Atma Kesasar: Dangers of a Lost Soul

Culture | Written By, Edward Speirs |

Did you know, it’s possible for one to ‘lose their soul’ in Bali. From unfinished death rites to falling unconscious, souls can lose their connection and wander among us.

In Bali, Hinduism takes a different form from its Indian counterpart. One of the clearest distinctions is their interpretation of reincarnation. In India, depending on one’s karma, or deeds, your soul will reincarnate as another living being – it can be a bird, a dog, or another human. In Bali, owing to their animist heritage, reincarnation happens within a cycle of ancestors.

Souls, or ‘atma’, reside in Tanah Ane Wayah, the world above the mountain, the abode of the gods. When a baby is born, the soul of an ancestor comes down into the child. Through a series of ceremonies called the manusa yadna, which includes the otonan ‘birthday’and mepandes teeth filing, the soul transitions harmoniously into the body.

In death, the soul must be sent back to its place of dwelling with equally important rites; many ceremonies and an official ngaben cremation must take place. Only then can the atma be released from this earthly realm and rejoin the abode of the gods.

So, what happens when this doesn’t take place? Well, we have what is called an atma kesasar, or lost soul. These lost souls are dangerous; they are the ones who cause misfortune, calamities, sickness and more here on the earthly realm.

Lost souls aren’t only created through failed death rites, minor accidents can also create these. When a Balinese Hindu trips, falls off their bike, has a great shock, they risk their soul being ‘spilled’. This is usually determined if the person has lost consciousness or acts strange after the incident. One Balinese visualised this as an open bottle of beer being tipped over and picked up again; the beer has poured out of the bottle. When someone has ‘lost’ their soul, they become distressed, traumatised and perpetually confused. Life is simply not the same without a soul; as a beer bottle is nothing without its contents, too!

Now, the good news is that this ‘spilled’ soul can be collected again. A ngulapin ceremony will take place; depending on the size of the mishap, this can be performed by a mangku (temple priest), balian (shaman) or pedanda (high priest). These ceremonies will take place at crossroads, involving a number of banten (offerings), again depending on the size of the mishap. The soul is ‘caught’ and returned to its human shell using a device called a sanggah-urip. Most importantly, the soul must be traded with a black chicken (black to represent Wisnu), which is let free during the ceremony to take the wandering soul’s place.

So, next time you have an accident or fall unconscious, make sure your soul hasn’t been spilled, otherwise you’ll need the help of a Balinese priest to get it back!

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