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.

Canang  Sari

During the drive from Denpasar to Ubud, Bali, we noticed small, square containers containing colorful flowers and pieces of snacks on the ground in front of houses, shops, and temples—even on top of statues—in fact almost everywhere. At first, I did not give it much attention, but after about half an hour into driving through Bali, my curiosity got over me I asked the driver about it. He was only too ready to talk about his land, religion, and traditions.

Canang-Sari

He told us that it is a daily Balinese offering called canang sari (pronounced chan-ang sah-ree)—canang means a small palm-leaf basket and sari means essence. Apparently, canang sari  is the simplest form of daily household offering to God. It is a part of Balinese Hinduism ritual for daily prayers, usually in the early morning or dusk. The canang sari is the symbol of thankfulness to the Hindu god.

The Canang sari is small square container woven from coconut/palm leaf, and it is filled with flowers, a bit of rice (or snacks made of rice), traditional herbs, and small portions of food the people have prepared in their house. The core material is made from betel nut, lime (not the fruit), tobacco, gambier, and betel nuts. These materials represent three Hindu deities: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Together they form the Tri Murti which is the combination of their powers, respectively, as creator, preserver, and distroyer.

Every piece in an arrangement in the container is selected for what it symbolizes, or which specific Hindu god it represents. The base tray is made of palm leaf and is a symbol for the earth and the moon. Decorations of coconut leaves symbolize the stars. With respect to the core materials:

  • Shiva is symbolized by white lime
  • Vishnu is symbolized by red betel nut
  • Brahma is symbolized by green gambier (it is an extract derived from the leaves of Uncaria gambir, a climbing shrub.)

The flowers are placed on top of these. The color and placement of the flowers also bear significance. They are also placed in specific directions.

  • White flowers pointing to the east is a symbol of God (Iswara)
  • Yellow flowers pointing to the West is a symbol of Mahadeva
  • Red flowers pointing to the south is a symbol of Brahma
  • Blue/green flowers that point to the north is a symbol of Vishnu

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Each little basket is folded by hand using strips of coconut palm leaves before being filled with betel nut leaves, sugar cane, sliced banana, rice, sweet-smelling pandan leaves, lime and adorned with indigenous flowers of many hues. Each of the little baskets is topped with different gifts—burning incense stick, cigarettes, sachets of coffee, rice crackers, biscuits, coins and sometimes even a piece of deep-fried tofu. It is completed by placing on top of the canang an amount of money (coin or paper), which is said to make up the essence (the sari) of the offering.

The philosophy behind the offering is self-sacrifice in that they take time and effort to prepare. Canang sari is not offered when there is a death in the community or family. In Balinese Hinduism, the cosmos is divided into three layers:

  • Swarga (the heaven) where the gods live
  • Buwah, the world of man
  • Bbhur(hell), where demons reside.

The canang sari serve as a way to demonstrate gratitude and honour to those gods in suarga, who are the creators of life, while appeasing or satisfying the needs of the demons so that they remain where they are, undrawn to the world of man. It is offered every day thanking the God for maintaining balance and peace on earth, amidst the forces of good and evil, among gods and demons, between heaven and hell.

canang-sari-ceremony

After making the canang sari, and placing it on its designated spot, the incense is lit, holy water is sprinkled on the canang sari with a flower, and a prayer is recited. The thought is, the smoke from the incense stick carries the prayer from the canang sari to the gods. Even this ritual is full of symbols: water, wind, fire, and earth. While praying and putting the offerings around the house or business, the women will wear a sarong and if this is not possible they wear a sash out of respect for the gods.  The final step involves the ceremonial sprinkling of holy water and application of a few grains of rice onto the forehead, the location of the third eye chakra.

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Usually, the offerings are set on a pillar-like structure in the front yard of big houses and restaurants. They are considered to be a small version of a temple. I do not know what it is called and so I shall refer to it as a pillar. It is usually as high as a human figure. You can understand the social standing of the family. The richer families have a grand pillar with a lot of work/sculpture on it. Others are simple as shown in the figure above. I also came across stands made of metal frame on which the canang sari was kept!

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In most cases, the body part of the pillar is covered with a black-and-white check or yellow sarong. Sometimes it has a small umbrella made of fabrics (usually black and white or yellow) in order to protect the offerings from the rain.

If you see canang sari on the ground when you are walking around the street, do not step over or step on it because it is considered as not respecting the culture and the religion. Especially the ones with incense that is still burning.

Each canang sari lasts only one day. The ritual is repeated every morning.

Bali, the Island of The Gods

If Kerala is the God’s own country, Bali is the Island of the Gods. I wondered why it was so called. I got the answer to the question the day I landed in Bali! The predominantly Hindu culture in Bali is certainly a change from the Muslim dominated country of Indonesia.

Religion is the soul of Indonesia, and in Bali, life rotates around temples and religious ceremonies. It is said that in Bali, there are more temples than there are houses. Temples are literally everywhere. There are elaborate temples like Taman Ayun or Uluwatu. But there are also a number of smaller ones in the villages. Every lane seems to have one. There are temples even in the family compound. The rich have their own temples.

So, Bali is aptly called the Island of the Gods.

map

We visited Ubud, Jimbaran, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Penida (Kuta, Semiyank, and Sanur were on-the-way passings)

We reached the Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport, also known as Denpasar International at 8.30 am (local time). During our drive from Denpasar to Ubud, Bali, I noticed many things. I was curious about many things I saw and asked the driver a lot of questions. Listing some of the questions I had:

I have also tried to provide the answers that I received from the driver/locals, topped with what I saw and experienced during my stay at Bali.

I shall slowly create articles for the other 5 pointers and link them… so stay tuned and visit back in a few days.