Mapping Bali: Kaja-Kelod Revisted

Culture | Written By, Bruce Granquist | April 7th, 2017

All water in Bali flows from the mountain to the sea, kaja (North) to kelod (South). The image of the water’s journey can be used to provide some insight to the meanings of these two Balinese terms introduced at the beginning of this chapter. For a Balinese person to move toward the mountain is to move towards clarity and holiness. The water held in these mountain lakes takes on these same characteristics, the lakes are considered to me mandalas and the water held in them takes on the very qualities of kaja, it is cool, quiet and clear.

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As the water flows downward on its path to the ocean, moving towards kelod, it becomes increasingly fragmented and dispersed. It eventually reaches the ocean in a polluted state of dissipation and unpredictability. These qualities express the essence of kelod.

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This image of kaja-kelod is neat and tidy, it is aesthetically appealing, and it might provide an insight into how the Balinese see their orientation to the world. But this common interpretation was turned upside down many years ago by one of Bali’s most famous priests. His name was Pedanda Nirartha, a priest from Java who travelled to Bali and became one of Bali’s most influential spiritual leaders. He looked out to the ocean and saw it in a different way.

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Among his many contributions to Bali’s cultural life were the series of temples he built, which now are some of the most revered on the island. One of these is Uluwatu Temple. This temple sits at about the most kelod position that can be achieved in Bali, at the most south western tip of the mainland. Uluwatu is located on a limestone promontory 100 meters above the Indian Ocean, crashing and hissing below. The most immediate impression of this place is vast space, the sheer weight of all the air and expanse of water outwards to the horizon. It is said that Pedanda Nirartha achieved his final and complete enlightenment while praying at this temple, staring at the face of kelod.

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Following the common interpretation of kaja-kelod one would assume that he would rather seek his final release from the foothills of Mount Agung while looking towards the summit of this great mountain. It is presumptive to ponder the thoughts of this learned Priest. But perhaps in his final contemplation of the vast, dark ocean he embraced the qualities of kelod and discovered in these unknown places not fear and dissolution, but freedom and liberation.

About Author :

Bruce Granquist

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