The importance of textiles in Balinese ceremonies is most evident in the life cycle ceremonies called Munusa Yadnyathat are celebrated throughout a person’s lifetime. These include the Megedong gedongan (during the seventh month of pregnancy), Dapetan (upon returning to the family house after birth), Kepus Pungsed (a ceremony at the village crossroad at the time the umbilical cord falls off), Mecolong(12 days after birth when the mother and baby can first enter the kitchen), Akambuan (42 days after birth there is another ceremony at the crossroads), Telung Bulanan (3 months), A Oton (6 months), Telung Oton (18 months),Menek Kelih (puberty rite), Mesanggih (toothfiling as a coming of age ceremony), and Pernikahan (marriage).
In January 2013, Komang celebrated her second son’s 18-month ceremony called Telung Oton or Mepetik. During this time, the child was dressed in a sekordi, the checquered textile that usually has a red or yellow background. The name sekordi is a contraction of werdiand suka, which means gathering happiness, and is used as a blessing on the baby. To a non-Balinese, the ceremony was very complex. Komang explained many of the different aspects of this ceremony as we sat talking over a sweet coffee.
The central pavilion, called the Bale Dangin, is where all the offerings are set out and where the ceremony was performed. In the northeast corner of the Bale Dangin was the basket used as a crib for the baby and above it a small shrine called a kumara.
Immediately after birth, a shrine to the guardian of children,Dewa Kumara, is erected for the protection of the child. Offerings are made here daily. After the child is 5 years old, the shrine is no longer used as the child is able to get the strength and support from the shrines in the family temple (sanggah).
As an infant the baby sleeps in a basket (ayunan) where he/she can be rocked to sleep. At the telung oton the basket is brought out and offerings are placed in it including, in this case, a geringsing-double-ikat textile. Thegeringsing is important as it is considered to keep sickness away from the baby. Gering means sickness and singmeans against, hence protection against any illness or ill intention.
When the child is born, he or she is said to have four spiritual siblings that manifest physically as the placenta, the water, the vernix caseosa and the blood. During childbirth, the water, blood and vernix are lost. Only the remaining intact sibling – the placenta – is brought to the family home and buried in front of the Bale Daja where the young parents live. During the Telung Oton, this spirit sibling is also recognized and honored with new clothes and offerings. In the old days these western pants would have been textiles.
I was struck by one offering called Pergembal which contains symbols of all creation found on the earth (bumi orIbu Pertewi); all living animals and plants are said to be represented in this offering, which represents gratitude for nature’s bounty and a willingness to live in harmony with nature.
Many offerings and rituals in Bali are devoted to the ancestors. When we speak to weavers in communities outside of Bali, the intentions of their ceremonies and beliefs are very similar. In preparation for the ceremony, Komang went to a medium who said her son had promised, in a previous incarnation, to offer a suckling pig to the ancestors at his mepetik ceremony. The pig is stuffed with rice and has banana leaves in its mouth, symbolizing how food inedible to humans is made consumable by the animals we eat, and giving thanks to those animals.
As we talked about these kinds of offerings Komang told us of a ceremony called Kepus Pungsed that is performed by the mother after the umbilical cord falls off the child. The mother goes to the crossroads with simple offerings. The crossroads are considered a place where humans pass in the day pass and spirits pass at night. A stone is taken by the mother from the crossroads and tied into the clothing of the child at the waist. After 42 days it is removed and returned to the crossroads with offerings. The stone and offerings appear to represens an exchange made by the mother and the earth spirits, ensuring that the child will be undisturbed.