There are many kinds of respected ritual practitioners in Bali:

Pemangkus: Local Priests

The common Sudra priests, pemangkus, have direct day-to-day charge of their temples, their affairs and their maintenance. They dress in white from head to toe, say prayers, invite the deities to attend ceremonies and sprinkle holy water over offerings and those who are praying. They are mainly men, often poor. There are, however, some women priests. They may marry. On death they are not buried but cremated as soon as convenient.

Pedandas: High Priests

The other kinds of priest are Brahman high priests, pedandas, who are well educated and versed in the holy books. They dress splendidly in black and white, wear mitres and carry out major ceremonies. They chant holy mantras, ring bells, waft incense and make elaborate symbolic hand gestures. They are more involved with families than with temples.

Any Brahman may be a priest, but only a few are. He must usually have a Brahman wife in order to be consecrated. After his death his wife may become a fully-fledged priest. Each operates independently, but as a class they are associated with the nobility and are regarded as brothers. Each royal family is linked to a priestly house.

Only a priest can directly address the gods in order to sanctify water. The pedandas enter into daily contact with Siwa, unifying their souls with his, and thereby make holy water. His soul is lifted up from his abdomen by means of meditation. It then leaves the body and Siwa enters through the fontanel, so that the priest and god become one. Holy water can also be gathered from certain holy springs and lakes, but only that made by pedandas has sufficient power for certain, especially royal, ceremonies.

Their income is restricted to the consecration and sale of holy water, tirta, but they are allowed to accept gifts. Manual labour is denied them. They are the only group in Bali subject to dietary restrictions: beef and chicken are forbidden, but duck is allowed. Food must be offered to them on new plates or fresh banana leaf cones. They meditate daily in their houses, called geria.

In earlier times they advised and prayed for royal families and strengthened the ruler spiritually. They settled disputes and were exempted from taxes.

Part of the ceremony of becoming a pedanda involves his symbolic death. He is wrapped in a shroud and then symbolically comes back to life. They are never buried and are not cremated in a cemetery, but in pure ground, which has never been used for such a purpose. The bier on which the body of a pedanda is carried to the cemetery is a lotus seat called a padmasana, the same name as the altar of Siwa, the sun god. A person who has been one with Siwa cannot be buried, as he would then be a servant of the deity of the temple of the dead.

Balians: Mediums

There is another category of person, the balian or medium, who is consulted in case of illness. Balians cure illnesses arising from supernatural causes. Western trained doctors cure illnesses arising from natural or obvious causes. They are normally low caste and do not earn much. It is estimated that there are about 2,500 different types of balian.

They base their knowledge on different sources, for example, palm leaf manuscripts, trance messages from the gods, ancestors or spirits, divine gifts like a piece of cloth, jewel or kris, Some specialize in divination, midwifery, abortions (now illegal), massage, preparing corpses for cremation, casting harmful spells or handing out charms. They are also consulted on problems, such as the reasons for fires, livestock dying, crop failures, family conflicts, premature deaths, suicides, or helping with finding out a person’s temple of origin.

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