A sacred ceremony of tooth filing
For someone who is not a Bali resident, information about cutting teeth in Bali is shocking at worst, and at best bewildering. Yes, this ancient ritual has survived to this day and almost all Balinese still go through it.
There are several names for this ceremony. Some people call it a “matatah” from the Balinese “natas” - means “cut out”. In high Balinese language the word “mapandes” or “masanggih” is used for it, which comes from the word “sanggih” - in english “to file”. Accordingly, the person who performs this procedure is called “sangging”.
Filing teeth, along with prenatal and natal ceremonies, rituals for babies and weddings belong to the category of “manushya yajna” rituals that accompany a person's entire life. Among them there are five most important ones - Pancha Yajna - which every Balinese must undergo in order to ensure the correct passage of their spirit from birth to death and to further reincarnation.
One of the most auspicious dates for filing teeth is the moment of entering maturity, which in the case of girls marks the beginning of menstruation, and for boys - the moment when their voice changes. The teeth filing ceremony indicates that the participant is entering adulthood.
But if the family does not have enough money to arrange this ritual, then it is postponed. For example, it will be before the wedding or even later. It used to happen in the old days that a person died with unfiled teeth and then the matatah ceremony had to be performed on the deceased.
The religious council of Bali Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia Pusat decided that it is not necessary to hold a filing ceremony for the deceased.
Why is matatah so important and what is the point of this procedure?
The Balinese look at rough behavior and rough feelings with disgust. The word "kasar", which is mainly used to refer to "rough", can also be used for "bad" or "evil". The opposite is "alus" (halus), which is means “delicate, elegant, gentle”.
Animals in terms of Balinese culture are vulgar. Any display of animal behavior is considered unworthy and unacceptable. Babies are not allowed to crawl on all fours so that it does not resemble an animal. The Balinese language has special words to describe animal behaviour and actions. It would be rude to use the same words in relation to humans.
Balinese Hinduism is very symbolic. One of the characteristics that symbolizes animal rudeness - are sharp human canines, reminiscent of animal fangs. The Balinese believe that if a person wants to get rid of roughness, it would be perfectly natural to commit a symbolic act in the form of filing sharp canines.
According to tradition, a priest from the Brahman holds such a ceremony. Nowadays, people from lower castes entrust filing teeth to balians, i.e. shamans of lower castes. While the physical action of filing is important enough, more importance is given to the spiritual side of the ritual - that is, fighting with the six negative habits of "sad ripu" or "six enemies".
The Balinese believe that human behaviour is controlled by the three elements or “guna”. Guna Satwam generates calm, quiet behaviour, honesty, wisdom, righteousness and dignified behaviour. Guna Rajas engenders dynamic, lustful, violent behaviour. Guna Tamas - makes a person passive and lazy.
The "six enemies" are believed to be the births of the last two Gunas, which lead a person to sorrow and suffering in this world and beyond. Among them:
- kama - lust
- loba - greediness
- krodha - anger and irritability
- mada - drunkenness and madness
- moha - disorderliness and arrogance
- matsarya - jealousy and envy
If we reduce the impact of these six things, a person will be able to live a healthy and balanced life and be a good member of the family and community, and his or her behaviour will give a good reincarnation in the next life.
Bali's Bamboo Scripture, the lontar of Puja Kalapati, states: "A man who has not passed a Mepandes cannot meet the spirits of his ancestors who have become saints. In the lontar of Atma Prasangsa it is written: "Spirits of those who did not pass the ceremony of filing teeth will be punished by the god Yamadhipati". In the scripture of Smaradahana, it is said that Bharata Ghana, son of the god Sang Hyang Shiva, could not defeat his enemy, the giant Nilearudrak, until one of his canines broke.
It is considered right to spend a lot of money for the ceremony, decorate the house, invite guests, musicians and make expensive offerings.
Matatah influenced the Balinese aesthetic perception. Most Balinese even today do not consider ordinary canines beautiful. The god of beauty Dewa Karma or Sang Hyang Semara Ratih is considered the patron of this ritual. He combines both male and female origin.
