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Bali Information: Balinese Culture

Balinese Cycle of Life

 

BALI TRADITION AND RELIGION
- THE CYCLE OF LIFE -

 

According to Hindu religious beliefs, after death, a soul passes into another body. During its tenure in a body, the soul is in torment. Consequently, the soul is always seeking to free itself from incarnation so that it can attain enlightenment or moksa. Once enlightenment is achieved, both the body and soul can join their cosmic equivalents for ever. Therefore, when a person dies, but its soul fails to achieve moksa, it will continue with the cycle of life through incarnations.
 
The religious rites which are performed to accompany a soul through its journey in the cycle of life incorporate such cosmic notions. The intervening journey between life and death is given high importance in Balinese rituals. Such rituals consist of the human rites (manusa yadnya), the rites of the dead (pitra yadnya), rites of the gods or temple rites (dewa yadnya), rites of demonic forces (buta yadnya) and ordainment rites (rsi yadnya).
 
Balinese believe that the mountains are the abodes of the gods, deified ancestors and souls which did not attain moksa. The gods and deified ancestors will descend occasionally to earth during temple ceremonies to partake of offerings and to enjoy entertainment.
 
When souls are ready to re-incarnate on earth, they will come from the mountains above or straight from hell. That is why the mountains is revered as the Holy Place.
 
The incarnation of the human soul is seen as a human and a cosmic process, starting from love. The union of a man and a woman is that of purusa and pradana - the male and female principle respectively and the cosmic energy of Asmara, the god of love, and Ratih, the goddess of the moon. In their sexual love are united the red and white elements of desire (kamabang/kama petak), symbols of male sperm and female ovula. The eventual merging of the two kamas begets what is often called "The Godly Fetus" or sanhyang Jabang Bayi, as the soul originates from the heavenly world. A child is called "Dewa" or little god during his first year of life.
 
All the phases of existence, from pregnancy to birth and then from birth to death will be accompanied by rituals. Their purposes are: to fasten the soul in its body before birth, to welcome it into the world, to take it harmoniously along the various stages of life, and, finally upon death, to help it cast away all earthly bonds and rejoin the old country of its origins. Here it can merge with the sublime soul of the world, paramatma of God.
 
The seventh month of pregnancy is the time for the housing of the soul or Megedong-Gedongan ceremony. This ceremony binds the soul within the womb. The birth is then celebrated through the penyambutan ceremonies. These are the true birth-rites. The catur sanak or burying of four little siblings is when the after-birth is given a ritual burial in four different places within the family compound. On the fifth or seventh day, a ceremony for the fall of the umbilical cord (kepus pungsed) is held. The twelfth day is the first otonan or 35-day cycle ceremony, followed by the forty-seventh day ceremony and, finally, the third month ceremony.
 
At three months, the child is allowed to touch the ground and is given a name. The child has entered the earthly world and the ceremonies are to welcome and guide the child during his or her first steps in life. This is how a child attains full incarnation of human status. Like any other being, the child will be subjected to the cycle of the Balinese calendar. He or she will have an otonan anniversary in the family temple, with offerings, every 210 days (one cycle in the Wuku year).
 
According to the principles of cosmic harmony, Man is expected to reach moksa. To do this he or she should strive to fulfill three other goals of life: desirekama, wealth-artha and virtue-dharma. Each of these goals should be fulfilled in an order of priority depending on the stage reached in life, such as when young, becoming an adolescent, getting married and becoming old.
 
Desire must be exercised with caution and balanced by dharma. This control of desire is illustrated in the mesangih of metatah, a tooth-filing rite, which takes place during adolescence - a time when sexual desire has reached its peak. The teeth symbolize the animal, or the uncontrolled side of humans, and Balinese demons always have big canine teeth. By filing them, six enemies will be eliminated; namely, lust, greed, anger, intoxication, confusion and jealousy.
 
The Balinese marriage ceremony is no less complex. It is preceded by an engagement of mepadik during which the couple falsely elope, and are supported by a group of accomplices, who protect the couple during their honeymoon. After three days, they are considered man and wife. The ploy is a serious one as the girl's parents may be furious and refuse their blessing.
 
The wedding ceremony follows in a more formal manner. It emphasizes that one's desires, while being exercised, should at the same time be kept under tight control. The climax of the wedding ritual, Mesakapan, is meant to appease the earthly forces or buta sor, which are the origin of desires and temptation.
 
Priorities in life then shift towards family and an accumulation of wealth or artha. Male heirs are regarded as important because it is these heirs of sentana who will implement the rituals of death and look after the family temples. They are a safeguard in the process of release. It is therefore important to accumulate wealth so that the rites for their ancestors and the community can be financed.
 
The Balinese death is but a return to your origins. The preceding wheels of one's life are the way to ultimate release. Not all corpses are cremated immediately, as some wait for an auspicious day, a collective ceremony or until their descendants have enough money to perform the rites. The cremation ritual is a reminder of the cosmic symbolism of life. The tower is a duplicate of the cosmos; the corpse is put in the middle, symbolizing its position between the spiritual and the human worlds. The sarcophagus, in which the body is burned, is a vehicle to take the soul away.
 
The ashes are collected and taken to the sea. It is here that the soul passes through hell to be tortured and cleansed. The soul is then called back on shore and eventually taken back to the Mother Mountain, Gunung Agung. The soul is then enshrined in the family temple and the dead is now an ancestor, until the next incarnation.

 

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