CO Balinese Book of the Dead: Journey in The Afterlife (Part 1) – Balinese Yoga

Balinese Book of the Dead: Journey in The Afterlife (Part 1)

Bali is known for one of its magnificent rituals of death, the Ngaben Ceremony. This ceremony is filled with excitement as if conveys the message that death is celebrated, not mourned. For those who are still alive, especially family and friends, of course, to celebrate death is beyond difficult, if not impossible. Having a beloved family pass away will leave the heart with sadness and tears. I myself wrote this article in a time of mourning and tried to find a little solace in the ancient.

One of the texts commonly sung during the death ritual (pitra yajña) is Aji Palayon (“the science of death”). Kakawin Aji Palayon describes in detail the soul’s journey in the afterlife, where he went, what he encountered, and so on.

Death as Freedom of The Soul

According to Aji Palayon Kakawin, sadness only matters for the living, not the dead. Even the living eventually rejoices in death knowing the loved one already achieves the divine state. It is said that the soul is filled with delight because finally free from the body. The body is called a cage, and death is the release from the cage.

In the Parhyangan [lit: abode of the gods] is the abode of the soul.
because it has freed from the world.
thus brings joy to its family.
along with all friends and relatives all pleased.

When the senses is filled with wickedness
when the poison of the heart already destroyed
by the magnificent power of daśākṣara (ten sacred letters)
as well as with The Science of Realease.

how delightful is the soul
when freed from it’s cage
for too long it has been locked up
finally now it has released

But the way I see it, this passage invites us to feel the joy of the soul – because it finally coming home, to the abode of the gods. To be happy for the soul because it has been freed from the body.

A moment after death, it is said that the soul approaches his physical body, the body he hold dear and loved him. Then, out of compassion, the soul said:

O my dear magnificent body.
where I used to study.
you were my home.
I would not forget you.

For the soul, the body is a school as well as a home during his time in the physical world. That is why the soul paid a proper goodbye to his physical body. After a heartfelt goodbye, the soul also asks the body to come back to its essence, the Pañca Mahā Bhūta.

Then, after witnessing the various offerings prepared by his relatives, he also saw friends and relatives arriving to express their condolences. The soul really wants to greet them. Unfortunately, no one heard. The soul did not forget to apologize to them for the mistakes he had made before, thanked them for the kindness they had shown, and of course said goodbye because the soul had to continue his journey.

The soul expressed his goodbye as follows:

All that is exist will perish
as all that is hot will turn cold.
all that lives will face death.
All that reality cannot be separated.

Life and death is an ever-spinning wheel. For the living, death is inevitable. The soul knows it, so death didn’t bring sorrow for him – he knows all is part of the same journey. He knows that death is a journey he needs to take, once his journey on Earth concluded.

After saying goodbye to all who are still alive, the Atma then rushes to say goodbye to the One Who Orders Life. First, he asked farewell to the Sang Hyang Tripuruṣa [The Three Divinity in the family temple].

After praising and asking for blessings for the next journey, the soul does not forget to pray for his family who are still alive, so that they will always be well. Sang Hyang Tri Puruṣa gave his blessing, and the soul continued on his journey.

After his family temple, his next stop is the Pura Dalĕm [one of three main temples in each village – associated with Śiva and Durga), hoping for an audience with Goddess Durga.

Various kinds of scary spirits become servants of Goddess Durga, and that makes the soul terrified. But the goddess calmed him down, like a mother comforting her child. Then, out of gratitude, the Atma also gave praise to the goddess:

Satisfied with his devotion, the Goddess then gave Her blessings, hoping the soul for a smooth journey – any obstacles in his journey are overcome, wherever they may be. And may all who meet bow respectfully.

Meeting The Demonic Selves

After the Family Temple and Dalĕm Temple, the soul’s journey continued. Northeast is the direction he’s headed. The most auspicious and sacred direction in Balinese beliefs. What he wanted to go to was the Sarayu River, that described as “the water of which is very clear. All kinds of beauty are encountered along the way. On the edge, there is a white stone. Shrouded in lotus flowers.”

In that river, the soul washed his face. Suddenly, he was startled by the appearance of a large crocodile which was eager to take him as prey. Yet, the soul is undaunted. He knows who the Crocodile really is. He then speaks softly:

O great crocodile.
Please don’t stand in my way.
You are my brother nothing else.
Your embodiment is the placenta.

After feeling recognized, the frightening crocodile then became friendly. Then the soul asked the crocodile to lend his back to cross the river—to be a vehicle for his journey.

On the bank of the river, encounters another obstacle. A creepy giantess, with bloodshot eyes, a gaping mouth, and curly hair. However, the atma meets the giant without fear. The reason is that he recognized the giantess as none other than his mother. She was called “the light bhagawaṣa” by the atma. Feeling recognized, the rakshasi refuses to devour the atma, instead blessing his journey and accompanying him with prayers.

