Maeve Nelligan from BaliSpirit unfolds the mystery of the Balian – Balinese traditional healers
Bali is famous for its long history of traditional healing therapies, known as Bali Usada. Balinese traditional healing practices use natural herbs and spices, holistic therapies and ancient wisdom to cure physical and mental illness. Traditional healing modalities are even today prominent in Balinese culture, which include natural herbal remedies, massages and energy work.
The Balinese live equally in two worlds: the seen or conscious world called sekala and the unseen or psychic world, called niskala. In traditional Balinese healing, both of these elements are addressed in order to truly heal an ill patient. Traditional Balinese healers (known as Balians) play an important part in Balinese culture and help the patient restore balance in both worlds.
What is a Balian?
Balians (dukuns/shamans) are traditional healers who work with divine energy to treat physical and mental illnesses, remove spells and channel energy from ancestors. Some Balians have learned their art from studying the ancient scriptures called lontar and by apprenticing with a master. Others have received wahyu or divine inspiration and heal from the heart. Both have an esteemed place in Balinese society. Often the problem is found to lie with the ancestors, who can cause mischief or indeed real harm if not treated regularly to their favorite treats and offerings. Balians may go into a trance state to discover the root cause of a problem and either give the patient natural plant medicine, a massage or a list of offerings to be made.
In Bali, Balians are viewed with the same status and respect as a Western doctor and have different specialties to heal specific problems of the body. When visiting a Balian you need to show respect by dressing in a sarong and temple scarf, never touch their face or head or point the bottom of our feet at the Balian during the healing process.
Balians have had a long and intensive study of the lontars, thousands of ancient texts in Kawi script, contain information on ethics, anatomy, traditional herbs, meditation, yoga, tantra and other subjects. Balians are initiated from a high priest or priestess after years of studying, whereas some receive their healing gifts from a spirit or could have received divine knowledge during a severe illness.
What can I expect in a Balinese Traditional Healing session?
The spotlight was shone on Balians in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book ‘Eat Pray Love’ and the movie that followed, and since then, more and more travelers have added a visit to a Balian as a must-do when visiting Bali. It is important to understand the ancient and traditional nature of a Balian’s work. Ask yourself why you want to visit a Balian. Visiting a Balian in Bali is a serious matter, not a tourist sideshow and should be attended with respect if you genuinely need healing. The Balian is an instrument of divine healing, and the client enters a covenant to receive this healing with respect, reverence and humility.
Your experience will be very public, with all the other clients watching avidly. The healer may make magic, create fire, use mudras, draw patterns on your body, spit wads of chewed herbs on your skin, apply scented oils, poke you with sharp sticks and/or give you a deep tissue massage or manipulation that will be very painful indeed. You will probably howl; most people do. But you will probably feel better after and you may need several treatments to be fully healed.
During your Balinese Traditional Healing session, you may be given natural medicine, a collection of basic healing herbs made into remedies. Popular Balinese natural medicines are: Loloh – where leaves are crushed and mixed with water to drink and boreh – ground up herbs and roots which are smeared onto the skin.
A Balian is committed to service, and may never turn anyone away. Tourists who casually enter the Balian’s compound expecting to be seen often delay the healer from working with genuinely ill Balinese who have come to see him or her. Because of this, foreign visitors (including resident expats) should make an appointment with the Balians.
Please dress appropriately with arms and legs covered, and don’t point your feet at the healer (or any other Indonesian). Women should not be menstruating. Always take an offering with the fee tucked into it; never hand money directly to the Balian. The fee is usually Rp 100,000 for a consultation, and Rp 200,000 for treatment. If the treatment is extensive the fee may be higher; ask the Balian. Your hotel can make the appointment and supply the offering, and you might also want to take a translator as many Balians do not speak English.
Reputable traditional healers (Balians) in Bali:
Each of the traditional Balinese healers listed below has a proven track record on Bali and are committed to making a positive difference within their communities. You will have to ask local people in each village to specifically locate the Balian.
- Jero Dasaran. (aka Jero Roti) Banjar Tengah, Kerambitan, Tabanan (Channeler)
- I Gusti Ngurah Rai, Puri Aseman, Kerambitan, Tabanan (Reads people and gives advice)
- Pak Jero Purnayasa, Banjar Sayan Baleran, Mengwi, Badung (Unexplained illnesses)
- Pak Wayan Tirtha, Banjar Tegal, Tegalalang, Gianyar (Balian Usada)
- Jero Tapakan, Abangan, Tegalalang north of the cemetery, on the east side of the road (Channeler)
- Jero Mangku Dasaran, Banjar Teges, downtown Gianyar east of the jail (Channeler)
- Pak Bejug (Pak Dug ), Banjar Kedewatan, Ubud, Gianyar (Muscle and bone ailments)
- Jero Mangku Nyoman Sudri, Banjar Abian Tubuh, Kesiman, Denpasar (Channeler)
- Jero Mangku Bajra, Banjar Batan Poh, Sanur, Denpasar (Purification)
- Nyoman Sumiarta (Nyoman Ata) Jalan Kepundung Gang XI, Denpasar (Mystical illnesses, spells)
- Pak Ketut Suwitra of Munduk can be booked through Puri Lumbung Hotel in Munduk (Massages, gastrointestinal-related problems)