The Tooth Filing Ceremony or Potong Gigi as it is known in Bali is a beautiful ritual where the canine teeth are filed down in a symbolic gesture of removing “the evil from the fangs”.
I was extremely lucky to be extended a very rare invitation as a “Bule” (a white foreigner is referred to as Bule in Bali) to this sacred ritual of the “Potong Gigi” which literally means cutting the teeth. My Goddaughter Erica Denise Wardana, the protagonist in all the photos in this post, came of age and it was time for this very special ritual.
Why is the Ceremony of Tooth Filing in Hindu Bali of Such Significance?
Over hundreds if not thousands of generations, the ceremony of tooth filing has always been a very important ritual in Hindu Bali. It is considered the “final duty” as a parent of a young adult.
When an adolescent is on the brink of adulthood, the parents carry out the ritual of tooth filing ceremony. It is when the young adult is on the doorstep of adulthood, that the parents, so to speak take leave of their care of their child.
In the case of a female – this is usually when she gets her first menstrual period and in the case of a male – when he fully breaks his voice. These are the physical signs are a sign that a child is ready to assume the responsibilities of adulthood.
The filing down of the canine teeth in traditional Bali is the belief that the protruding sharp canines represent the nature attributed to animals in human nature. The part of human nature that is aggressive and evil. It means that the vices which are innate of human nature. The vices are considered to be harmful to the nature of these young adults and must, therefore, be controlled.
In the past, although now with globalization this is hardly the case any longer, the ritual is also an acknowledgement that young adult is now ready and old enough to get married.
My Personal Experience of the Ceremony of Potong Gigi
As I said earlier, it is really unusual for a non-Hindu to be invited to any of the very special ceremonies in Bali. But I was really a special case. You see Erica is the daughter of my dear friends Komang (the name meaning the third born) and to Putu Denny (meaning the firstborn).
I met Komang and Denny some 20 years ago when I was on my first buying trip to Bali. They became my aides but more importantly my friends and family in Bali. I knew them when they were kids themselves, and later witnessed their wedding, their first pregnancy with Erica, and later with their beautiful baby Carla Nina. The names of both Erica and Carla Nina were my choice. They are unusual names for Balinese girls who usually adopt the usual names by order of their birth.
My friend Komang is a special woman, and she really wanted special names for both her daughters and entrusted me to choose their names and become their “godmother”. Hence, I had earned my right to be present for this special ceremony where I watch my “goddaughter” officially become an adult.
The Actual Ritual of the Potong Gigi
In the past, the ritual of filing of the teeth happened at home and was administered either by the parents or the elders of the family, and it was a very individual ceremony for the young adult.
Today, these ceremonies which are quite complicated, are more a congregation of young adults of the same age. The ceremony is carried out in a Temple and the Pemanku meaning the Holy Priest or Priestess carries out the ritual and then individually files the teeth.
There was a lot of expectation prior to the ceremony. The day before the ritual, Erica was not allowed to leave the house. The belief is that the adult-child is very vulnerable and in a state of fragility at this time. As such they are prone to many distractions and temptations. The one day of “homestay” is a day of prayer and meditation, and fully understanding that the day after is standing on the doorstep to adulthood.
The following day rose early with a super beautifying process. This does not just involve the protagonist of the ceremony, but also the parents, grandparents and anyone else who is invited to the ceremony. Really the women are competing in their traditional wear, headdresses, and make-up would put any Miss World Competition to shame!
Seriously, the transformation that I see from a regular beautiful human being to the metamorphosis for the preparation of an important ceremony in Bali never fails to take my breath away.
We met at around 9.00 a.m at the appointed temple in Mengwi and I was given my allocated seat in the spectator or guest area.
The actual ritual started with prayers and passing of Holy Water and Holy Rice which is administered on each of the participants.
I was truly mesmerised from the prayers, the chants and holy incense.
I am born Catholic and to some extent, this ritual really reminds me of Our Ritual of Confirmation, which happens around the age of 13, and it means that you are now fully cognizant of your Faith and therefore embrace it willingly. It also means that God the Father has now confirmed you and has placed his Pledge in your heart.
If I may digress, I find that so many religions have exactly the same beliefs and same rituals but they simply manifest them in different manners. I see that almost all religions have the same Beads for Mantras. We as Catholics have the Rosary Beads, The Hindu have the Japamala beads, The Moslems have the Misbaha. The Chinese Buddhists have the PinYin.
All the prayers beads are intended to soothe from repetition and assist prayers.
Feedback from Erica about the Tooth Filing Ceremony
After prayer and ritual, it was time for Erica to go through the actual filing of her teeth. This girl is already an accomplished and sophisticated adult. I am always in awe of her. Her ability to embrace tradition and yet carry on with 20th-century life and its demands always leaves me fascinated.
When it was her turn to have her teeth filed down by The Holy Man – the Pemanku, she was surrounded by her family. The gesture of the family is to lend support at this very vulnerable time. They are there for help and assistance. They hold her hand and pray with her.
The actual ritual is no longer than ten minutes maximum and when it was over Erica told us later that she was terrified before it happened, but in the end, it was much easier than going to the dentist!
I have always been absolutely fascinated with the Spiritual Rituals of Bali – and having spent a number of years between living in Bali and in my other Island Malta – I have a lot of experience to recount including the Galungangan and Kuningan Celebrations and My Experience with Temple Hopping in Bali.
Just before the procession and the ceremony comes to a finish, there is a very touching moment. This is the point where the kids beg the parents for blessings. It is the moment where the parents release their hold of their children and channel them to the world of adulthood. On one hand, it is an acknowledgement that the parents no longer have a hold or active responsibility of their child and on another hand, the child assumes responsibility as a man or woman to respect and care for their parents for the rest of their lives.
Potong Gigi Ceremony – My Final Thoughts
Although I was merely a spectator, I felt so privileged to be part of this very special ceremony. It is certainly a far cry from our first drink or “coming out ball” which marks our entry to adulthood.
It was really an education to learn the principles of good human behaviour. The ritual of filing of the teeth in Hindu Bali is a ritual to remind the emerging adults to curb their hunger as adolescents to avoid lust, anger and greed. And moreover, it is a message to their Gods that they are now fangless. Therefore, their smooth teeth manifest the fact that they are not demons but angels who are on the right path to re-incarnation.
Traveling this world as a Female Flying Solo has given me some beautiful insights on behaviour. The bottom line I can draw from this is that I learn every day how similar we are as human beings, irrespective of race, culture or religion. We are all the Children of a Lesser God. Whichever God we respect.
How do you feel this ritual compares with Rituals in different Religions? We are all under the same sky – we just manifest it differently and I would love to embrace all the possible ceremonies of the world. This last bit reminds me of another great book I read during one of my travels and it is The Life of Pi. I recommend it as a great read!
A final shot of Ibu Komang mother of Mbak Erica all prepped up for the special day!