It is very disappointing the Government still not have banned this barbaric religion. It is a killer religion. It is…
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Each evening before he goes to bed, I Wayan Gama completes a simple ritual to protect his family as they sleep. The artist walks through the tidy grounds of his family’s compound in Keliki, a jungle-draped village in Bali, Indonesia, and locks the metal doors of the stone gateway that is the sole entrance and exit. He does this not to deter criminals, but to block something less visible but just as potentially harmful.
This Hindu-majority island in the world’s most populous Muslim nation is inhabited, it is said, by spirits that can infest a home and rain misfortune on its occupants. Unless, that is, a compound is built according to ancient design rules that intercept them, Gama explains.
Bali’s most famous devil is Rangda, queen of the witches, who is engaged in an eternal battle with Barong, a benevolent spirit honored by the island’s famous and colorful barong dances. While some Balinese people fear specific demons or spirits, Gama is more concerned with the invisible, toxic influence they represent. Keeping this energy from flowing into a home involves everything from the size, position, layout, and orientation of buildings; to the presence of shrines, offerings, and artwork; to the distinctive walls and gates that surround them.
Gama’s house is built according to a few Balinese design principles, one of which is known as asta kosala kosali, he says. It is related to feng shui, the Chinese system that organizes interior and exterior spaces to create harmony between humans and their surroundings. Gama says every home in Keliki is built in adherence to asta kosala kosali, which is oriented to the cardinal directions and dictates how each structure within a home compound should be used.
Many Balinese people believe humans and their environment are part of one cosmic consciousness, he says, so a precise balance in the design of a home maintains a balance between positive and negative forces. “If we don’t disturb the others,” he says, “then the others won’t disturb us.”
Another design feature that keeps negative energy at bay are the multiple barriers around traditional Balinese homes to block the spirits believed to inhabit the island’s jungles, rivers, graveyards, and crossroads, according to I Kadek Merta Wijaya, a lecturer in the architecture department at Bali’s Warmadewa University. Collectively, these design elements are called pelinggih penunggun coral. Though this is an ancient concept, it has remained popular, with many new homes in Bali incorporating it, Wijaya says.
The first protective layer built into these homes attempts to confuse demons, the next to pacify them, and the last to obstruct them, he says. A demon approaching a Balinese home will first encounter stone or brick perimeter walls, close to six feet tall, called tembok penyengker. They create the impression of a fortress. A tenacious spirit might locate the sole, narrow entrance to these compounds, called an angkul-angkul, but in front of this gate they’ll find a gift.
Woven coconut-leaf bowls, called canang sari, are filled with fresh flower petals, and are often placed next to a small Hindu shrine. Should the demon be unpacified by the offering and persist to breach the compound, they’ll need to ascend a small staircase and pass through the angkul-angkul. If this gate is open, Wijaya says, the spirit will collide with a final obstacle, an aling-aling, a half-wall placed several feet back from the gateway.
Bali’s demons can only move in straight lines, so the aling-aling is impenetrable. Embellished by intricately carved Hindu deities and motifs, these barriers can also be found in Balinese guesthouses, hotels, restaurants, and temples. Most tourists to Bali have to walk around them at some point, usually without recognizing their cosmic role.
Courtesy: Atlas Obscura.
This article was first published in Atlas Obscura on Oct 6, 2022.