Bhuta Kala: demons or force of nature?
The world of Balinese is the equilibrium of two forces of nature, positive and negative force. The positive force is represented by the God and negative forces represented by the Bhuta Kala, But what exactly is, or are, bhuta kala? The average Balinese would reply that bhutas and kalas, or bhuta kala, are evil spirits that cause a great many of the small and large problems of mankind, from a lost watch to a crippling disease. To them, the bhutas kalas have no other mission on earth than to annoy and persecute humans, making people ill, disturbing and polluting anything. They can go into people’s bodies and make them insane or turn them into idiots.
Bhuta and kala are Sanskrit words, with shades of meaning beyond mere “demons.” Bhuta means “the gross elements of which the body is composed, which are pertiwi (earth), apah (water), teja (fire), bayu (wind), and akasa (ether)” as well as “uncanny being”, or “goblin.” Kala means “time,” as well as “fate,” and “god of death.” The point here is that bhutas and kalas (the two, by the way, are never really distinguished from each other by the Balinese) are supernatural demons, as they are portrayed in the leering carvings, with a bulging eyes and fiendish fangs but they are also more generally the dark side, the animal side, of man and of the Hindu universe.
In the world, they represent the physical, the ugly, and the temporal. In man, they represent greed, passion, and hunger. Great calamities will fall upon the village when the bhutas predominate or when they are angry. Then they cause epidemics, loss of crops, and so forth, and only by the most elaborate ceremonies of purification and great offerings of blood sacrifices can the pollution of the village be wiped out. They are powerful, but can be controlled by various rituals and offerings.
Bhuta yadnya is a set of rituals for purifying the world from the disturbing influences of bhuta kala. The offerings intended to evil spirits are generally smelly mess and half-decayed food which is disdainfully thrown to the ground. The materials of the offering that is presented to Bhuta Kalas range from bad smell vegetable such as onion, raw meat, to the fresh blood of slauthered animal. The bhuta kalas receive elaborate sacrifices on certain occasions and on special day, every fifteen (kajeng kliwon) day; but, as they are greedy by nature, the little offerings given them everyday. They become particularly obnoxious at sundown, and on these special dates the woman of each household place in front of their gates trays of food, flowers, and money, next to a burning coconut husk. Offerings to evil spirits are in themselves polluted and are left to be eaten by the village scavengers, the hungry dogs.
Hindu pedandas and theologians consider bhutas and kalas to be manifestation, like gods – dewas – of locally competing mystical forces. That is, a bhuta is not so much a monster as a pocket of destructive force, an imbalance, ripples, which, in order to maintain balance, must be smoothed, annulled, with an offering – thus restoring order. Man, as an analog of the universe, contains identical forces. A bhuta within the Hindu microcosm is continuous, and it makes no sense in Hindu theology to suggest that evil or evil forces are “driven out” or “permanently destroyed.” It is the harmony of two opposite powers that have to be achieved. The concept of the coexistence of good and evil is called rwa bhineda by the Balinese and is summed up in the expression: Bhuta ia, dewa ia (“he is an evil spirit, he is a god”).