Rites of Passage
Rites of passage are an important aspect of every Balinese Hindu’s life and invariably coincide with a physical event such as birth, puberty and marriage. Each rite is marked by a ceremony and elaborate offerings. The main aim of these rites of passage as a collective is to purify and provide the individual with spiritual energy for a peaceful, healthy and successful existence.
The first Balinese rite of passage begins when a fetus is approximately six months of age and has a definite human form. A small ceremony is performed in the hope that the child has a long and productive life. Another ceremony at birth involving the burial of the placenta is the next rite of passage. At this stage of a newborn’s life everything is done to protect the baby as he/she is considered weak and easy prey for negative influences. The baby’s umbilical cord dropping off is the next rite, followed by 12 days and then 42 days of age.
At three months of age a large and expensive ceremony is performed to mark when the child is first dressed in Balinese traditional clothing and a ‘formal’ naming by a priest. The infant is also presented with matching bracelets, anklets and a small amulet to ward off evil spirits. Six months marks the child’s first Balinese birthday or otonan, which is the most complex rite since birth with the main objective to give spiritual strength. At this stage the child is permitted to touch the ground for the very first time. A further minor ceremony is held for the falling out of the child’s milk teeth.
At the onset of menstruation a Balinese girl is also given a ceremony to celebrate the occasion. The next rite of passage is the tooth filing ceremony, which is considered essential. It involves filing the top six front teeth to implicate the elimination of animalistic characteristics such as lust, greed, anger, drunkenness, confusion and jealousy. This ceremony must be performed to enable an orderly transition of the spirit from birth to death and later reincarnation.
The final rite of passage is marriage where a priest calls upon God to witness the union, which is symbolically quite similar to a Western church wedding. The couple is purified in the hope that they are blessed with children.