Otonan, a Balinese Birthday
Instead of candles or cakes, there are incense and offerings in the Balinese birthday celebration known as otonan. This ritual is characterized by traditional ceremonies with prayers focusing on the religious value.
What Balinese call a birthday party is different than the usual birthday we have. Where candles, cakes and abundant food are usually part of the common celebration, the Balinese birthday celebration known as otonan is characterized by traditional ceremonies with prayers focusing on the religious value. Instead of candles or cakes, there are incense and offerings. Otonan is interpreted as a sense of gratitude to Ida Sang Hyang Widhi for every blessing given, and to make amends for past lives so that they can get a more perfect life now.
The date itself to celebrate each year is different from what they have on their birth certificate, because they don’t use the Gregorian or Christian Calendar. Otonan is the day marking a person’s birth according to the Bali-Javanese calendar, pawukon. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, the pawukon year is not numbered. Each cycles after the other, continuously. Nor does it employ the heavenly bodies in its basic computation. Pawukon, from the word wuku, is based on calculating weekly cycles. Mind that the term “week” is written as weke in Middle English.
One Pawukon cycle has 30 wuku, and each wuku consists of seven days. To simplify the calculation, most people say than an otonan falls every six months or every 210 days. The truth is that it falls “once a year” and one year consists of “30 months” – each month consisting of just seven days. These make up the 210 days. Thus, a Balinese celebrates his oton almost twice in each Gregorian year.
The baby’s first otonan is carried out 210 days after the baby is born, and is the most important ritual during the course of his life. A newly born baby has not considered as yet a man or woman, but rather the manifestation of God descending to the earth. At this ceremony the baby is allowed to touch the ground for the first time, meaning that from this time onward it is considered a human being and may join in human interaction on the earth. Symbolically, the baby is released from a cock’s cage.
Another important part in the first otonan ceremony is hair cutting. Balinese believe that, in general, when a baby is delivered the baby’s head first touches “the dirty part of a women’s body”, her genitalia. Thus a ritual hair cutting is needed at this otonan ceremony to purify the baby so that the individual will live successfully and avoid various dangers in life’s journey.
Like the Gregorian system where each zodiac has its own strength and weakness, the pawukon also forecasts that a baby born in certain wuku will have good and bad omens. For example, a baby born on wuku Shinta is believed to expect a short life. One born on wuku Gumbreg must be careful in water since they are forecast to be drowned. One born on wuku Julungwangi must be careful of wild animal bites. This bad luck usually is reversed through a mebayuh ritual ceremony.
Balinese also believe that every baby has four spiritual siblings named kanda pat, or the four brothers, that accompany the baby. These brothers are also born together with the baby, physically appearing in the form of the fetal membrane, amniotic fluid, the umbilical cord and placenta. These ‘brothers’ are believed to assist in the delivery process and will always accompany and protect him during life. The otonan ceremony serves these four brothers so that they will be willing to continuously protect their sibling.
The second otonan and those following are celebrated in a simple and modest way. Only if the otonan coincides with full moon, then the celebration becomes more festive with the serving of suckling pig. The otonan is usually held at home, led by Pendeta, Pemangku (Hindu priest) or elders in the family.
Text by Devishanty, Reprinted from B&B July 2003
Babies born in each following “wuku month” carry natural bad luck. This bad luck usually is reversed through the mebayuh ritual ceremony to reverse it from wuku, usually during traditional otonan birthday ceremony.
Shinta : few have a long life
Landep : stricken by falling objects
Ukir : caught in a rampage
Kulantir : gossip, falling objects
Tolu : sharp tools, weapons, animal horns
Gumbreg : water, drowning
Wariga : difficult affair, serious problems
Warigadean : black magic, grievance, sad love life
Julungwangi : wild animal bites
Sungsang : stricken by hard materials, iron, etc.
Dungulan : fighting
Kuningan : lost job or position, abandoned by followers
Langkir : betrayal, caught in difficult affairs
Medangsia : hot matter, object of anger
Pujut : black magic, betrayal
Pahang : rampage, depression
Krulut : sadness, depression
Merakih : betrayal, deception, drowning
Tambir : black magic, traps
Medangkungan : disaster, betrayal
Matal : conflict, rivalry
Uye : accident, poison, black magic, secrets
Menail : weapon, unseen danger
Prangbakat : calamity from one’s own action, fall from a climb
Bala : accident, poison, secrets
Ugu : conflict from jealousy, poisonous bites
Wayang : easily cheated or betrayed, animal horns
Kelawu : poisonous bites, toxin
Dukut : easily hurt in a war, left by loved ones
Watugunung : caught in a rampage
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