It is also believed that Dewa Karma brings success in all endeavors, cures diseases, drives away evil spirits and brings beauty to flowers.
The place for matatah is called “bale gading”, i.e. the ivory pavilion. Gading means ivory, but it also means “elephant tusk”.
The Balinese believe that in addition to helping to defeat the "six enemies", this ceremony makes a person more attractive to the opposite sex.
When setting the date for matatah, the Balinese ask about an auspicious day from the priest. When a date is determined, a list of invitees is made up. Since it is a truly significant event, the number of guests can reach up to one hundred or even more people.
Of course, depending on the wealth of the family, the number of guests and the scale of the event may increase or decrease.
Quite often, the following rituals are included in the mapandes.
Magumi Padangan - is held in the kitchen; it indicates that a Balinese man will have to cope with household chores.
Ngekeb - is a promise from a person to control their impulses, especially negative ones.
Mabhyakala - The ceremony is held in the courtyard of the house and aims to purify man from the negative elements of Bhuta Kala, which may originate within man as well as from outside.
Also, ceremonies associated with tooth filing include such important steps as:
- A request to the god Hyang Guru for permission to perform a tooth filing ceremony.
- Worship of parents, embodying the gods Sang Hyang Uma and Shiva as supreme mother and father.
- Appealing to holy water (Memohon Tirtha) as a symbol of well-being, happiness and immortality.
- Ngrajah gigi is the symbolic application of divine signs to the teeth, which will guide a person through life and ensure his/her proper behavior.
- The actual filing of teeth.
On the day of the ceremony, the ball pavilion in the family yard is decorated with a festive gilded cloth. Guests come with gifts and they are given treats while a festive meal being prepared at the same time.
The main participants of the ceremony are dressed in the most refined traditional clothes. Young men wear a gold brocade sarong and a ceremonial kris dagger. Girls wear traditional Balinese kamben wrapped around their bodies in several layers. Their heads are decorated with gilded crowns with flowers. Both boys and girls can wear makeup.
The priest blesses the participants with holy water. It is believed that during the ceremony the teeth are "killed" for a while, which is a moment of weakness for participants who need special protection during the ritual. Therefore, friends and relatives stand by and support the participants, driving away evil spirits.
The priest opens the yellow coconut, pours water out of it and depicts the magic symbol of an ongkar on it. Then participants rinse their mouths and make an offering to the gods Canang Oydan. Participants hold hands in a prayer position at the chest to receive blessing. Young men are putting off the kris. Participants take off their sandals, climb up on the bed and take the mantra and the blessing of holy water. After that they are covered with a ceremonial cloth.
Sangin puts a small cylinder of sugar cane in the mouth of the participant to keep his jaws open.
Sangin can make jokes with his "patient" to distract him from the painful sensations.
photo: Antaranews Bali/Komang Suparta
Only the upper teeth - two canines and four incisors between them - are being filed. In total six - just one for each of the six negative qualities of the person.
Such filing can be purely symbolic and does not bring too much pain. Some people use this ritual for really serious tooth line alignment. The priest then periodically gives the participant a mirror so that he can control the result.
At the end of the filing operation the participants spit in the yellow coconut. If there's blood, the priest uses a betel leaf. After a revival mantra, participants rinse their mouths with a mixture of honey, sandalwood, lime, turmeric, areca nut, betel leaf, gambir and water. Some are swallowed and some spit in coconut.
Further, it is considered correct to change clothes to continue the ceremonies, because it is believed that the rite of symbolic "dying" was held in the previous clothes.
After the ceremony the participant is given a special food padamal, which combines six flavors - “pait” -bitter, “manis” - sweet, “pakeh” - salty, “lalah” - spicy, “masem” - sour, “nyangluh” - burnt. The participant shall refrain from hot meals for the next three days.
The yellow coconut from the ceremony should be buried near the home temple, which is considered a guarantee that its power will be near the participant during his life.