the sacred balinese initiation: pawintenan

Category : Adventure | Posted On Nov 24, 2021

The harsh and rapid clang of the bell accompanies and nearly drowns out the gentle murmuring of a man's voice, lotus-sitting, far above and alone in the little thatched pavilion, his head crowned by an unusual tiara. This is a high priest performing meweda, an appeal to the gods of the cardinal points, the gods of the mountains, all the gods, and God himself, to descend down and reside in the souls and thoughts of the seven lotus-seated men in front of him. They are awaiting the symbolic writing of the sacred letters on the tip of their tongue, which is one of the Pawintenan ceremony's stages.

The pawintenan ritual, performed by a pedanda high-priest, is a ceremonial blessing that elevates a person to a higher degree of existence. It is intended to purify the soul of any remnants of the sadripu, a person's six inner enemies: wrath, sexual desire, jealously, arrogance, envy, and greed. After being washed, the individual is permitted to fulfill sacred responsibilities.

With Bali being as complicated as it is, there are several types of pawintenan: pawintenan di bunga, or flower cleansing; pawintenan Saraswati, named after the goddess of knowledge; pawintenan tirta, holy water cleansing; pawintenan Kusuma, holy flower Kusuman cleansing; and pawintenan Kesuma Gandawati, the Gandawati holy flower cleansing. Each serves a particular ceremonial role and achieves a different level of purity.

The most basic is the pawintenan bunga, which occurs at the conclusion of the first calendar cycle of the newly born human, when the newborn gets his/her first Balinese otonan "birthday"/anniversary, which occurs 210 days after birth. It definitively "instals" the soul as an incarnated person's soul. The pawintenan bunga should be performed at least three times throughout one's life in order to regain purity.

The pawintenan Saraswati is a ceremonial blessing that allows a person to practise the arts while under the protection of the goddess Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, whose days close the 210-day calendar and separate the week consecrated to the incestuous son from the week consecrated to the incestuous mother.

The pawintenan tirta is a group's purifying benediction. For example, group of persons who are admitted as new members of a temple congregation.

Kusuma, the pawintenan, is an ordainment. It is supposed to be a wedding with the gods and is just for temple priests, balian healers/shamans, trance dancers, and others.

The pawintenan Kusuma Gandawati is nearly identical to the former, but it is directed to the ordination of the priest in charge of the temple of the dead (pura dalem), which deals with Batari Durga, the goddess of the dead.

Back to the seven men lotus-seated in front of the high priest, who will perform a Pawintenan Tirta to bless the formation of their kidung reading group, they have all addressed a "notification" pejati offering to Batara Guru, the Lord of the Ancestors, in their respective family temples, and now they are in the high-priest mansion, waiting for the latter to bestow his blessings. They wait calmly as the priest reads his mantra holy formulae, does his mudra holy gestures, jingles his holy bell, and finally drops a flower in the vessel directly in front of him. They're all waiting for something.

When the priest has finished his holy murmuring, it implies that the holy water has been transformed into Tirta, the holy water of the gods. This is now the time for prayer, which they all do together. First, they raise their folded hands, empty, in supplication to Embang or Acintya, the Supreme Lord of the Void. Then, holding a white flower at the point of their folded hands, they pray to Surya, the sun god, then to Durga, the ruler of the dead, then to the gods of the mountains and sea, until they repeat their last plea, their hands empty, to the Lord of the Void.

When the priest finishes his holy murmuring, the holy water has been transformed into Tirta, the holy water of the gods. They are now praying together. First, they offer a prayer to Embang or Acintya, the Supreme Lord of the Void, with their folded hands. Then, holding a white flower at the point of their folded hands, they pray to Surya, the sun god, then to Durga, the ruler of the dead, then to the gods of the mountains and sea, until they return to the Lord of the Void, their hands empty. He writes them on the forehead, then on the eyelids, and last on the tongue, face to face, one reverse of the other, as a representation of the father and mother. Finally, he writes the three sacred words of Ang, Ung, and Mang on the breast of each, symbolising the Trinity (Trimurti) of Brahma the creator, Wisnu the preserver, and Siwa the destroyer.

This holy syllable ceremony reminds participants that they are controlled as individuals by the same principles that govern the entire cosmos. The ceremony emphasises and enhances the linkages that exist between the "small world" (bhwana alit) of the individual and the "big world" (bhwana Agung) of the universe in Balinese. The microcosm and macrocosm, to be precise.

The writing of the holy syllables is not the end of the procedure. When this writing is completed, a crown of alang alang, the grass that never dies, will be placed on the heads of all participants, as it received the elixir of immortality at the beginning of time. After this, they are given a "protective item" to toss at the mouth of a fire as a reminder to the deity Brahman that they are not allowed to consume fish or meat for the following 42 days.

It must be said that the pawintenan may change from place to place.

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