Dharma of Women in Balinese Family Life

By Ketut Suardana

For The Bali Times

UBUD ~ The principles we need to adhere to in our daily lives are called Dharma. It is the realization of a moral code of life and contains within it the power to change the nature of things.

Animals are governed by basic instincts to feed, procreate and protect themselves and their young, whereas human beings have been given a choice and the right to choose for themselves, in the process creating a distinct life for themselves.

Woman’s duty as a sister, mother or wife is to educate the children and family as a Guru Rupaka (one of the Catur Gurus). The principle of Dharma is self-realization through spirituality, which remains the main aim of life – e.g. Artha/material world and Kama/desire, which are part of the Catur Purusha Artha through the stages of life (Catur Ashrama).

The Concept of Rwa Binedha

The Purusha and Pradana are the source of life between body and soul.

Rwa means two and Binedha different. This combination of Rwa Binedha has created black and white, day and night, big and small, right and wrong, Sekala and Nishkala (seen and unseen), male and female.

The Balinese family system is patriarchal according to the traditional law of Purusha. The man is head of the family, socially and religiously.

For example, when Balinese women get married, during the ceremony she accompanies her husband to her family compound to worship at her ancestors’ family temple. This ritual signifies that henceforth she will follow her husband’s clan.

Purusha denotes man and Pradana woman. There has been an ongoing controversy as to who is the stronger and more intelligent of the sexes. A Chinese proverb says it all, “A man thinks he knows, but a woman knows better.”

Vedas mention the fact that husband and wife should be together at all sacrifices, either religious or social.

In Bali, Besakih Temple, located in Karangasem, was built by our ancestors as a Purusha temple. This is where Balinese go to pray to reach a higher level of spirituality. And at Pura Batur in Batur, Kintamani, the Balinese consider this a Pradana temple where they pray for prosperity.

Dharma of the Women

A child is closer to its mother than father because the mother is an embodiment of affection through which the child fulfills all its needs.

The Bhakta/spiritual follower is closer to Mother Kali than Shiva as Shiva is absorbed in his meditation and the material world bears no attraction. Mother Kali is the supreme mother, the shakti (strength) of Shiva.

She cares for the world’s problems and guides the dedicated spiritual followers to God for their Moksah/last freedom. We depend upon Mother Kali from birth to death. She has promised all human beings that if they ever encounter problems and seek a solution, they should pray to her for guidance and help.

Woman in Indonesian is wanita, in Sanskrit vanita. The word van means beloved who could be a wife or girlfriend and ita, happiness. In Indonesian, woman is also perempuan. The root word of perempuan is empu.

In Hinduism, empu means a person who is magnificent, eminent and one who brings prosperity where ever they go. If empu is connected to perempuan or wanita, the person can become a nurturer of children and men as well.

To be born a human is a blessing as a human has the opportunity to do Cubha (good) or Acubha (bad). All bad deeds are countered by good deeds, which is the basis of Karma, according to the Sarasmuschaya Book.

Married Woman

A married woman needs the protection of her husband by way of trust and respect in order to build a sound base for a good family. This is the principle of Tatwamasi, a Balinese Hindu philosophy that talks of equality of sexes and the belief in Karma.

The Nitisastra Book says that birds have value because of their song and woman a good reputation as a result of her love and loyalty to her husband.

(Read the Ramayana wherein Sita prefers to leave the Ayodhya along with her husband Ram to live in exile in the jungles in spite of the fact that she could have remained in the palace.)

Woman as Housewife

The duty of the woman is to manage family life through a harmonious process of understanding the many aspects of worldly knowledge as well as spiritual beliefs. This makes it extremely difficult for her as this also involves taking care of the children, cleaning the home, making offerings and taking part in obligatory social and religious activities.

The Manusmerti Book says that the woman should be strong enough to control her thoughts, words and deeds so as not to ruin the honor of her husband as these efforts will enable her to be with her husband in heaven. The woman is considered a Budhiman, a person of high intelligence and sacrifice.

As a housewife, a woman has to adjust to her parents-in-law, in laws in general and her husband.

The Arthwa Veda says:

May not happen peril from friend, no peril from unfamiliar people.

No danger from familiar one, no danger from unfamiliar one.

In night no peril, no peril for us even in day.

May it happen that people from all walks of life become our friends.

Woman Continues Family Tree

According to the Balinese, woman is the seed that grows into a tree that bears fruit (children). It the tree does not bear fruit, how does one release one’s ancestors from hell who are hanging from bamboo trees as only the birth of descendants can release them?

Woman as Guide

Philosophy/Tattwa, Ethical/Susila and Ritual/Upacara are the basic knowledge that a woman gives to her children and various stages in their lives.

The Nisastra Book says:

When children are 5 years old, the family should treat them like kings

When they are 7 years old, the family must train them to be followers

When they are 16 years old, they must be treated like friends

And when they become adults, they need only to be guided by signs

Balinese women play a pivotal role in all rituals. The Manawadharmasastra Book says:

Women have to be respected and shown affection by their fathers, brothers, in-laws and husband.

Where women have been respected, it makes the deities happy. And when the women are not respected, all rituals performed in the home will be of no value.

According to the Bhagavid Gita (1-40), “The woman is the barometer of civilization and therefore man has an obligation to show her tolerance, loyalty, love and respect. If man does not do this, the ancient laws are destroyed and the family yields to lawlessness.”

Bhagavid Gita (1-41), “And when lawlessness prevails, O Varsneya (Krsna), the women of the family become corrupted and women are corrupted, confusion of the social structure arises.”

Semoga damai di bumi, damai di hati, damai di langit.

Peace on Earth, peace in your heart, peace in the sky.

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