Exploring the Healing Power of Balinese Traditional Medicine
Discover the ancient wisdom and profound healing traditions of Balinese Traditional Medicine, an extraordinary system of natural remedies and practices that promote holistic well-being and unlock the secrets of optimal health.
Balinese traditional medicine incorporates various practices and natural remedies to promote healing and overall well-being.
Balinese Traditional Medicine for Common Ailments and Conditions
The Balinese traditional medicine actively addresses a variety of ailments and conditions, including digestive disorders, respiratory issues, skin conditions, musculoskeletal problems, and emotional imbalances. Here are some examples of ailments and conditions that Balinese traditional medicine is believed to address:
Balinese herbal remedies
Traditional herbal preparations actively treat an array of health issues, encompassing digestive problems, respiratory conditions, skin ailments, and overall well-being.
Balinese herbal remedies are an integral part of Balinese traditional medicine. They are used to address various health issues and promote overall well-being.
Here are some examples of Balinese herbal remedies:
Boreh is a traditional herbal paste made from a mixture of herbs, spices, and rice powder. It is commonly applied to the body as a warm compress to relieve muscle aches, improve circulation, and promote relaxation. The benefits of boreh anget as a traditional medicine can warm the body, improve blood circulation, reduce muscle pain, bone pain, fever, chills, and headaches.
The boreh massage is a technique created by rice farmers to relieve the pain associated with their very heavy work. Masseurs use a preparation made from ground spices to add benefits to their movements.
Jamu is a traditional herbal drink made from a combination of medicinal plants, roots, and spices. It is believed to have various health benefits, including boosting immunity, improving digestion, enhancing vitality, and balancing hormones.
Jamu is one of the traditional medicines originating from Indonesia that we often find them in traditional markets, made from herbal plants that are useful for health and body warmth. Eight types of herbal medicine are usually sold, namely beras kencur (kaempferia galanga), chili puyang (piper retrofractum vahl), kudu laos (made from Noni fruits or mengkudu), kunci suruh (curing Leukorrhea (fluor albus) is a thick, whitish, yellowish or greenish vaginal discharge), uyup-uyup/gepyokan (to increase the production of breast milk in mothers who are breastfeeding), kunyit turmeric (curcuma domestica), and sinom (made from sinom or young tamarind leaves.). Nanda Rahda Izaty, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Turmeric, known as kunyit in Bali, is widely used in Balinese herbal remedies. It is valued for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and is used to alleviate joint pain, promote digestion, and support overall wellness.
Turmeric, the main ingredient of curry or curry, is particularly present in the socio-cultural life of the Indian subcontinent, where it is considered an exceptional plant with regard to its many properties (spice, food preservative, coloring agent, cosmetic and medicinal). Widespread in Southeast Asia since Antiquity, turmeric is the subject of numerous scientific studies all over the world, in order to better understand its food and medical properties.
Ginger, or jahe in Bali, is another commonly used herb in Balinese traditional medicine. It is known for its warming properties and is used to relieve nausea, aid digestion, and improve circulation.
Lemongrass, or sereh in Bali, is a fragrant herb used in Balinese cuisine and traditional remedies. It is believed to have antimicrobial properties and is used to soothe digestive issues, relieve headaches, and reduce stress.
Apart from being a flavoring food, Cymbopogon citratus (sereh) is also useful for relieving sore throats, treating fever, inhibiting bacteria and fungi and treating digestive problems. Herusutimbul, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Pandan leaves, or daun pandan in Bali, are often used in herbal teas and desserts. They are known for their calming and cooling effects and are believed to aid digestion, improve sleep, and reduce inflammation.
Pandanus amaryllifolius. The leaves are oily and fragrant, the filtered juice of mixed leaves is used as a food coloring and flavoring for various sweet preparations (filtered juice of mixed leaves, cream desserts, cakes, pandan cake), savory dishes (rice). The leaves of P. amaryllifolius have a number of local medicinal uses. Leaf extracts are believed to reduce fever, relieve indigestion and flatulence, and act as a cardiotonic. Rudolphous, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Balinese herbal remedies are often prepared and administered by traditional healers or experienced practitioners who have knowledge of the different herbs, their properties, and their appropriate applications. It’s important to consult with trained / doctor / practitioners or healthcare professionals before using herbal remedies to ensure safety and proper usage, especially if you have specific health conditions or are taking medications.
