Art / Beliefs / Indonesia / Travel

Bali’s Exotic Flower Mandalas

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Remember the old psych quiz where you’re asked a question and supposed to say the first word that comes to mind? If the question was How would you describe Bali?, we would blurt “Exotic!”

And for us, the primary reason it looks and feels so exotic is the fantastic splashes of radiant color that pervade the place. The Balinese live their faith every day, and in Hinduism, color plays an important role, and each color has a specific symbolic meaning.

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The Balinese believe in a myriad of gods, goddesses, and spirits – some to be thanked and some to be appeased. So they’re big believers in daily offerings, most of which involve flowers. But these aren’t just your standard bouquet; they’re delightful flower art created by master artisans. Shops and hotels along the Monkey Forest Road in Ubud have these wonderful flower mandalas in bird baths and fountains near their entryways.

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The word “mandala” has a complex religious meaning in a number of faiths, but for Hindus, it means “circle” and represents the Universe. It’s also a spiritual and ritual symbol which stands for protection, good luck, and the notion that life is never ending.

How better to convey these ideas than in vivid, meticulously detailed flower art? Nowhere that we’ve seen does it like Bali.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

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60 thoughts on “Bali’s Exotic Flower Mandalas

    • Thanks Laura. It would take a certain mindset to spend this much time and energy on something that will be gone in a few days. I guess it’s the concept of beauty for beauty’s sake. ~James

    • Thanks Carol. In Bali (and we saw it in Laos as well), it’s so refreshing to see these beautiful artworks made of totally biodegradable materials. As you can imagine, all these daily offerings generate piles of debris, but it will all be gone in a few days. ~James

    • I hadn’t thought of the comparison to edible art Martha, but you’re right. But one thing that makes the Bali art different is the ritual that goes with the creation. On our last trip, every morning as we had coffee on our porch, we watched a beautiful, young Balinese woman walk around the garden to set up all the offerings and light all the incense. It was a pleasure to see. Did you see this ritual when you visited? ~James

      • I did! I also was fascinated by the celebrations that seemed to pop up spontaneously with processions headed to the beach or other places. Some were funerals others just seemed to be honoring some god or deity.

    • As I said to someone else Tess, imagine taking the time and energy to create something that will only last a couple of days. Ummm, this must be how an ice-carving artist feels. ~James

    • Thanks Rusha. Buddhists, and particularly Hindus, love to use flower art in their religious ceremonies and offerings. It’s a wonderful tradition that ultimately comes down to patience I suspect. The floral art we saw in Bali was truly outstanding. ~James

    • Thanks Lynn, and that’s a great question. From what we could learn, it is an art taught through generations, as are family traditions of wood carving, batik making, etc. It’s certainly an art that needs to be passed on. ~Terri

  1. I can smell the last photo! Oh how I miss Bali. It’s the fragrant scent, the soothing traditional music, and the beautiful landscape — both cultural and natural — that keeps me coming back for more.

    • Great point, Bama – the scents of all these mandalas are incredible. And combine the wonderful smells with the gurgle of fountains and chiming of the music to create an almost surreal tranquility. I can certainly see why you go back for more. ~Terri

  2. Quite gorgeous, James. Bali has always defined exotic for me. I’d love to take Peggy there some day. I don’t know if they still do, but the most magical part for me was the geese marching through the village behind the farmer with his flag early in the morning on their way out to the rice paddies. –Curt

    • Curt, that’s a wonderful vision you painted there. We definitely saw the ducks and geese throughout the village, paddling through the rice paddies, but we missed the farmer with his flag. Even better. I’m certain Peggy would truly enjoy Bali. ~Terri

    • Thanks for the comment Susan and for dropping by the blog. One of the first things that struck us in Ubud is how they emphasize their daily rituals, and all of them involve colorful elements – whether flowers, bright ribbons, or colorful food. It’s one of the aspects that makes Bali such a wonderful destination, particularly for westerners who think they can’t slow down. ~James

