Balinese Cosmology

The Balinese Hinduism is a combination of local beliefs (cult of the ancestors, spiritual power of nature…) and strong influence from India (Hinduism but also Tantrism). The Balinese consider their island to be populated by Gods, humans, and demons and they feel responsible for the maintenance of this cosmologic order. In that particular way Balinese Hinduism is not a universal religion and can not be.

The main aspect of Balinese cosmology is polarity: the “high world” (the sky and mountains) where do live ancestors and Gods (Gunung Agung, the highest mountain in Bali is considered to be palace of the Gods), and the “low world” (the sea and underneath) which are haunted by witches, demons and other dark forces. Between them the cultivated lands are the “human world” where the Balinese, by their cults, are due to balance the different forces (good from the “high world” and bad from the “low world”).

This cosmological order happens in any aspect of Balinese life, whether in the construction of houses, the urbanization process, in the clothing, and as well in the human body.

Upstream (Kaja) represents the divine, the positive forces while the downstream (Kelod) represents the impure, the negative forces. This order can be symbolized by the water: pure when it comes out as a spring from inside the mountains, getting dirty when it goes through the human lands and fertilize them, and finally ends up in the sea, the place of the dark forces and creatures (it is as well the place where human ashes dissolve after cremation before to be taken back symbolically and brought to Gunung Agung, the sacred mountain where the dead will become a “divine ancestor”).

The villages are construct according to this “Kaja-Kelod” line: the Pura Dalem (temple of the deaths) will always be located at the “kelod” end of the village (in direction to the sea). East (kangin) and west (Kauh) are another line. All together, Kaja, Kelod, Kangin, Kauh, are the instruments to be used by humans to respect the cosmological order and create balance in the invisible world. For instance, temples within the familial coumpoung are always located in the Kajah-Kauh corner, the purest place (the closest to the Gunung Agung mountain).

The human body has its own cosmology. The human is the “small world” (“buana alit”) while the environment (visible and invisible) is the “big world” (“buana agung”). The head is where lays the pure and the divine (never touch the head of a Balinese, even of a young child, before getting his permission!). From the neck to the hips is the middle world, considered as neutral (that’s why the Balinese women did until recently go bare breasted). From the hips to the feet is the inferior world, where lays the demons (when sitting, do not put your feet in direction of somebody, it will be considered offending).

Well, the Balinese cosmology might be a very strange cultural aspect to westerners. But with the enthusiasm given to feng-shui it seems that the invisible world makes its way into our occidental daily life. Is west slowly going east?

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