THE BALINESE SHAMAN AND HEALER ( BALIAN ) – part 3

The only instance within my experience that a balian was used to control future events was in connection with the planning of a large celebration to which I was invited. I expressed the hope to my hosts that it would not rain that night and spoil the decorations. I was told not to worry. The group had hired a balian terang to make sure that it would not rain. Terang means “clear” or “bright.” There was a money – back guarantee, I was told. The man did his job well. It was a lovely evening.

Diviners use a variety of techniques. Some go into trance and communicate with a god who might have been involved with the theft. For example, if a pratima is stolen from a temple, the god who usually inhabits the pratima may reveal where it has been taken. Trance is generally used in divining the ancestry of a newborn baby. The goal here is to invoke the spirit of the baby or one of the closely related ancestors, who will reveal the true nature of the child’s identity. Other balians use the local equivalent of crystal ball gazing, which involves putting some oil on the thumb of an assistant, often a young child, who then sees the act of theft or loss in the shiny surface of his thumbnail – and thus can identify the location of the lost object and perhaps the thief himself.

a balian usada is one whose healing powers are based upon the possession of books that deal with the subject of medicines and their uses. Authors have referred to these as “literate” balians. But the title only implies that the balian possesses the books, not that he read them, or even can read them.

The books in question are Lontars, their pages made from the long, narrow leaves of the lontar palm, a common tree in parts of Bali. The pages of the lontars, made from leaves that have been dried and squared off to a length of about 35 to 40 centimeters, and a width of 3 or 4 centimeters. The sheaf of leaves is threaded together, and the front and back covers are thin boards. The text is scratched into the leaves with a hard pen, and carbon black is rubbed into the etched surface to make the letters stand out. The language used is old Balinese or old Javanese (or Kawi) and the alphabet is normally Tulisan Bali, the traditional Balinese script. Only about four lines of text will fit on each of the thin leaves.

Lontars occupy a unique place in Balinese thinking. The sacred Hindu Balinese texts are all written in Lontars. By association, this makes the lontars themselves sacred, much as the bible and the Koran are considered sacred books. But the Balinese concept of the sanctity of the book does not refer merely to its contents. The physical book itself is sacred. Possessing a lontar devoted to some religious subject is like possessing a kris or a sacred and powerful mask.

Thus, although te balian usada may not read the lontar, the object itself is a receptacle of magical energy, and its energy can be conferred upon others by suitable prayers, offerings and by using holy water that has been in contact with the lontar.

Lontars palm leaves, although remarkably resistant to decay, cannot be expected to last more than 550 to 100 years at the most in Bali’s humid climate. And so any lontars in someone’s possession are necessarily relatively recent acquisitions. Decaying lontars are regularly copied anew onto fresh lontar palm leaves. But, as is often the case when manuscripts are copied, the copier often inserts his own interpretations and comments and ideas. The result is that, although a lontar may have originated as the creation of an individual, repeated copying has resulted in many versions. And parts of these version are often contradictory. Further, there are lontars with the same title that have been written by different people on different occasions, in different place. Nor is it unknown for a group simply to write its own lontar in order to sanctify or legitimate a practice. However, none of these factors seems to make any impression upon most Balinese. If someone questions a statement or a practice or procedure, it is quite sufficient to defend it by saying that it was taken from a lontar. That ends the argument. Never mind which lontar. If it is in a lontar, that is good enough.

 

source : Bali sekala & niskala

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