The tooth filing ceremony, a rite of passage

Locally known as the mepandes or metatah ceremony, the tooth filing ceremony is an essential ritual in the life of a Balinese person. It derives from the belief that good and evil exist in every person, and the ceremony helps balance the two. The ceremony aims to symbolically “cut down” on the Sad Ripu, similar to the Seven Deadly Sins in Christianity. Ripu means “enemy”, as in “enemy of goodness”, and the Balinese believe humans have six negative traits: lust, greed, wrath, pride, jealousy, and intoxication.

When a Balinese youth reaches adolescence, they must undergo one of the most important rites of passage: the tooth filing ceremony. During the ritual, the canines are symbolically filed, as well as the incisors, both on top and bottom. Every Balinese teenager is obligated to go through it, but before you get scared, they lightly graze the teeth with a piece of bamboo, not literally cut them!

As a ceremony, 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 has to be carried out no matter what. A Balinese person is eligible to have their teeth filed once they reach adolescence. However, since the ceremony requires a large budget, families can postpone it until they have the means to carry it out. But the tradition must be carried out before a Balinese person is married because 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 mepandes is held as a part of a wedding instead of done separately, so the family doesn’t have to pay additional costs. In rare cases (especially in low-income families), the mepandes can be postponed until death. Before being cremated, the deceased will have their 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, called the mebyakala. After the purification, the participants pray to Surya (the sun god) to be a witness of the ceremony. The participants then have their teeth filed by a priest. After the procedure, they purify themselves again and pray to the gods as a form of gratitude. Spiritually, they are now adults!

The tooth filing is a meaningful ceremony for the Balinese as it is considered a way to control the evil present in a person. However, you might only be able to see one if you have a Balinese friend since tooth filing ceremonies are usually only limited to the members of a family.