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.

 

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