A group of families take a five-hour bus trip to a different part of the island of Bali at 4AM in the morning. Relatives come from places all over the island to see an important family ceremony. These relatives once lived in a small village in East Bali, but they scattered around the island to look for a better life. As time goes on, they reside in their new place and raise their children there. Once in a while, they visit their ancestral village for temple or family ceremonies. This time, they are reunited by a new born baby’s three-month Balinese Hindu ceremony known as Nelu Bulanin (literally means three months based on Balinese calendar). The baby’s three months in the Balinese calendar is 105 days in the Masehi calendar.
The purpose of this ceremony is to purify the baby. Babies are believed to be cuntaka (dirty) from birth, and not allowed to enter a temple. As a baby reaches three months, his/her senses are active, making it a good time to purify the souls that animate the bodies.
Although the aim is the same, rituals vary slightly from one village to another in Bali or even from one priest to another in the same village. In this article, I will describe the way the ceremony is conducted for my cousin in the eastern Balinese village of Liligundi.
The preparations for the ceremony can be intense depending on the scale of the ceremony. In Balinese Hinduism, there are three different scales of any ceremony: nista (small), madya (average), and utama (big). In my village, however, the ceremony is always festive regardless of the scale as this is also an opportunity to get together and celebrate kinship, family ties and life.
On the day of the ceremony, families and relatives gather in the home of the newborn to set up offerings (prepared in advance) and to cook Balinese food including satay, pepes and lawar.
While the women work on the offering, which includes fruit, meat, nuts and woven coconut leaves, the men prepare meals for everybody. Meal preparation starts at dawn so that breakfast is ready in the morning. Depending on the scale of the ceremony, it may involve at least two pigs being slaughtered, one for the offering and the other for consumption. In more urban areas in Bali, families tend to buy a roasted pig and hire catering.
Grilling satay for the ceremony.
The main ritual involves a series of offerings and prayers conducted by the priest, called the pemangku or panditha (for middle/high scales ceremony).
A priest leading the ceremony
There is traditional Balinese music, traditional verse singing (called wirama), and a lot of food!
Men playing Balinese traditional music (rindik) and singing a traditional Balinese verse (wirama)
During the ceremony, the baby is dressed in traditional Balinese attire, which is a colorful and intricately designed outfit. Family and friends also participate in the rituals, expressing their love and support for the newborn.
The temples and offerings are purified with holy water before the ceremony, as is the baby and his/her entire nuclear family. Next, the baby is touched to the ground – his feet meet the earth for the first time – to ask for blessing from Mother Earth and to signify his introduction to earth. The family prays to the Gods for the health and prosperity of the newborn. The parents offer a gold bracelet and a necklace to their baby, and the ceremony is concluded with a symbolic chicken pecking.
A priest pecking a chicken to the baby at the end of the ceremony.
Once the ceremony is over and blessings have been asked from the gods, the family gathers, glad for the excuse to interact with members who live far away. The newborn ceremony may be for the baby, but it also serves the important function of a social gathering that strengthens family bonds and fosters a sense of unity. The offerings and roasted pigs are served to the attendees, as well as packed away for them to take home.
The roasted pork that was part of the offerings are shared with family members.
Once the guests have gone home, the men drive away the exhaustion of the day by gathering and partaking in tuak, a Balinese alcoholic drink.
Alcoholic drinking (tuak) to celebrate after the ceremony.
The Three-Month Balinese Baby Ceremony is not only a religious event but a reflection of the rich cultural heritage of Bali. The offerings and rituals hold symbolic meaning, representing wishes for the baby’s health, happiness, and prosperity. The use of traditional attire and the involvement of the community emphasize the importance of collective support in raising the child within a cultural context.
Extended families driving back home