Teeth filing Ritual in Bali

This ritual is known as metatah or mepandes, which means “to chisel / carve”Metatah is one of the mandatory rituals in a person’s life, along with other traditions known as “Manusa Yadnya”, which include celebrations of prenatal rites, birth ceremonies, marriage, and cremation. All rituals are accompanying the Balinese through the different life cycles and phases. Every Balinese teenager has to do it, and it’s one of the very important rituals in the life of a Balinese.

The recommended time for this ceremony a person is between 6 to 18 years old, but the perfect time for girls is after their first menstruation. Some Balinese nowadays perform this ritual later in life, as long as they have not gotten married. If a person passes away before performing this ritual, the family will perform the ceremony on the corpse before cremation.

The ritual is performed to remove the sharp edges of the canine teeth which symbolize the evil traits of a person.

Why do the Balinese file their teeth?

In Bali, teeth filing is a cultural procedure have the symbolical purpose to reduce ‘evil’ traits such as greed, desire, and rage, which they refer to as “Sad Ripu”.

In that sense it is a way control the evil that is present in a person and create a balance between the evil and the goodness in a human being.

It is also considered as esthetically beautiful. Bali Hinduism honors Dewa Kama or also known as Sang Hyang Semara Ratih, the God of beauty. Dewa Kama is believed to bring success in life, cure sickness, chase away evil and bless their worshippers with the beauty of flowers. However, beyond the implications of Hinduism; the Balinese believe in the tradition of filing down canine teeth for aesthetic reasons.

The teeth filing ritual process

This ritual can not be done like picking a day to go to the dentist, but requires planning, preparations, and consulting a religious leader or priest. During this special day, the family will decorate the house with beautiful Balinese ornaments, like statues and pillars wrapped in white and golden cloth. Gamelan ensembles and wayang shows are hired sometimes to perform and entertain the guests and family members, along with serving delicious food. The invited guests and families that attend the ceremony will sometimes bring a gift or present in honor of the person.

The person whose teeth is getting filed will be wearing appropriate traditional clothing made of songket and gold brocades. The girls will wear a crown made of flowers and golden leaves, while the boys are armed with keris and udeng.

The ritual will begin with the priest, the pedanda, chanting mantras and using holy water. During the filing process, the person will lie down on a specially woven mat with the figure of Dewa Kama on it. The priest will put a small wedge of sugarcane in their mouth to keep their jaw open, and the priest will start to file down the two upper canine teeth. The ceremony ends with praying together in the family temple; but for the person celebrated, they have to remain isolated at home for another three days, and eat special foods with six different tastes: bitter, sweet, salty, spicy, sour, and a burned taste.

These days in our modern day and age, the filing procedure is more symbolic, however previously the teeth were indeed filed down till the canine features were gone.

Metatah – Balinese Tooth Filing Ceremony