KajaKelod KanginKauh the ancient Balinese GPS


Kaja-Kelod, Kangin-Kauh – the ancient Balinese GPS

In 2004, I wrote briefly about the Balinese concept of directions: kaja, kelod, kangin and kauh. In information presented for tourists or visitors to Bali, these are more often than not translated as north, south, west and east. However, this is incorrect. Perhaps due to the fact that over history Balinese had a very Bali-centric, Hindu-Balinese view of the world, there was no concept of compass directions. Directions were simply based on basic geography or visible natural occurrences. In Balinese Hinduism, evaluated places such as mountains are considered sacred and spiritually pure. It is no coincidence, for example, that Bali’s mother temple, Pura Besakih, was built on the slopes of Mt Agung, Bali’s highest mountain. Over time, mountain-wards become a direction for the Balinese, which they referred to as kaja. Conversely, the lower lying coastal areas became a direction known as kelod: which geographically is considered mysterious and potentially dangerous, possibly due to the dangers of the sea, as well as mosquito-carried illnesses such as malaria.

The two other directions are kangin: in the direction of the rising sun and its opposite, kauh. Again these are opposing in terms of positive and negative – kangin with its light, energy and warmth (therefore safety, especially before Balinese had lighting) and kauh with its darkness, cold, and hidden dangers (therefore unsafe and a world of ghosts and demons).

Since these are not fixed points on a compass, the kaja and kelod directions necessarily change based on where you are positioned in relation to them. Mt Agung is positioned in the east, so if you are in Klungkung or some parts of Karangasem, kaja? is indeed in the north and the sea in the south; however, if you are in any other part of Bali, it can be very different. Go to Singaraja, for example, and things are turned on their head: kaja is in the south or southwest and kelod to the north.

Even though from a scientific point of view, these directions seem to make little sense, Balinese still based their lives around them, even in the 21st century. I’ll explain more in the next issue how literally a Balinese person’s life ‘revolves’ around these concepts.

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