Jamu is a traditional herbal drink made from various medicinal plants and spices. It is believed to promote overall health, boost immunity, and address specific health concerns such as inflammation, fatigue, and hormonal imbalance.
Jamu is said to have originated in the kingdom of Mataram about 1300 years ago. Although heavily influenced by Ayurveda from India, Indonesia is a vast archipelago with numerous native plants not found in India and plants similar to those of Australia beyond the Wallace Line. Jamu therefore differ greatly from region to region.
Balinese jamu is a traditional herbal drink that has been consumed in Bali for centuries. It is made from a combination of medicinal plants, roots, spices, and other natural ingredients. Jamu is highly regarded for its therapeutic properties and is believed to promote overall health and well-being.
Here are some key features of Balinese jamu:
- Herbal Blend: Balinese jamu “Loloh” typically consists of a blend of various herbs, roots, and spices. Common ingredients include turmeric, ginger, galangal, tamarind, lemongrass, and pandan leaves. These ingredients are carefully selected for their medicinal properties and are combined to create a harmonious and beneficial blend. While the specific recipe may vary, some common ingredients found in Loloh Bali include:
- Turmeric (Kunyit): Known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, turmeric is a key ingredient in Loloh Bali. It adds a vibrant yellow color to the drink and is believed to have numerous health benefits.
- Ginger (Jahe): Ginger is widely used in traditional medicine for its digestive and immune-boosting properties. It adds a warm and spicy flavor to Loloh Bali.
- Lemongrass (Sereh): Lemongrass is known for its refreshing and citrusy aroma. It is believed to aid digestion and promote relaxation.
- Pandan Leaves (Daun Pandan): Pandan leaves are often used in Indonesian cuisine for their aromatic and sweet fragrance. They add a subtle flavor and fragrance to Loloh Bali.
- Tamarind (Asam Jawa): Tamarind is a sour fruit that adds a tangy taste to Loloh Bali. It is known for its digestive properties and is believed to help balance acidity in the body.
- Honey or Palm Sugar: To sweeten the drink, Loloh Bali may include natural sweeteners like honey or palm sugar. These add a touch of sweetness while retaining the drink’s natural and herbal flavors.
- Health Benefits: Balinese jamu is known for its wide range of health benefits. Different recipes of jamu are believed to address specific health concerns such as boosting immunity, improving digestion, detoxifying the body, reducing inflammation, promoting healthy skin, and supporting overall vitality.
- Preparation and Consumption: Jamu is traditionally prepared by grinding or pounding the herbal ingredients into a paste or extracting their juices. It can be consumed as a herbal tea by diluting the paste or juice with water, or it can be mixed with honey, coconut water, or other natural sweeteners for added flavor.
- Cultural Significance: Jamu holds significant cultural value in Bali and is often consumed as a part of daily rituals and traditional healing practices. It is considered a natural and holistic approach to maintaining good health and preventing illness.
- Availability: Balinese jamu can be found in traditional markets, local health food stores, and some restaurants and cafes in Bali. It is also possible to find pre-packaged jamu products for convenient consumption.
Balinese jamu is not only enjoyed for its potential health benefits but also for its rich cultural heritage. It is a reflection of the traditional knowledge and wisdom passed down through generations. As with any herbal remedy, it’s advisable to consult with trained practitioners or healthcare professionals to ensure proper usage and to consider any individual health conditions or medications that may interact with the ingredients in jamu.
Massage and body therapies
Balinese traditional medicine incorporates various massage techniques and body therapies, including Balinese massage, renowned for its relaxation and therapeutic effects. These therapies actively promote circulation, alleviate muscle tension, and enhance overall well-being, providing a holistic approach to healing and rejuvenation.
Massage and body therapies are an integral part of traditional medicine in many cultures, including Bali. These therapies have been practiced for centuries and are believed to promote physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. In Bali, traditional massage and body therapies are commonly used to address various health concerns and provide relaxation.
