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Debt in Balinese Point of View  

by on Friday, 27 July 2007No Comment | 1,128 views

Ideas of “debt” (utang, rna) are pervasive in Bali, but this is not a simple economic concept, it involves both material (sekala) and non material (niskala) realm; it seems that Balinese have “invisible” economic relations with spirits, ancestor, and myriad manifestations of God, but it is actually not a some sort of economic relation, it is some obligations that have to be fulfilled towards God, ancestor and priest. This kind of obligation occur since Balinese believe that everyone has three kind of debts in his life (Tri Rna), they are “debt to God” (Dewa Rna), “debt to ancestor” (Pitra Rna), and “debt to priest” (Rsi Rna).

These three debts are considered as a basic reason of Balinese religious ceremonies. Debt to God (Dewa Rna) occur since Balinese believe that God gives life to human and bestow innumerable mercies and graces. Balinese pay their debt to God and expressing their thankfulness by conducting myriad ceremonies and presenting innumerable offerings to the God. Sometimes in the time of danger or facing a great illness or misfortune, Balinese usually make a vow to present certain offering if God help him to face the danger or misfortune, or recover from illness. When he is able to pass all the danger and misfortune or recovered from illness, he has a debt to God that has to be paid immediately, and Balinese is usually waste no time in paying this kind of debt.

The debt to ancestor is the most delicate one, yet sometimes simply phrased as an obligation to perform a certain amount of labor for the deceased. Some Balinese only consider a great cremation ceremony and its following rituals as the best way to pay a debt to ancestor. A high level cremation ceremony is usually considered as homage (bakti) towards the deceased, some Balinese think performing a grand cremation ceremony is the best way to honor the ancestors but sometimes it is also has a function to assert the family social status, so in a grand high level cremation ceremony there are usually three motives that blend into one, which are paying a debt to the ancestors (Pitra Rna), honoring the ancestors, and asserting status through the size of one’s ritual. Paying homage to the family temple, clan temple or point of origin (kawitan) temple is also considered as a way of paying one debt to his ancestors. If one does not perform a ritual of a level sufficient to honor the deceased and pay one’s debt to the deceased (usually explained as the debt children owe their parents for bringing them up, giving them rituals, etc.), one risks facing the wrath of the deceased in the form of death or illness.

Balinese believe that only a priest can conclude the ceremony and it is not an easy task, this creates a debt to the priest. Giving gifts to a Brahmana priest in thanks for his/her services in officiating the ceremony is the most common way to pay a debt to the priest. Another way to pay this debt is through a service to the priest such as helping the preparation of a ceremony which is held by the priest or helping the construction of the priest house. There are many ways in paying the debt to the priest.

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