Priests in Bali

In Bali, priests provide religious guidance for the community. From blessing farm equipment to holding massive ceremonies, priests are highly revered in Balinese society and are respected as role models.

The Balinese remain true to their old traditions and culture despite the increasing wave of modernization. At the forefront of preserving these traditions are the priests. Clad in white robes, priests tend the temples, the religious focal point of Balinese life, and guide ordinary people and even rulers. As such, priests enjoy special status in the Balinese community. But, with great status comes great responsibility. A priest is expected to maintain an aura of goodness and become a role model for the community. Thus, a priest should never engage in gambling, drinking alcohol, or other activities that the community deems irresponsible. Additionally, priests are expected to know how to conduct religious ceremonies and their philosophical and religious meanings.

There are two types of priests in Bali: pemangku and pedanda.

The pemangku is the most common priest available in villages. The pemangkucan handles most religious duties, such as conducting blessings and leading small religious ceremonies. A pemangku is often seen in full-white clothing from head to toe at a temple. Sometimes they wear jewellery, like rings or necklaces. They usually do manual labour, like giving out holy water and arranging offerings. They are also responsible for maintaining the temple.

The second type is the pedanda or the high priest. Contrary to the pemangku, the duty of the pedanda is limited to only leading religious ceremonies. However, only a pedanda can conduct more prominent and more complex ceremonies. For example, a ceremony at Besakih, the mother temple of Bali, can only be led by a pedanda of the proper status. In terms of appearance, the pedanda dresses up more fashionably than the pemangku. A typical pedanda wears a specially decorated hat, similar to a pope’s hat, and specially decorated robes, usually with intricate gold decorations. Aside from leading ceremonies, the pedanda also plays a vital role in providing religious knowledge to the community.

Birth is what distinguishes the levels of priesthood. A pemangku is considered to be born once; from their mother, making them only human. As such, the pemangku still needs to attain the required spiritual affinity to lead ceremonies. A pedanda, on the other hand, is considered to have been born twice, first from their mother and second from a Nabe or holy guru. As such, they are considered above humans in terms of spirituality, allowing them to lead larger ceremonies and provide guidance to the people.

Are you thinking of becoming a priest? Well, there’s no Priest Academy you can join. To become a priest, one must have high devotion towards God and community. Aside from devotion, one must also exhibit good behaviour and extreme mental control. It is believed that people trying to become priests only for the sake of attaining status will get horrible karma. To become a full-fledged priest, a special ceremony needs to be done, sort of like a final test.