    • Thanks Anne. That fountain was at the entryway of another small restaurant on Monkey Forest Road. I was amazed that the flower petals stayed in place so well, and they were the perfect low-key touch to make a plain fountain more interesting. These Balinese know how it’s done. ~James

    • And as you and Richard know, having (and taking) the time to appreciate the small things makes all the difference when traveling. We’ve been to Bali twice, and both times, we spent all our time in Ubud. It’s a relatively small place and we had the time to really explore. As I’ve said before: our motto is “Quality over Quantity.” BTW, love the new gravatar. ~James

  3. Do they use the making of the mandalas as a meditation tool also? In Tibet and Nepal, the Buddhists make their thangkas and some mandalas as a guide to enlightenment; I have to think the Balinese gain some contemplative benefits from doing this intricate work as well!

    • Lexie, I’m sure that any project that requires this level of attention to detail, steady hands, and patience must certainly have some contemplative benefits. All the mandalas we saw were in front of businesses, so I suspect that normal artists vs religious types made them. But, they were marvelous nonetheless. ~James

  4. I don’t recall seeing anything like this anywhere we have traveled. Perhaps that is because we have not touched down in Asia. Certainly our fair share of flower design gardens but not flowers sitting in water. To think these are created daily is astounding to me. Here flowers are so expensive and if you manage to grow some in your yard the thought of actually plucking the blooms off is heartbreaking. 🙂

    • Sue, we hadn’t seen anything like these mandalas before our trip to Bali. They are marvels, and as far as the actual technique, I wonder how they pull this off. What holds the petals in place while others are being added, etc? This is water we’re dealing with after all. Great stuff and a wonderful mystery. ~James

  5. I do love these little posts of yours, where you take some small facet from a location, and share a little more detail regarding it and its place in the world.

    Illustrate and educate 🙂

    • Thanks Chris. These posts are a bit different from the normal fare, and they’re fun to put together. We’ve always liked the research side of blogging, and these posts are perfect for that. ~James

  6. I got distracted by Monkey Forest Road. Any place with a road called Monkey Forest is likely going to be rather exotic! … but I digress …

    I think just being surrounded by all the beautiful lush flowers would be exotic enough without the added element of intricate design. Simply lovely 🙂

    • Joanne, as you can imagine, at the bottom of the hill on Monkey Forest Road was a … you guessed it: a monkey forest. Actually it was pretty cool. There was an old, abandoned Hindu temple, surrounded by a jungle with three troops of resident macaques. There may be a post at some point, if I can get my act together. And yes, exotic. Not everyone has a monkey forest 100 m away. ~James

  7. I smiled at your comment that you enjoy the research side of blogging. I do, too. There’s no telling what little detail, once explored, can yield enormous enjoyment and understanding. The mandalas are beautiful. They remind me of Hawaiian leis, in the sense that they are interwoven with the culture, and carry meaning as well as beauty.

    • Thanks Linda. It’s always good to find a kindred spirit. I freely admit that I’m a geek about some things, but when I write a blog post, my philosophy is that if it’s well written, concise, and interesting to me, it will be interesting to others. And pulling this off requires scratching below the surface of most topics, which usually requires research. The blogosphere doesn’t need another travel-journal blog, so from the beginning, we’ve tried to taking a slightly different tack. I don’t know about you, but the research certainly makes it more rewarding for me, and I’m sure you as well. ~James

  8. Pingback: Parade of Sanggah Penjors | Healing Pilgrim

    • Thanks for the link to our post Amit. We saw a few of the sanggah, but didn’t know what they were called. That’s pretty funny about the cigarette offering. In Bangkok you may have seen “Spirit Houses” that hope to achieve the same purpose. We got a kick out of all the offerings we saw there. From food, snacks, soda to booze – it was all there: whatever it takes to make the gods happy. ~James

    • Thanks for the comment Caitlin and for dropping by the blog. Bali is a magical place and incredibly photogenic. The attention to detail is amazing, and these mandalas are a great example. ~James

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