Tooth-Filing Ceremony

A woman's nice teeth
A woman showing her teeth
Tooth filing ceremony
Image by Abdes Prestaka /Flickr

The tooth-filing ceremony or Mesangih /Mepandes /Metatah in Balinese language is one of the most important religious ceremonies for the Balinese people that must be performed once in someone’s lifetime. This ceremony is an essential ceremony in the life of a Balinese, one of the most important rites of passage, marking the transition from an adolescent into adulthood.

The purpose of the ceremony is to symbolically remove impurities in the human body and soul. It comes from the belief that there is good and evil present in everybody and the ceremony serves as a way to balance them. There are six impurities or enemies which is called “Sad Ripu”, Sad means six, Ripu means enemy. Sad Ripu means six types of enemies that exist in humans;

  1. Kama = lust/Negative desire
  2. Lobha = greed
  3. Krodha = anger
  4. Mada = intoxication
  5. Moha = confusion /foolishness
  6. Matsarya = jealousy

They do this ceremony by symbolically filing the canines and the incisors, both on top and bottom. Before you get scared, a priest mostly just lightly graze the teeth with a piece of bamboo, not literally cut them.

This tooth filing ceremony falls under the broader philosophy of pawongan or harmonious human-human relationship. It is considered part of parent’s responsibility to their child and it has to be carried out.

A Balinese is considered eligible to have this tooth filing ceremony once they reach adolescence. However, since the ceremony requires lots of money families can postpone it until they have the means to do it. Sometimes families in a Banjar or village can pool money together and hold a mass ceremony to alleviate costs. Sometimes this ceremony is held as a part of a wedding instead of holding them separately so that the family can reduce cost. In very rare cases the ceremony can be postponed even after death. The dead body will have its teeth filed by a priest prior to being cremated.

The ceremony usually starts in the morning and accompanied by special traditional Balinese song and gambelan music (Gender) as well as attended by extended family. It begins with a Hindu priest uttering mantra for a series of purification ceremonies to “cleanse” the participants before having their teeth filed so that the ritual runs smoothly. This is called the mebyakala. Then the participants pray to God and ancestors. In the main ritual, the participants are asked to lie down, open their mouth and showing their teeth. The filing ceremony of the six teeth begins, as a symbol of filing six human natures which are considered as enemies inside every human. Then the participants must put their saliva into a small coconut. Three days after the ceremony the coconut that contain saliva must be throw into the sea or river. Spiritually, they now are fully formed adults.

They say that if one does not do the tooth filing ceremony, the soul will be punished by “Betara Yamadipati” or the God of death in hell (Candradimuka Crater).