Here are some examples of traditional Balinese massage and body therapies:
- Balinese Massage: Balinese massage is a popular traditional therapy that combines techniques from various cultural influences, including Indian, Chinese, and Indonesian practices. It involves a combination of deep tissue massage, stretching, and acupressure to relieve muscle tension, improve blood circulation, and promote overall relaxation.
- Urut: Urut is a traditional Balinese massage technique that focuses on specific areas of the body to stimulate the flow of energy and restore balance. It involves firm and rhythmic movements using the hands, thumbs, and sometimes elbows or feet. Urut is often used to address specific ailments, such as muscle pain, joint stiffness, and fatigue.
- Boreh: Boreh is a traditional herbal body treatment that uses a blend of natural ingredients, including herbs, spices, and rice powder. The mixture is applied to the body and gently massaged, providing warmth and promoting circulation. Boreh is commonly used to alleviate muscle and joint pain, improve digestion, and enhance the immune system.
- Lulur: Lulur is a traditional body scrub that involves exfoliating the skin using a paste made from natural ingredients like rice powder, turmeric, and herbs. The scrub helps to remove dead skin cells, rejuvenate the skin, and promote a healthy glow. Lulur is often followed by a relaxing massage or bath to complete the treatment.
- Balinese Aromatherapy: Balinese aromatherapy combines the benefits of massage with the use of essential oils derived from local plants and flowers. The oils are applied to the body during the massage, providing relaxation, stress relief, and aromatic benefits. Different oils are selected based on their therapeutic properties and the desired effect.
These traditional massage and body therapies are deeply rooted in Balinese culture and are often passed down through generations. They are believed to not only address physical ailments but also restore harmony and balance to the body, mind, and spirit. When seeking traditional massage and body therapies, it’s important to choose trained practitioners who have a deep understanding of the techniques and the cultural significance behind them.
Traditional rituals and ceremonies
Balinese traditional medicine often incorporates rituals and ceremonies that are believed to cleanse and purify the body and spirit, promoting overall well-being and healing.
Traditional rituals and ceremonies are an integral part of traditional medicine practices in many cultures, including Bali. These rituals and ceremonies are performed to support and enhance the healing process and to establish a connection with the spiritual realm.
Ramayana Kecak Dancers were blessed and purified by the Hindu Priest before performing at Uluwatu Temple’s Amphitheater, Bali. Johannnindito Adisuryo (Yohanes Nindito Adisuryo), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Here are some examples of traditional rituals and ceremonies associated with traditional medicine:
- Blessing Ceremonies: Before the initiation of any healing treatment or remedy, a blessing ceremony may be conducted. This ceremony involves prayers, offerings, and the invocation of spiritual forces to seek divine blessings and assistance in the healing process.
- Cleansing Rituals: Cleansing rituals are performed to purify the body, mind, and spirit of an individual. These rituals can involve the use of holy water, herbs, or sacred objects, and may be conducted by a traditional healer or a priest.
- Sacred Offerings: Offerings are an essential part of traditional medicine rituals. They are made to honor the spirits, deities, or ancestors and to seek their assistance in the healing process. Offerings can include flowers, fruits, food, incense, and other symbolic items.
- Divination Practices: Divination is often used in traditional medicine to gain insights into the root causes of illness or imbalances. This can involve various methods such as reading signs in natural elements, interpreting dreams, or using sacred objects for guidance.
- Chanting and Mantras: Chanting and recitation of sacred mantras are common in traditional medicine rituals. These vocalizations are believed to have spiritual power and can create a positive energy field that supports healing and well-being.
- Sacred Dances and Performances: In some cultures, traditional dances and performances are incorporated into healing rituals. These dances serve as a form of communication with the spiritual realm and are believed to invoke healing energies and promote balance.
- Fire Ceremonies: Fire ceremonies are performed to purify and transform negative energies. They involve the lighting of a sacred fire, prayers, and offerings to release and transmute any spiritual or energetic imbalances.
Traditional rituals and ceremonies play a significant role in traditional medicine practices as they address not only the physical aspect of healing but also the spiritual and energetic dimensions. They create a sacred space and facilitate a connection between the individual, the healer, and the spiritual realm, promoting holistic well-being and restoration.
