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A Tooth-Filing Ceremony

Jl. Raya Singapadu, Singapadu Kaler, Sukawati, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia
+62 361 9423454
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A Tooth-Filing Ceremony Sukawati  Indonesia
Ceremonial Teeth Filing Sukawati  Indonesia
A Tooth-Filing Ceremony Sukawati  Indonesia
Ceremonial Teeth Filing Sukawati  Indonesia

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Sun - Sat 8am - 10pm

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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Festival Correspondent
almost 8 years ago

Ceremonial Teeth Filing

So, off to one of my favorite places in the world: Bali. On this, my 11th visit, my intent is clear: manifest festivals and experience some magic. We arrive at the beautiful Ibah Villas on the edge of Ubud and Campuhan. Our host is my friend Asri, Ibah’s owner and the Princess of Ubud. She tells us about a tooth filing ceremony that will take place in an hour. Sounds grizzly, but I’m game as I know the Balinese are a peaceful people and always throw a good party. One suggestion: when checking into your hotel on the first day, ask the staff about any upcoming temple or special ceremonies going on.

It turns out that tooth filing is the primary rite of passage for Balinese teenagers (much more interesting I think than “my first beer” or “my debutante ball”). This traditional ritual has two purposes: 1) to curb the appetite of adolescents for lust, greed, and anger; and 2) to send a message to the gods that these fangless kids with smooth teeth are not demons – thus, providing a path for reincarnation.

Thousands of family members and villagers filled the outdoor pavilion as 140 teens got their sacred dental work. Small world: I ran into a someone I know who had flown from San Francisco with her friend (pictured here with her daughter and Balinese ex-husband). The teenager wanted to come back and experience her ancestral rite of passage. The Balinese are known for their warmth and their beautiful smiles; as one teenager reminded me, “Your smile is a gift to the world.”