Male Headgear (Udeng)

The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the Denpasar International airport is the strange looking headgear that the Balinese men wore. I noticed that many men wore them, in different colors, but the pattern was more or less the same. Later I came to know that it is a part of their tradition. The headgear called an udeng or destar is symbolic of the Balinese Hindu Trinity.

udeng

It is a square piece of cloth (about a meter each side) folded and tied around the head. It may have an overall design but it is usually symmetrical. The wearer folds the cloth into a triangle rolls up the long end several times until the remaining triangle is small enough to cover the head, and ties it to the head.

Udeng is usually used during traditional ceremonies, traditional gathering, religious activities, religious holidays. It is also used by religious leaders on a day to day basis. The udeng is an expression of control of the mind. The human mind is expected to control the senses. We all know that our minds can be very busy even when we are resting.  Thoughts can be good or bad. Thus, controlling the mind is essential when going to a holy place.

There is a convention on the color and pattern of udeng which is used in a certain occasion. Udeng signifies that a man is taking part in a religious ceremony, whether in a temple, at the graveyard, or in a life-rites ceremony in the home.

  • White udeng is used for a temple ceremony or anniversary. Sometimes a dominant white with gold thread pattern, with very little decoration and motifs is also used.White is the symbol of pure thoughts and clean. When we are in the temple to pray to God, the mind must always be clean, with positive thought and no negative thoughts.
  • Black udeng is used only for funerals.
  • Red udeng and other colors are worn by Balinese gamelan musicians and dancers as well as by fashionably creative teenagers.
  • Batik udeng is worn for social activities such as town meetings or other traditional events

Various Believes

  • Some people believe that the udeng is a symbol of Garuda, king of the birds who guard our mind against all evil influences. They believe that’s the reason why udeng is used on the head—since the head is the seat of the mind.
  • Some believe that the tip of the triangle of udeng which forms a crest is a symbol of Hindu triad: Brahma, Wisnu, and Siwa.
    • The front wing-like vertical appendage symbolizes Shiva.
    • The circular base symbolizes Lord Vishnu.
    • The part wrapped around the head, which is like a half-moon or sun, symbolizes Brahma.
    • The whole thing may also be a symbolic yoni or female principle since Brahma is the creator of life.
  • Yet others say that udeng serve as a connector between God and human (like a radio antenna).

The entire udeng is tied to the head in such way that the point of the triangle faces toward the rear and the knot is centered on the forehead, then one side of the triangle is pulled behind the knot, making a crest look like the tuff of feather on the head of some birds.

The tied form of the udeng is as meaningful as its whole.

  • The right fold is higher than the left, symbolizing the supremacy of good behavior (dharma) over bad (adharma).
  • The knot must be in the middle of the forehead because it is believed that mind-focus comes from there.
  • The straight upward edge symbolizes a focus to worship.

Some men prefer to use different style of udeng to distinguish themselves from the crowd but some use a different kind of udeng as a mark of their social or religious role, for example: priest use a distinguished style of udeng as a sign of priesthood— they tie a knot on the back of the head and the triangle cover the head.

Next time you see someone wearing a udeng, remember that it is more than a headgear or a headband. It is a symbol of mind control.

 

Split Gates (Candi Bentar)

Split gateway (Candi bentar) is a classical Balinese gateway entrance found at the entrance of temples, houses, religious compounds, palaces, and/or cemeteries. It is also called Angkul-angkul. It is the entrance gates in the form of two similar and congruent structures with symmetrical reflection restricting the left and right side of the entrance. The candi bentar does not have a connecting roof at the top, so that both sides are apart perfectly and only connected at the bottom of the stairs.

split-gate

It is commonly called a split gate because of its shape resembles a temple building halved perfectly. It is perfectly split in two, creating a passage in the center for people to walk through.  These gates resemble a mountain that was split into two exactly even parts.

