Purification and Protection: The Melepas Aon ceremony in Bali

Tutut receiving the mother’s offerings

I am Tutut and I am a staff at Threads of Life. I gave birth to my second child in July this year. With these fieldnote I want to share one of the first ceremonies performed for a newborn.

In Bali, a newborn child is believed to be accompanied in birth by four sibling spirits that protected the baby in the womb. They have manifestation in the placenta, the amniotic fluid, the vernix caseosa, and the blood. The placenta is buried in the family compound as quickly as possible and is covered with a stone and a spiney plant to keep animals away. The spirit manifested in the placenta is a guardian until the baby loses his or her first tooth. The remaining three aspects are protective spirits throughout life.

The umbilical cord that is severed from the placenta is still attached to the child but usually falls off five to ten days after the child is born. Immediately after it falls off, a ceremony called melepas aon is performed to purify the mother and to protect the child.

Tutut’s father-in-law officiates

The kitchen is considered the home of Brahma as manifested by fire. During the time that the umbilical cord is still attached to the baby, I could not go into the kitchen until I was purified (and perhaps to give me a long rest from cooking!) During the Melepas Aon ceremony an offering is put by the fire used for cooking in a traditional kitchen. My kitchen does not use a wood fire, so we placed the offering on clay pots still used for cooking in a more traditional kitchen even today. I then received purifying blessings from these offerings.

The ritual that decides the first letter of the baby’s name

One of the offerings made for this melepas aon ceremony uses ash, steamed rice and candles. The aon or ash is placed at the bottom of the offering. In the past, this ash would have come from the blacksmith (pande besih), from the left-over filings as the blacksmith makes metal objects used for protection. Today kitchen ash is used. Steamed rice is placed on the top of the offering where nine candles made of cotton-wrapped bamboo sticks soaked in coconut oil are placed in the steamed rice. Balinese writing (akasara) on palm leaves is placed with each candle. The writing indicates the names of flowers for a girl child and names of weapons for a boy child. The candle that is the last to burn out indicates the initial to be used in the baby’s name.

The kumara offering will be placed by the baby’s bed for protection

Another offering called kumara will be placed by the baby’s bed for protection. Kumara contains three objects representing tri sanak or the three protective sibling spirits of the child: an egg for the vernix caseosa, a stone for the blood, and candlenut for the amniotic fluid. Beside these are placed a salak or snake fruit because of its spiney skin for protection, and scented flowers to accompany a child throughout their life reminding them of the beauty of nature.

Even the bathtub gets an offering

A final offering is placed in the bathtub where the child is to be bathed so that nothing will disturb the child. This simple but important ceremony takes hours to prepare for but only minutes to perform, as is true of so many rituals in Bali.