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BALIAN, Bali's Traditional Healer

In the wilds of Denpasar and hidden away in small villages, Bali’s traditional healers dispense what is needed to keep the Balinese people healthy. Known as Balian, Bomoh, Dukun or Shaman, these mystical men and women are well connected to the spirit world and dispense advice as well as medical support.

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balian baliLike it or lump it, while many westerners like to question anything that is not accepted and approved by the established medical profession, these healers hold an important place in Balinese culture. Most Balinese will still consult a balian long before they will go to a doctor trained in western medicine. So what if faith is required! In these faithless times, a little faith is a good thing and sometimes, it can just make a difference to your life.

There are three major types of healers – the Balian Ushadas (from the Sanskrit word ”ausadhi” meaning 'herbs') use magnetic power and knowledge that is passed from generation to generation. They glean knowledge from ancient Balinese texts inscribed on lontar leaves and are able to analyse the harmony or disharmony in a person and prescribe treatments to help restore a patient’s balance or equilibrium. They usually possess an intricate knowledge of plants and their healing properties.


Others, called Balian Taksu generally receive their knowledge through dreams or sudden insights. They may be in their late twenties or early thirties, when they suddenly have a life changing experience and from then on will devote their lives to healing.

The Balian Dasaran can read a person’s soul and a Balian Tulang is a practiced bone setter.

Whichever type of Balian you choose to visit, guests are advised to wear Balinese dress (at least a sarong and sash) and take canang (offerings with some money tucked beneath the flowers.)

bali gentaOf all of these types of Balian, one Balian Dasaran is Ketut Liyer, who was made more famous after the book: ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ caused a minor sensation in the west. The book has caused a virtual procession of seekers to turn up at Ketut’s house wanting to experience a session with a Balinese healer in his traditional Balinese compound just outside Ubud. He is now over 80 and while no one knows his exact age he is still vigorous and capable of dispensing jokes along with his readings.

Ketut’s audience has grown considerably since the book brought him fame and probably fortune. He has been known to entertain groups of 30 American tourists at one time! I went to his house to make an appointment to see him. He held my hand for a long time while he offered his usual charming spiel. In his halting English, he explained how he was happy to meet me and would look forward to meeting me again and reading my hand at a later date. “Ok” I said, “It’s a date”.

I went back around five and he was sitiing waiting with his brother who, he explained, was still a rice farmer. “A very important job,” I told him with dignity... So after chatting for a little while he looked at my face, approving of my ears, eyes, lips and nose in turn. He warned me that if something was not good, he would have to tell me. I had no problem with that.

balian bali dukun

Then he looked at my palm - (left for women right for men). I learnt that I would soon get married again, I would become rich, that I would live to be one hundred years old and that I was very lucky etc. Was he really reading my palm or just spouting the niceties that he thought westerners wanted to hear? Interestingly though he did tell me a couple of things that went beyond the platitudes. He said that I was very safe on the roads – interesting, as I make a point of driving safely. He also commented on the three lines between my eyebrows, (which several Indian psychics commented on years earlier), and lastly, he commented on the “fragrant lotus” on my back, which could only be a good thing!

As charming as he was, I really wanted to hear more in depth information, and perhaps the endless stream of visitors has dulled his perceptions but I think that he still has it when he needs to use it. It is certainly a pleasant interlude if not a deep and meaningful experience.

I then went to visit Ubud’s most celebrated healer – a man whose skills are internationally recognised. Cokorda Rai is known for his perceptive and in depth readings. He has studied various disciplines including qi gong, reiki, acupuncture and various massage techniques, comparing them with Bali’s taditional healing techniques.

Coming from a high (royal) caste, he lives in the old palace of the lost kingdom of Negari, about twenty minutes ouside Ubud. This dignified man gives the impression that he knows a lot and many people have reported insightful encounters. He looked at my face and told me I was caught up in an instant gratification attitude which I had to agree with, as I bullied him to let me make his portrait right then and there. (Well the light was right and there is no time like the present). As he politely hustled me out afterwards, I wondered if I would be welcomed back to have a full reading. I certainly hope I will be.

One of my most memorable encounters with a Balian has been in a small village near Amed where Gendeng resides. This healer looks the part. Dreadlocks hang below his waist and he sits on a shaded bamboo platform outside his simple house as people drop by for various consultations. Spirits are said to reside in the hair so some types of Balian, like Gendeng, never cuts it. His sparkling eyes look ever youthful and a big bottle of arak filled with medicinal herbs takes pride of place next to him. Small naked babies crawl over him, looking perfectly content with their lot.

bali lontarI have seen him a couple of times and he has given me massages and helped to solve various problems. People come to him for guidance and those needing help must wait until the spirits come and give him the answers. It is all so exotic that as a visitor, one barely minds whether his work is authentic or not, but he has never disappointed. He is very much a working man rather than an attraction on the spiritual tourism circuit. It took several visits and a certain amount of entreaties and even bribery before he would let me make a portrait of him. He told me of one person whose camera stopped working after they took a photo of him, so it is his policy not to allow it. It was a great victory when I was finally allowed to photograph him, although he wouldn’t show his hair!

Pak Man (Bapak Nyoman) is a healer from Tampaksiring who has moved to Ubud to be able to help more people. Working as a holistic healer for over twenty years, he uses traditional Balinese massage, and works with energy to balance the body, mind and spirit. He is able to cure back, bone and muscle problems as well as more subtle conditions. General wellbeing is also improved after a visit or two. He works with a foreign English speaking helper, who is able to translate perfectly. When I went to see him we sat there chatting for some time while I waited for the session to begin. When I asked his helper, she said “oh he is already working – he just reads your body and aura while we sit” Later he gave me a healing massage and since then, I have never looked back.

There are many Balians living in different parts of Bali and to track them down takes some work. Most healers speak only rudimentrary English at best so if you would like to visit one, take a guide. Surprisingly, even in the very touristy Kuta, some Balians still operate. Ask around and take a sarong (and money).




Source: http://www.nowbali.co.id/secret-bali-july09/

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