To fully grasp the symbolism of the candi bentar, read about the legend of Mt. Meru. Mt. Meru is a mythological mountain where the gods dwell. It appears not only in Hindu mythology but in Jain and Buddhist stories. The Balinese believe that the original Mt. Meru, located somewhere on the Indian subcontinent, was transported to Bali by Shiva, where it was then split into two. The two sides also represent the Balinese concept of duality and the importance of maintaining a balance between dark and light forces.

Black and White Checked Sarongs

There are a few things you will notice when you drive through Bali. One of them is that some of the Hindu statues are draped with black and white checked sarongs. Near temples, it is used as decoration, for umbrellas and as the sarong for statues. You will also notice it wrapped around tree trunks, pillars, and rocks.

saput poleng

In between, you will find that yellow and/or white sarongs are also used for draping the statues and/or trees. This sparked my curiosity and I asked the driver for an explanation. 

saput poleng

In his broken English, he explained to me that they (the Balinese Hindus) believe that many objects also have a soul—meaning that certain inanimate objects may be inhabited by some sort of spiritually. They also believe in dualism which I felt is comparable to yin and yang. The Balinese philosophy of balance is called Rwa Bhineda which means two opposites. They believe that everything that exists as a duality, that two opposing forces are required to maintain universal balance. The existence of this duality brings a cosmic balance to the universe. So, if there is good, evil must co-exist to bring balance.

In short, the Balinese believe in coexistence—good and bad, joy and sorrow, night and day, brightness and darkness, and so on. They see the world in terms of opposites, good and bad, day and night, mountain and sea, etc. This duality forms the whole—one cannot exist without the other. They believe there is good and bad in everyone (and in the world).

To symbolize Rwa bhineda in everyday life, the Balinese use the metaphor of black and white. Black symbolizes evil ((devil, disease, sadness, etc.) while white symbolizes good (gods, health, happiness, etc.). The black and white checks symbolize that the good and bad work as one in every individual—symbolizing dualism in life. The goal is to make efforts to balance the two opposing forces for the sake of happiness for all of us.

The black and white trademark textile of Bali is called saput poleng. Saput means blanket and poleng means in two tones. The cloth has an equal number of alternating black and white squares. Together they symbolize the coexistence of opposites and the ultimate goal of harmony. The pattern and color combination symbolizes the harmonious balance between two of the most omnipresent and eternal opposites. Some of the saput poleng cloths will also include some grey or red squares.

  • The grey squares symbolize the transition between black and white or the transition between good and evil.
  • The red squares symbolize energy and passion.

Between black and white is grey, between afternoon and night, is sunset. The yellow sarong has another meaning. It aims to protect the secrecy and purity of the temple, and it is also a protection from any bad intentions.

Harmony and balance are highly regarded in Balinese Hinduism, and good is just as naturally occurring as bad. When a tree or a statue is draped in a saput poleng, it means that a spirit, life force or deity resides within it. The cloth supposedly keeps the spirit and its energy inside and protects the people from being disturbed.

Since saput poleng is the symbol of balance, the locals treat the trees or statues draped with it with a lot of respect. When the locals pass such sites, they show respect, in some way or the other such as honking the horns, dim the lights of the vehicle, or say a quick prayer. Some people would rather go around it. They believe if they fail to do so, it could anger the spirit inside the object which can bring them bad luck.

Saput Poleng is rarely used on shrines, except shrines dedicated to Durga, the goddess of death. It is also rarely visible in the inner, holiest part of the temple.

Later I did some reading about Rwa bhineda. It is embedded deep into Balinese life that it is part of their way of life. From a young age, Balinese are taught not to wallow too long in despair, for there will be a joy to balance it. Similarly, they do not celebrate too excessively because they believe good things and happiness is temporary and will eventually be balanced by sadness. It also teaches tolerance by emphasizing on appreciating differences, rather than antagonizing them. They embrace differences because these create harmony and balance.  They will not use differences as an excuse to show hostility or egoism. Differences are beautiful and must be balanced in order to create harmony in life. It truly is a great philosophy!

Bali is a beautiful place. As visitor’s, I believe that we should not just focus just on the beauty of nature. We should also try to take some effort in understanding the culture followed by the people. This way we can return back home with more knowledge and understanding!