Bratan, Bali, Indonesia: Balinese family after the Hindu worship service (“puja”) in Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. The wet rice grains on the foreheads are called “Bija”, meaning “God has blessed us”. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons
Balinese traditional medicine also encompasses energy healing practices, such as Balinese traditional healing known as “Usada Bali.” It involves the manipulation of energy flow to restore balance and promote healing on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels.
Bali Energy Healing is a traditional healing practice that focuses on restoring balance and harmony to the body, mind, and spirit. It is based on the belief that energy flows through the body and any imbalances or blockages in this energy can lead to physical, emotional, or spiritual ailments.
Here are some examples of Bali Energy Healing practices:
- Balinese Traditional Healing: Balinese traditional healers, known as “Balian,” use various techniques to diagnose and treat energy imbalances. These techniques may include intuitive readings, herbal remedies, body manipulations, and energy clearing rituals. The healer works to restore the flow of energy and promote healing on all levels.
- Usada Bali: Usada Bali is a system of traditional healing in Bali that combines ancient wisdom and natural remedies. It utilizes herbs, plants, prayers, mantras, and energy work to address physical, emotional, and spiritual imbalances. People often seek Usada Bali for ailments such as chronic illnesses, emotional distress, and spiritual blockages.
- Reiki: Reiki is a popular energy healing technique that has gained popularity worldwide. It involves the practitioner channeling universal life force energy through their hands to the recipient, promoting relaxation, stress reduction, and overall well-being. Practitioners often use Reiki to balance the energy centers in the body, known as chakras.
- Sound Healing: Sound healing is a practice that utilizes the vibrations and frequencies of sound to restore balance and harmony. In Bali, sound healing sessions utilize traditional musical instruments such as the gamelan, gongs, and chanting. Practitioners believe that the resonant tones and rhythms of these instruments actively heal the body, mind, and spirit.
- Meditation and Mindfulness: Meditation and mindfulness practices are integral to Bali’s spiritual traditions. These practices help individuals connect with their inner selves, cultivate awareness, and tap into their own healing energy. They can be practiced individually or guided by experienced practitioners.
Bali Energy Healing practices aim to address imbalances at a holistic level, considering the interconnectedness of the body, mind, and spirit. They are often sought to promote overall well-being, relieve stress, release emotional traumas, and enhance spiritual growth. It’s important to consult with trained practitioners who have a deep understanding of these healing techniques and their cultural significance in Bali.
Balian Bali medicine
Westerners come to Bali in search of healing but also of reconciliation with their soul. Balian Bali Medicine refers to the traditional healing practices and beliefs of the Balinese people in Bali, Indonesia. Balian, also known as traditional healers or shamans, play a vital role in the Balinese community, providing spiritual guidance and healing to individuals who seek their assistance.
Here are some key aspects of Balian Bali Medicine:
- Spiritual and Energetic Healing: Balian Bali Medicine recognizes the connection between the physical body, mind, and spirit. Balian work with the belief that illness and imbalances can be caused by spiritual disharmony or disruptions in the flow of energy. They employ various methods to diagnose and treat these spiritual and energetic imbalances.
- Intuitive Diagnosis: Balian use their intuition and spiritual connection to diagnose the root causes of ailments. They may perform rituals, conduct divination practices, or communicate with the spirit world to gain insights into the individual’s condition.
- Herbal Remedies: Herbal remedies play a significant role in Balian Bali Medicine. Balian utilize a wide range of medicinal plants, roots, leaves, and other natural ingredients to create herbal concoctions or traditional medicines to address specific health issues. These remedies are believed to have healing properties and are often combined with prayers and rituals.
- Rituals and Offerings: Balian perform rituals and ceremonies to restore balance and harmony. These rituals may involve offerings, prayers, chanting, and other sacred practices. The purpose is to connect with the spiritual realm and seek divine assistance in the healing process.
- Energy Clearing and Balancing: Balian may use techniques such as energy clearing and balancing to remove blockages and restore the free flow of energy within the body. This can involve hands-on healing, energy manipulation, or the use of sacred objects.
