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Bali Blog - Article About Bali Holiday Island

Otonan as Bali Birthday Ritual

30 September 2016

Month by month has gone by and another year is coming. Time is so significant to humans when he performs action and writes down his story of life. When having arrived at certain point, he may need a short break for an introspection and commemoration of a beautiful moment in his lifetime. Yes, it’s commonly known as birthday, an annual celebration of the day on which one was born.

Etymologically, there may have been a common ‘misperception’ here where birthday in the Gregorian calendar should be celebrated on the same day as the word suggests and not the same date (should be birth date). On the contrary, otonan in the Balinese (Hindu) tradition is similar thing but of different context. This one is celebrated every 210 days on the same day based on Javano-Balinese wuku year. So, it can be said a real birthday. For example if one was born on Wednesday (day) Kliwon (five-day week) Dungulan (one of thirty wukus), he will celebrate his otonan on the same day as above.

Another difference between the two is the dating system, particularly on the starting point of new date. If the Gregorian starts at 00:01, the wuku at the sunrise. Sometimes, there is also misunderstanding among some Balinese to determine the day of a baby that was born at dawn. Let’s say on Wednesday Kliwon Dungulan at 04:00.

Based on Gregorian calendar, the day and date have belonged to the next (Thursday) and will become its ‘birth date’ later. However, its otonan should not follow this calendar system, but as the baby was born at 04:00, it should belong to Wednesday (Buda) based on the wuku system. This missdating may often inflict mistakes in determining his otonan day and its character does not accord with the Hindu astrology. This then needs something like ritual adjustment in Hindu belief to the appropriate day through an exorcism rite as mentioned in palm-leaf manuscript that commonly used as reference like Wrehaspati Kalpa.

Otonan (birthday) in Balinese tradition is actually a private and comprehensive ritual that only celebrated by the family internally. By certain kinds of oblation, the ritual is intended for one’s inner and outer self along with his kanda empat or four companions that are believed to accompany him since birth to the end of lifetime and even the period after death.

They are expressed in personification as amniotic fluid, vernix cascosa, the afterbirth and the blood. In Hindu belief, the names of the four companions will change in keeping with the increasing age of the human self and so are the places where they indwell. The four will loyally keep the self in this world. If ‘spiritual’ communication and empowerment run well among the five, one will never feel fearful wherever he goes and can do healing. As loyal and eternal companions, too, they will accompany the self around the clock. By doing this, they will know every single deed of the self during its interaction with corporeal body. After death, on facing the court of Yama, no facts can be hidden or no lies can be told, as the four companions will deliver the true witness.

In essence, otonan(birthday) is an immensely important celebration for the Hindus. It constitutes right moment to reorganize, encourage the relationship of human self with the four integrated companions as the otonan contains two dimensional aspects, both sekala (visible) and niskala (invisible). By this, it is also expected to promote harmony between the body with soul and finally reach eternal bliss here and after.

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