Street traffic is heavier than usual and people are cleanly dressed in their sarongs all heading in the same direction. I ask the obvious question and learn there is a Hindu ceremony taking place at a nearby temple. I ask the next obvious question and they said it was worth a try. I follow the masses towards the temple and when I get there, I am greeted more than warmly as I am wrapped in a sarong, given something to wear on my head, and allowed to enter the temple. After asking another obvious question, I am excited to learn that I can photograph anything and everything.
I meander around the temple often with several eyes following me as I am one of two foreigners among hundreds of Balinese. When my eyes meet theirs, I smile, they smile back, I nod, and they nod. Although this seems like an almost impossible scenario in which to feel comfortable, that is exactly what I feel. I had the opportunity to observe this authentic ritual that included people of all ages, all levels of faith, and all classes. The smells were of incense, the atmosphere comfortable because of both the friendliness of the people and the slight drizzle that dropped the humidity, and the importance of the event obvious from the numbers of people who attended.
The pictures tell a story better than I can describe in words.
When I hear about a coming of age ritual, I naturally imagine a 13-year-old memorizing a Torah portion in preparation for his or her Bar or Bat Mitzvah. After all, that is when I made the transition from boyhood to manhood. I still wasn’t ready to drive, join the army, vote, drink or smoke, but in the Jewish tradition, I was ready to lead a Shabbat service. But in all seriousness, more important than becoming a certified “man” or being considered an adult, having my Bar Mitzvah connected me to my family and to my greater Jewish community. I am the eighth of ten first cousins, the seven older cousins had already had their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, and the two younger were still waiting their turn. We happen to be spaced about one-year apart spanning a decade; therefore, our yearly family reunion during the 1990’s revolved around this coming of age ceremony. And from that experience, I can appreciate a coming of age ritual regardless of what the ritual may specifically consist of.
My Bali expert, Fred Eiseman (writer of Bali: Sekala and Niskala), describes this coming of age ritual as a Tooth Filing. A time when an individual moves away from being “kasar” or coarse, and moves closer to being “alus” or refined. Eiseman puts it best in his book when he writes, “Balinese Hinduism can be very highly symbolic, and the one characteristic that epitomizes uncivilized, uncouth, coarse disposition is protruding canine teeth.” And like a Bar Mitzvah in the Jewish tradition, tooth filing has become an all-out event in the Bali Hindu tradition. Extended family, friends and community members celebrate this event together. The ceremony is called matatah. I will probably not opt to have a matata, but I did want to draw its possible similarities to events more familiar to me.