Photo by Hannah Wijana
A Tooth-Filing Ceremony
For every Hindu in Bali, the tooth-filing ceremony (potong gigi in Indonesian or mesangih or mepandes in Balinese) is a rite of passage for teenagers, one of several coming-of-age ceremonies. The filing down of the canine teeth is symbolic of the change from animal to human and also represents the controlling of desire, greed, anger, strong emotion, confusion, and jealousy. The ceremony is family-centric: Participants are considered very vulnerable as their teeth are filed and must therefore be surrounded by family as protection. It's not just for teens; the Balinese often combine this ritual with marriage rites to save the cost of having two ceremonies. Some villages even hold mass tooth filings for anyone who has not had them done yet. The filing is done by a priest, who stops from time to time so the filed teeth can be checked in the mirror and made straighter or flatter. (When I married my Balinese husband, I had my teeth filed at our wedding ceremony. It was terrifying at first but much more pleasant than a trip to the dentist in the end.)
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