on the knowledge on the local flora, occurrence and abundance in the natural environment, common presence in home gardens and old traditional uses.

There are some studies on the Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Bali about its specific aspects, its structure, and the cultural erosion that affects it (Sujarwo et al. 2014; 2016; Caneva et al. 2017; Sujarwo & Lestari 2018). The local knowledge about the plants used in the Panca yadnya seems based on the Traditional Ecological Knowledge about the general ethnoflora of Bali as people use well-known ethnobotanical species. For this reason, it should be interpreted as a particular subset of general TEK and could also show the same risk of cultural erosion due to global transformation processes (see Sujarwo et al. 2014).

Pools of plants in yadnyas and floristic similarities between yadnyas

Panca yadnya is different forms of worship with specific rituals and offerings. Each ceremony belongs to a single yadnya, but elements of ceremonies of other yadnyas can actually be included (Putra 1988). The type of yadnya does not strictly constrain the ceremony as it is mostly focused on the rituals and offerings. As such, it is not surprisingly that a large pool of plants is shared in all yadnyas. On the other hand, there are several pools that are specific to a single yadnya according to its types of rituals. For instance, the offerings in Pitra and Butha yadnyas, which are quite particular in Balinese Hinduism, show a low similarity to other offerings and are highlighted by exclusive and big contingents of plant parts. On the other hand, the offerings in Dewa yadnya are characterized by a small specific pool and several species shared by other yadnyas. Balinese Hindus must perform several life-cycle rituals (Manusa yadnya) during their lifetime (Ariati 2006). In this case, the offering composition also shows connections to other yadnyas with some pools of shared plants, but to a lesser extent. Few ceremonies of ordination belong to the Rsi yadnya. There is no exclusive pool of plants for such yadnya, but contingents of plants from other yadnyas can be used for its offerings.

Managing the religious relationships between men and god seems to be the most important factor in determining the plant compositions in the yadnyas. In these compositions, it is noteworthy pervasive influence of worship to gods and animistic forms of deities in Balinese Hinduism. Rsi yadnya appears excluded from relationships among Pitra, Butha, Manusa, and Dewa. Only one species, i.e., Cananga odorata, whose flowers symbolize the preserver (Vishnu) is common in all yadnyas. Parts of some species are also selectively used in distinct kinds of ceremonies and offerings. The most important one is Arenga pinnata, already identified in a previous study (Sujarwo & Lestari 2018), as a Cultural Keystone Species of Bali (see Garibaldi & Turner 2004).

In general, it seems possible to infer many typical religious relationships (Bhuta, Dewa, Manusa, Pitra, and Rsi) in Panca yadnya from the offering compositions based on pools of plant parts. In addition, different species pools could better specify and clarify spiritual and religious ecosystem services (Hernández-Morcillo et al. 2013) in the Balinese cultural context. The structure of knowledge about the ethnoflora of offerings shows two main parts: the common or nuclear, and the specific, restricted to only one yadnya. In a previous study about another aspect of TEK in Bali (Caneva et al. 2017), the same structure was detected, and parts of knowledge were described as core and satellite groups. This fact suggests that the knowledge about the ethnoflora of offerings, as a specific subset of the general TEK, could have the same pattern.

Orthopraxy of religious customs and ethnoflora of offerings in Panca yadnya

The set of yadnyas, Panca yadnya, represents a model of orthopraxy in Balinese Hinduism and could help to better detect and describe general symbolic features of different aspects of religion in Bali (Hornbacher 2011). The current dataset about plants and their parts used in the religious ceremonies of the Panca yadnya is based on knowledge of religious leaders and local people involved in the making of offerings and provides a vision on the orthopraxy of Balinese Hinduism related to the utilization of different plant materials. Sometimes, in Bali, traditional practices may be the only way to find and assess the actual relevance of plants and their particular relationships to local religion. Orthopraxy could then be used as a powerful tool to describe general symbolic meanings of species by their link to different kinds of ceremonies, as this study suggests. Moreover, the considerable importance of orthopraxy in Balinese Hinduism ensures a very conservative religious system, which was occurring since 15th century, and a permanent and stable related corpus of TEK, properly safeguarding the knowledge about the ethnoflora of offerings from cultural erosion and transformation processes, as already suggested by Eiseman (1990).


Offerings in Balinese Hinduism are material objects to offer for religious purposes and they also represent one of the most important manners to interpret and practice religion in everyday life. Stating their relevance in the religious culture of Bali, this study performed the first attempt to define an ethnoflora of offerings. This study also constitutes an essential step towards a complete ethnobotanical description of Balinese Hinduism, giving it a conceptual framework to evaluate cultural ecosystem services provided by the plants used in religious ceremonies.

Balinese Hinduism, embodying particular animistic aspects of the indigenous religion, along with its ceremonies and offering compositions, can express Balinese cosmology better than doctrinal texts. The practices of religious rituals seem fundamental to verify the general religious meaning of plants and their great importance for the Balinese to maintain the integrity of TEK related to ethnoflora of offerings, avoiding general and global phenomena of loss, cultural erosion and transformation.


We would like to express our gratitude to the informants who took part in our study and for sharing their knowledge, hospitality, and assistance. We also express our appreciation to I Nyoman Peneng and I Nyoman Sudiatna for their assistance during fieldwork, I Gede Wawan Setiadi for preparing the pictures of Panca yadnya and Arenga pinnata. This study was funded by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) through the Bali Botanical Gardens for the field investigations [Letter of Assignment No.B-1288/IPH.7/KP/XII/2017].


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Received: March 30, 2019; Accepted: August 23, 2019

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