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  • Denisa Mayari

Canines and Culture: The Balinese Metatah

Amidst the lush landscapes of Bali, where the energy of yoga enthusiasts collides with the aroma of artisanal avo toast and the beats of themed nightclubs, a rich cultural tapestry unfolds. Bali, though transformed into a global haven for wellness and nightlife, ardently clings to its roots, ensuring that the younger generation embraces the essence of age-old customs. One such captivating facet is the rite of passage known as Metatah, a ceremonial tooth filing ritual that effortlessly weaves ancient traditions into the vibrant fabric of contemporary Balinese life.

What is Metatah?

Metatah, derived from the Balinese word 'tatah,' meaning to carve or cut, is a pivotal ritual for the Balinese Hindu community. The ceremony involves carefully filing down the canines and four upper incisors of the participants, marking their symbolic transition from adolescence to adulthood. The filing of teeth, carefully undertaken by skilled practitioners, symbolizes a delicate carving of one's character and identity. 

The process involves filing the canines and upper incisors while ensuring meticulous care. Post-filing, participants are asked to taste six different flavors - bitter, sour, spicy, astringent, salty, and sweet - each laden with symbolic meaning.

This process is not merely a physical act but a profound spiritual and psychological journey deeply rooted in the Balinese Hindu philosophy of Sad Ripu.

Taming the Inner Demons Through Six Flavors

Sad Ripu, derived from the Sanskrit language, combines "Sad," meaning six, and "Ripu," signifying enemies. Essentially, Sad Ripu refers to the six internal adversaries present within each individual—forces that demand control. These inner enemies prove to be more perilous than external threats, highlighting the significance of recognizing and managing the turmoil within oneself.

In essence, Sad Ripu consists of Desire (Kama), Anger (Krodha), Greed (Lobha), Delusion (Moha), Intoxication (Mada), and Jealousy (Matsarya). Understanding and conquering these internal foes is deemed more meaningful than dealing with external adversaries. Indeed, the difficulty lies in mastering the enemies within. One effective method to subdue Sad Ripu is through the practice of Metatah.

The bitterness and sourness signify resilience in facing life's hardships. The spiciness serves as a symbol of managing anger, encouraging perpetual patience when confronted with emotionally charged situations. Astringency symbolizes adherence to societal norms and regulations, while saltiness denotes wisdom. The sweetness, lastly, marks a life filled with joy and happiness.

A Communal Commitment

Metatah is more than a solitary ritual; it is a communal endeavor that requires a considerable financial commitment. To make this cultural heritage more accessible, mass Metatah ceremonies are organized, allowing even those with limited means to partake. In some villages, tooth filing events are conducted free of charge, exemplifying the communal spirit embedded in Balinese culture.

Ancient Wisdom and Youthful Spirit

Integral to the Balinese Hindu way of life, Metatah stands as a parental obligation to be fulfilled before their children enter matrimony. The ceremony represents a vibrant fusion of ancient wisdom and contemporary spirit, reflecting Bali's commitment to preserving its rich cultural heritage. In the face of globalization, Metatah endures as a testimony to Bali's resilience and its unwavering connection to tradition. 

The island, amid the avocado toast vibes


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