Balian Bali Medicine is deeply rooted in the Balinese culture and belief system. It combines elements of spirituality, natural remedies, and ancient wisdom to promote healing and well-being. Balian are highly respected members of the community, and their services are sought for various ailments, both physical and spiritual. It’s important to note that while Balian Bali Medicine has been effective for many individuals, it should not replace professional medical advice, and seeking proper medical care is essential for serious or acute health conditions.
The 3 main types of Balians
The first type is the balian ketakson which acts as a channel between God and the patient. They invoke the spirit of a deceased person, and convey information to the family about the types of offerings needed for cremations and other ceremonies. They can also, via this means of communication with the divine, give life advice to populations or locate missing objects. Most Balian women are Ketakson Balians.
A second type is Balian Paica who is a medium. He receives physical objects that appear and disappear spontaneously and are used during healing sessions. “One day I saw a kriss* materialize during meditation, standing on its point and rotating”. The object may be ordinary and unattractive. These ritual objects appear and disappear on their own, and can manifest for up to five years.
Then, the person who, at the start, has the clear intention of becoming Balian, and for that follows the appropriate teaching, or the one who receives divine knowledge during a serious illness, is a Usada Balian. These people decide to pursue their knowledge by studying the lontars (sacred texts) with recognized healers. Lontars, thousands of ancient texts in Kawi (Old Javanese) script, contain information on ethics, anatomy, traditional herbs, meditation, yoga, tantra, and other topics. The Balian studies both white and black magick, which are very similar except in the intent of the practitioner.
Healers in Bali
Traditional healers play an important role in Balinese culture. They treat physical and mental illnesses, eliminate bad spells and transmit information from ancestors and spirits. The Balian is an instrument of divine healing, and the patient enters into a covenant with the Gods to receive this healing with respect, reverence and humility.
Medical diagnosis involves magic and an animistic worldview of Bali, where spirits permeate reality. Understanding healing practices in Bali requires an exploration of this worldview. The concept of healer (balian in Balinese, dukun in Indonesian) is broad, with practitioners ranging from traditional healers of the body or mental illnesses to bonesetters, massage therapists, mediums and clairvoyants. There are about four times as many Balians as doctors. They are at the forefront of community health, and Balinese often visit the Balian before going to see the doctor for conventional treatment. Balians have to specialize in a particular area, and often in a specific type of disease, such as skin diseases or muscle problems.
There are three categories of priests in Bali. Balians treat mental or physical problems, so they are healers, doctors, while priests take care of religious services and homage to the Gods. They are the guarantors of universal balance and the guardians of religion.
The pedanda or high priest
Often himself the son of a pedanda, is always a Brahman, that is to say a Balinese belonging to the upper caste. The spirit of caste is deeply rooted in the Balinese spirit. The names of members of the same caste always begin with the same particle and say a lot about their social and family position. Each caste has its own language and different dialects to address other castes.
There are four castes:
- Brahmans: religious men.
- Satria: warriors, holders of temporal power.
- Wesia: civil servants of the kingdom.
- Sudra: peasants and fishermen, who represent more than 90% of the population.
To become a priest, the pedanda must pass an initiation. From childhood, he undergoes preparations for his new functions through studies and the obligation of exemplary conduct, under the guidance of a master whose word holds authority and truth.
Main role of pedanda
The main role of the pedanda is to prepare holy water (tirta), which plays an essential role in Balinese religion, earning it the name “agama tirta,” the religion of holy water. This water is used for blessing temples, the faithful during prayer, and consecrated objects. Sometimes also, when buying a car or a scooter, families will bless their new acquisition with holy water.
To prepare this holy water, the pedanda washes his hands while pronouncing mantras (sacred phrases), then practices for a certain time breaths resulting from the practice of yoga. He consecrates the water for the first time by throwing flowers into it, inviting Shiva and his sanctifying force to enter it. A second blessing of water follows, during which the priest will be invested by Shiva and will recite prayers. The pedanda also officiates during major ceremonies, especially for princely families: weddings, cremations…
Pemangku (priest of the popular religion)
The second category is that of the pemangku, priest of the popular religion; he can belong to any caste. He is the guardian of the temple and the head of its rites, as well as of the ceremonial specific to this or that temple. It is not an initiate, unlike the pedanda. The gods can designate it, for example by the mouth of a person in a trance, or by disease with “non-medical” causes for which a shaman will say that his only remedy is to accept becoming pemangku.
