Monday, August 1, 2011

Rites of Passage in Bali

Balinese life is marked with rites of passage from birth to death and beyond. When a child is born, he is believed to be the reincarnation of a released ancestor. The Balinese calendar system is quite elaborate and complex. This calendar system, called tika, is consulted whenever a child is born in order to closely determine which ancestor this child may be. For example, if a child is born on the day of Sri according to the eight-day week, the child may be a reincarnation of a woman from the mother’s side; however, should the child be born on the day of Indra, also in the eight-day week, this child may be the reincarnation of a man from the father’s side.
Babies are not considered to be “human” until they are 210 days old at which time a ceremony is performed, along with the necessary offerings. Yet, for the first 42 days of the

baby’s life, both the mother and baby are considered to be in a state of spiritual impurity. A newborn’s feet are not permitted to touch earth and the child is very susceptible to witchcraft. At the end of this period, a small ritual, called Forty-two Days, is performed during which offerings are made to the child’s spirit.
The ceremony of tooth filing, meant to overcome the elements of bestiality occurs right after puberity. The pointe canine teeth are considered and are filed. Marriage is when full adult hood begins and offering are made to placate the demoic  forces before sexual desire is excercised.

Cremation is the most important of all Balinese rites of passage. The remains are carried in a tower to the cremation grounds. During the procession to the cremation grounds, the cremation tower is twirled so as to confuse the spirit of the deceased. This is to help ensure he won’t find his way back home and further ensures his spirit’s smooth passage into the next world (swah). Should the ceremony or the offerings contain an omission, a family member or spirit-medium will become possessed and told how to make things right. Once the cremation is completed, the ashes of the deceased are gathered up and holy water is sprinkled; the ashes are then cast into the sea.

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