home > bali culture > custom and religion > priest >


There are two kinds of priests on Bali, the pedanda, or high priest, and the pemangku, or temple priest. Only a Brahman can become a pedanda. Pemangku are recruited from the lower castes. There are about 20 times more pemangku than pedanda.

Priests don't hold political office and their economic power is limited, yet they're the most respected members of Balinese society, their place the highest a mortal can achieve. Balinese priests don't stand between a worshipper and god; he's there to make sure a person's prayers are properly directed so the desired results may be achieved.

Before a family moves into a new house or opens a 'losmen', a priest is asked to give god's blessing. Priests purify people after an accident or illness, avert curses, and bring people out of spells and trances.

Pedanda all claim lineage from Wawu Rauh himself, the highest priest of the Majapahit Empire. A pedanda is usually an old man, quiet, gentle, thin, clad in white with a white turban. He is cared for by his sons, his spiritual practice 'subsidized'.

It's bad manners to ask a proud pedanda how much a ceremony will cost; the answer will most likely be, 'no, I'm busy'. Pedanda outrank every other caste and are considered the most scholarly members of Balinese society.

Belonging more to families than to temples, consecrated pedanda are called into service by higher-caste households to bless such ceremonies as marriages, births, and cremations, as well as for such informal celebrations as the building of a new dike or bridge.

They exercise a virtual monopoly on liturgical knowledge, and with their intimate familiarity with the Balinese calendar are always consulted to determine a lucky date on which to begin any important undertaking. Pedanda enter into a trance state to become an empty medium through which the gods can talk to the people.

Every temple has its own pemangku, a lay priest who maintains the temple and officiates at everyday rituals. Pemangku remain in direct contact with the ancestors and can exorcise devils. Even the most indigent Balinese will make a great effort to hire the services of a pemangku, especially when it comes to making sure dead loved ones are properly ushered into the spiritual world.

The proud pedanda look down upon pemangku, disdainfully calling them 'sweepers' (jero sepuh) in reference to their lowly task of sweeping temple courtyards.

Pemangku are simple, good-natured souls who live near the temple, leading normal lives except when a temple celebration makes them the center of attention.

Pemangku are not paid any compulsory amount. Before a ceremony takes place, the family gives an offering of money to the pemangku's shrine of spiritual power (taksu). This offering (sesari) is generally Rp500-1000.

The pemangku doesn't make a living as a priest, but works as a farmer or merchant. Pemangku should not be confused neither with the balian, a witch doctor or healer, nor with bell ringers or scribe writers.

A third kind of technical specialist, the sungguhu, is a low-caste priest whose duties are limited to propitiation of the malignant 'buta' and 'kala'.

Copyright 2012, Bali-Island.com Indonesia