The status of pemangku is not really sought after. He does not earn his living with this function, but must respect many constraints which radically change his daily life: food prohibitions, loss of the role of head of the family relegated to the eldest son, prohibition to take part in human occupations such as manual labor, card games, or discussions on impure subjects etc… Some pemangku are very erudite but much less than the pedanda, who are clearly superior to them. The functions of the pemangkus bring them much closer to the people because they officiate during the many family ceremonies or in the village temples.
Sengguhu is responsible for rituals related to the underworld
Finally, the sengguhu is responsible for rituals related to the underworld. He plays my role of exorcist. All the sacrifices to the lower world are his responsibility, and he maintains a special relationship with Vishnu. It is undoubtedly a remnant of the ancient Vishnuite religion which no longer exists in Bali today.
The underworld, known as “Patala” in Balinese mythology, is a realm inhabited by supernatural beings, spirits, and ancestral souls. It is believed to be a realm of both darkness and light, where balance and harmony are crucial.
Sengguhu is revered as a guide and mediator in conducting rituals that connect the living with the underworld. Through intricate ceremonies, offerings, and chants, Sengguhu facilitates communication and seeks blessings and protection from the spiritual entities residing in the underworld.
The rituals conducted by Sengguhu often involve offerings of food, flowers, and other sacred items. Chants and prayers are recited to invoke the presence of ancestral spirits and seek their guidance and blessings. These rituals are deeply rooted in Balinese cultural and religious beliefs, reflecting the island’s rich spiritual heritage.
The presence of Sengguhu in these rituals adds a layer of sacredness and reverence, as they possess the knowledge and understanding of the underworld and its mystical inhabitants. They act as a conduit between the physical and spiritual realms, facilitating a harmonious connection and ensuring the well-being and protection of the community.
How is recovery envisaged?
Environmental factors, as the Balinese perceive them, are an important part of healing. First, the Balinese being animists, the physical environment perceived by them is not just the physical world we know. It is filled with spirits that can help or harm, and are effective in both functions.
On the other hand, the outer, the macrocosm, is simply a mirror of the inner world, the microcosm. The connections between the human body and the world as a whole play out on a grand scale. Not only does internal balance reflect the balance of external forces and vice versa, but the physical body – with its tripartite composition of head, body and feet – is a microcosm of tripartite nature, which the found in the structure of temples and family dwellings.
An imbalance between the microcosm and the macrocosm
An imbalance between the microcosm and the macrocosm can link a physical or mental dysfunction to the tripartite representation found in each village (housing space, work space, temple space), the island of Bali (beaches, rice fields, volcano), and even the three parts of the nature of the cosmos with the upper world, the middle world, and the lower world.
It is difficult to answer the question: “Can the patient be asked to modify something in his personal behavior?”. It really depends on the case, let’s say that the balian can reproach the patient for not practicing the daily religious rituals enough. He will advise him to redouble his attention to the gods who conscientiously make offerings every day.
Second, the social environment is fundamental. The individual is defined in terms of their relationship to others, and therefore one cannot view illness or healing as a purely personal or individual phenomenon. Most often the whole family comes together with the patient and discusses with the balian the problems, the illness and what needs to be done for recovery.
Thus, we can put the disease back in its natural and social environment, understand its cause and why it can be cured. This is an important part of healing in Bali as in other traditional societies.
The origins of Balinese healing
There are four influences behind Balinese healing practices:
- The first is the Hindu tradition, a vision of the world that is more philosophical than practical.
- The second influence comes from Buddhism, as there were once Buddhist practices in Bali. Medically, Buddhism treats disease through surgical intrusion, and has tantric influences centered on magical elements and formulas.
- The third came from China and its traditional medicine of energies, although this influence is found more in the use of the sacred book, called lontar, than in the direct contact of the Balian with the patient.
- Finally, indigenous peoples have always practiced a magical and practical form of medicine from the animist tradition, which has been incorporated into lontar magick. With all these influences, it is obvious that there can be no unified medical system!