The Manusa Yadnya is an integral part of Balinese culture. Throughout one's life, the rituals that comprise the Manusa Yadnya dictate the timing and ceremonies one's most important rites of passage, from birth to adolescence to marriage to death.
The Manusa Yadnya is part of the belief within Balinese religion that one pays spiritual debts throughout one's life to the gods, to one's ancestors, and to the priestly class. By participating in these rites of passage, a Balinese maintains continuity with one's community, one's ancestors (both living and dead), and one's place within the universe.
Balinese and Birth
Participation in the Manusa Yadnya begins when one is in the womb. On the eighth month of pregnancy, a pregnant woman and her husband step into a river and place small fish on the baby bump, tail-end up, to "show" the baby where the exit is. That is the gedong-gedongan, the first in a long line of rites of passage prescribed by the Manusa Yadnya that last throughout one's life.
Immediately after the child is born, the child's father takes the placenta (afterbirth), washes it, and buries it at a temple. A sequence of ceremonials follows 12, 42, 105, and 210 days after the birth.
The last one in this sequence, the otonan, is equal in significance to Christian baptism or Jewish circumcision, and represents the child's joining the human race. Before otonan, the baby is considered not fully human. To symbolize the baby's crossing over to full humanity, the child's feet will be permitted to touch the ground for the first time, and it will be released from a fighting rooster's cage.
From this point onward, the child marks his or her birthday every 210 days (one year of the Pawukon calendar).
Reaching Adulthood, Bali Style
At late adolescence, Balinese boys and girls get the canine teeth filed down in a ritual known as mapandes: the act of filing symbolizes the disposal of the Sad Ripu, the "six evil animal passions" inherent in all of us: anger, pride, vanity, desire, jealousy and greed.
Strangely enough, the mapandes is an occasion for great pomp and pageantry; the initiate wears fine clothes, and a priest (pedanda) must be hired to oversee the ritual filing by the ritual dentist (sangging).
Any youth who has undergone a mapandes is considered an adult by their community, and can be trusted to make decisions for the common good.
Marriage - You, Me, and the Balinese Community
Weddings are very special times for Balinese communities - compared to Western weddings, Balinese nuptials (called nganten) involve the whole town and the spirits of the ancestors, too, for good measure.
After the parents of the bride give their permission (memadik), the village heads will be consulted for their opinions and approval (ngunduh); the bride will ask formal permission to wed from her family, the gods, and the spirits of her ancestors (mapamit); the bride gets a formal welcome into the bridegroom's community (masakapan); then the proper sacrifices need to be made at several temples (ngaba jaja). Some villages require an additional sacrifice at the village temple (klaci). Whew! It's no wonder that many Balinese simply resort to elopement (ngerorod).
Due to the complicated nature of the wedding ceremonies, it's not unusual for years to pass between memadik and ngaba jaja. A formal, elaborate wedding reception usually takes place between ngunduh and masakapan.
Death and the Balinese - Coming Full Circle
For the Balinese, death is not the end - their ancestors are simply reincarnated in the bodies of newborns, but only if the ancestor's soul has been properly released. Thus, the Balinese require the ngaben and mamukur ceremonies to complete the loop between death and rebirth.
The ngaben far surpasses all other Manusa Yadnya rites of passage in elaborateness and expense. After the body is prepared for burial, a number of sacrifices and prayers are made to the spirits in the upper world (swah). The body can then be buried for a period not exceeding three years, before it is exhumed for cremation.
The Balinese believe that the spirits of corpses not yet cremated after three years become demons and move to the lower world (bhur); only the mercies of the gods can then release the spirit from their torment below.
On to cremation, or the ngaben ceremony proper: the body is placed in a bull-shaped sarcophagus, then put atop a cremation tower. The tower is then spun around to confuse the spirit, making sure it cannot come back to haunt the living, and speeding its way to swah. After much pomp and ceremony (often including a masked dance and shadow plays or wayang), the torch is set to the tower, and the cremation is consummated.
Twelve days after ngaben, one last ceremony called mamukur is performed by the sea. Mamukur releases the spirit with finality, freeing it to reincarnate in the body of a newborn descendant.
As both ngaben and mamukur tend to be so involved and expensive, only rich families and nobility can afford a cremation soon after death. Commoners tend to have their dead cremated in a group ceremony.