When a Balinese youth reaches adolescence they have to undergo one of the most important rites of passage: the tooth filing ceremony. Every Balinese teenager is obligated to go through it, no exceptions. The aim of the ceremony is to symbolically “cut down” on the six negative traits that are inherent in humans: lust, greed, wrath, pride, jealousy, and intoxication.
Locally known as the mepandes or metatah ceremony the tooth filing ceremony is an essential ceremony in the life of a Balinese person. It comes from the belief that there is good and evil present in every person and the ceremony serves as a way to balance between good and evil. The Balinese believe that there are six negative traits that are present in every person. These are known as the Sad Ripu, which are similar to the Seven Deadly Sins in Christianity. Ripu here means “enemy”, as in “enemy of goodness”. They do this by symbolically filing the canines and the incisors, both on top and bottom. But before you get scared, they just lightly graze the teeth with a piece of bamboo, not literally cut them!
As a ceremony, the tooth filing falls under the broader philosophy of pawongan or harmonious human-human relationship. It is considered part of a parent’s responsibility to their child and as a responsibility it has to be carried out no matter what.
So, a Balinese person is considered eligible to have their teeth filed once they reach adolescence. However, since the ceremony requires a big budget families can postpone it until they have the means to carry it out. But the ceremony must be carried out before a Balinese person is wed because technically the tooth filing marks the transition from an adolescent into a full-fledged adult. Usually families in a banjar can pool money together and hold a mass ceremony to alleviate costs. Sometimes the mesangih is held as a part of a wedding instead of holding them separately. That way the family doesn’t have to pay additional costs. In very rare cases (especially in poor families) the mesangih can be postponed even after death. The dead body prior to being cremated will have its teeth filed by a priest.
The tooth filing ceremony starts with a series of purification ceremonies to “cleanse” the participants before having their teeth filed. This is called the mebyakala. After the purification, the participants pray to Surya (or the sun god) to be a witness of the ceremony. Once that’s over, the participants have their teeth filed by a priest. And after that, they purify themselves once again and pray to the gods as a form of gratitude. Spiritually, they now are fully formed adults!
So there you have it! The tooth filing is an important ceremony for the Balinese as it is considered a way to control the evil that is present in a person. However, you might not be able to see one unless you have a Balinese friend, since tooth filing ceremonies are usually only limited to the members of a family.