Offerings are frequently made to trees, especially in southern Bali. Selected, representative trees are adorned with ceremonial parasols and dressed in traditional black-and-white checkered cloth (kain poleng), scarf (saput), and headband (udeng) - the same dress Balinese men wear to temple.
The Balinese believe that in large trees dwell a host of spirits and demons. One often sees offerings placed on the ground before them, shrines constructed in their branches high above the ground. Legend has it that temples have even been founded next to important, spiritually charged trees.
There are small, sacred reserves of trees all over the island, such as the Monkey Forest of Ubud and the majestic grove of dipterocarps at Sangeh. Myriad uses are found for trees. Tree-trunk hollows are used as signal logs to call people to prayer, much like church bells in the West.
The sacred milkwood (pule), sought after by woodworkers, is used to make the fearsome Rangda masks. In October, acacia trees, with huge clusters of bright yellow flowers, beautify the main road between Sanur and Tanjung Bungkak. Venerable tamarind trees line kilometer after kilometer of roads in northern Bali east of Singaraja. You can also see these huge shade trees on Jl. Surapati alongside Puputan Square in Denpasar.
Plantations of clove (cengkeh) trees grace the highland road from Penulisan, winding down the mountains to the northern coast. Acacia trees and other members of the mimosa family line long stretches of the Bypass Highway. Planters are also reforesting the ocean side of this highway with five species of mangrove.
In southern Bali, thick tangles of mangrove turn shallow tidal flats into valuable solid ground. The stately, solitary 'kepuh' tree, a member of the kapok family, populates Balinese cemeteries. It's believed that on moonlit nights its eerie-looking branches are infested with evil birds and demons, its branches festooned with the entrails of the dead, its roots winding in and out of skulls and bones. The 'kepuh' is sacred to Durga, Goddess of Death.
Leaves from the 'dadap' tree are used for 'ngotonin', the birthday celebration for children, and in the 'beakawonan' wedding ceremony.
Tiger's claws (tjangin), a species of Erythrina, has scarlet flowers which grow in clusters, protected by "claws" or spines which cover the tree's entire surface. These trees are planted by farmers along irrigation canals or used as fences to keep animals and humans out of 'sawah'. To be pricked by its thorns is excruciatingly painful. The thorns are capable of penetrating rubber thongs.
Bali's most famous trees are the massive banyans (beringin) which hang over roads and temple gates, spreading their feathery branches and hundreds of vine-like trailers. Left unchecked, these creepers will take root and spread a canopy over an entire hectare. When the aerial roots of this sacred tree are cut to make room for a road, the workers need to be protected by prayers invoked by a priest.
Considered holy and immortal, this member of the fig family is most often found inside temples or near the main 'puri' of a village. There's a special atmosphere under the shady pillars of a gnarled old banyan, where often a small shrine is placed in the gloom. The largest blooming banyan in the world-virtually a forest-is found in Bongkasa, a few kilometers west of Ubud.
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