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From Kaja to Kelod and Kangin to Kauh: The Balinese Spatial and Spiritual Orientation


Bali circa 1922; source: Wereldmuseum Amsterdam

In Bali, the mankind lies between good and evil in a state of coexistence. Mankind's job is not to destroy the evil but to balance between these two forces: utama (sacred) and nista (profane), between sekala (the seen) and niskala (the unseen), the positive force and the negative one. The Balinese believes in polarity, the existence of two opposing forces called rwa bhineda. Similar concept with yin and yang, neither can exist without the other.


The Balinese's life is devoted to balance this two forces and become the bridge between these two worlds with the mission to maintain the equilibrium so neither gets the upper hand to the other. This concept is known as tri hita karana where the mankind takes part in the middle (pawongan/madya) between the sacred / gods called parahyangan/utama and the profane called palemahan/nista. In Balinese's spatial more macro (macrocosmos) horizontal orientation, these three are called tri mandala from the mountain (ulu) as utama through the land as madya and to the sea (teben) as nista which are transformed into nine (sangga mandala) when applied to other horizontal cardinal points: kaja (Madya ning Utama), kaja - kangin (Utama ning Utama), kangin (Utama ning Madya), kelod - kangin (Utama ning Nista), kelod (Madya ning Nista), kelod - kauh (Nista ning Nista), kauh (Nista ning Madya), kaja - kauh (Nista ning Utama), and puseh (center - Madya ning Madya).




The compass that is used by Balinese is not oriented to the conventional compass but rather to the direction of the conception of cosmic structure. In more micro scale (microcosmos), one's physical body has the tri mandala, but as we talk about vertical orientation, these three are called tri angga: head - utama, body - madya, and feet - nista. In the macro to the human's body, there is the house compound that has two orientations: vertical and horizontal. In vertical orientation, the house itself also uses the conception of tri mandala. The roof acts as the head / utama, the walls & column are the body / madya, and the flooring & foundation are the feet / nista. When planning the horizontal orientation, Balinese uses the sangga mandala principle in which will determine the location of every area in the house compound.



Dewata Nawa Sanga - The Guardians of Bali

Each orientation has its own deity that acts as the guardian with Siwa in the center. These nine guardians, also known as Nava Dikpala, are believed to be the protectors of the island. Hence, there are nine (9) sacred temples around the island that are dedicated for each god.

  1. KAJA: Dewa Wisnu in Pura Ulundanu Batur

  2. KAJA - KANGIN: Dewa Sambhu in Pura Agung Besakih

  3. KANGIN: Dewa Iswara in Pura Lempuyang Luhur

  4. KELOD - KANGIN: Dewa Maheswara in Pura Goa Lawah

  5. KELOD: Dewa Brahma in Pura Andaksa

  6. KELOD - KAUH: Dewa Rudra in Pura Luhur Uluwatu

  7. KAUH: Dewa Mahadewa in Pura Batukaru

  8. KAJA - KAUH: Dewa Sangkara in Pura Puncak Mangu

  9. PUSEH (Center): Dewa Siwa in Pura Pusering Jagat or Pura Agung Besakih



Surya Majapahit, Ancient Dewata Nawa Sanga Mandala; circa: 1429–1478



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