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!

2 Responses

  1. […] Black and White Checked Sarongs […]

  2. Like!! Really appreciate you sharing this blog post.Really thank you! Keep writing.

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