Next, it is said that the soul descends down a steep mountainside. There, he encountered a tiger that also wanted to consume him. But again, the soul recognized who the tiger really is, his other brother. While still alive on the physical plane, the tiger is the blood. The soul keep on going, and then he encountered a big and terrifying dog. The soul also recognized the dog as his other brother, that is the amniotic fluid. Finally united with its brother after a long time, the dog shed tears of joy.

Then the soul now arrived at the edge of the river with clear water. There the atma meditates. At that time, four hungry giants appeared and were ready to devour the soul. Sang Bawal, Sang Mrajasela, Sang Badmoti, and Sang Badmanya are their names. However, the soul directs them to go to the soul’s house in the physical plane. Because there has been prepared a variety of special dishes for them.

After those four giants left, four others came, namely Sang Suratma, Sang Jogormanik, Sang Mahakala, and Sang Dorakala. Instead of feeling scared, the soul greeted them with great affection. Apparently, they too are the brothers of the soul. In the past, they were known as Anggapati, Prajapati, Banaspati, and Banaspati Raja. During that time, the soul was said to be called Sang Tutur (awareness). After recognizing his brothers, then the Atma directs them to go to his home on earth and enjoy the offerings that have been prepared.


This episode of the Soul’s journey is what I found the most interesting. The soul meets various “demonic” entities along the way, from animal form to giants. This segment is drawn from one of the most popular mystical teachings in Bali called Kanda Mpat (“The Four Mystical Siblings”).

Kanda Mpat is a teaching that explains that humans do not live alone in the world. Since we were in the womb, there have been siblings who have always looked after us. Throughout our life, these siblings continued to accompany us, and even in the realm of death, they continued to walk with the soul.


Physical Form During Infantcy Demonic Forms Divine Forms Associated Syllabary Shrine in The Micro-Cosmos Shrine in The Macro-cosmos
Amniotic fluid (yeh nyom) Anggapati Īśwara / Sadyojata SAṂ Heart East
Blood (getih) Mrajapati Brahma / Bamadewa BAṂ Liver South
Placenta (ari-ari) Banaspati Mahādewa / Tatpuruṣa TAṂ Kidney West
Vernix caseosa (lamas) Banaspati Raja Wiṣṇu / Aghora AṂ gall North
Infant King of the Demons Śiwa (King of the Gods) / Iśana IṂ Tip of the Heart Center

According to Kanda Mpat teachings, when we were an infant in the womb, the four siblings took physical embodiment as Amniotic fluid (yeh nyom), Blood (getih), Placenta (ari-ari), and Vernix caseosa (lamas). Right after we learn to talk, we start to forget the siblings. That made our siblings take demonic form and called Anggapati, Mrajapati, Banaspati, and Banaspati Raja. Then, through particular meditation practices, we are instructed to harmonize the demonic power and turn the divine power. It is said that when we are in harmony with our siblings, they will become supportive of everything we need to deal with in life. Otherwise, they will turn destructive.

Kanda Mpat is teaching about wholeness – to recognize, accept, and utilize every part of our self – to embrace both the demonic and divine sides, to unite the sakāla (gross) and niṣkāla (subtle), to unite the micro and macro cosmos.

Apparently, in the afterlife, the soul also met his four siblings in the form of Sang Suratma, Sang Jogormanik, Sang Dorakala, and Sang Mahakala. These four are the assistants of Lord Yama, the god of the afterlife. Sang Suratma is described as a figure who records all the good and bad deeds of the soul, Sang Jogormanik and others act as executioners.

To put it simply, Sang Suratma is our “memories,” or the “karmic impressions” that are attached to the soul. Those attachments then bring experiences – pain and pleasure—that we can refer to as hell or heaven.

Those attachments come from good-evil duality, and the soul needs to realize itself to be beyond good and evil. Once realized, those memories and experiences are then “purified” and won’t stand in the soul’s way.

The Realm of Delight

The soul then continued his journey to a spring known as The Tīrtha Pañcaka. After washing himself in the spring, the soul then glows brilliantly with golden color.

Not long after that, the gods and goddesses, along with all the occupants of heaven (kahyangan) prepared a welcome ceremony for the soul. Accompanied by music, various instruments, banners, clothes, and so on. It’s like the reception of a king. The soul is about to be picked up to be escorted to the realm of the soul (lokātma), where a golden house decorated with jewels has been prepared for him.

Yet, such a majestic treatment made the soul wonder. He didn’t feel like he deserved all the honor, because he was not a master of sacred knowledge during his time in the physical plane. However, the gods explain that even though he did not understand all that, nevertheless, “good conduct in the world and a heart filled with devotion” is why the soul has received blessings from the Divine.

After the soul was crowned and dressed in royal attire, he was then escorted to his destination accompanied by all the glorious emblems. Even the soul is served more than the gods, and also worshiped and praised by the gods and rishis. In the realm of the soul, he later found all family members who had passed away before him. After expressing their longing for one another, the soul continued on their way to the abode of Lord Śiva and Dewata Nawa Sanga (The Gods of the Cardinal), and be with them.

This episode is another turning point of the soul’s journey—when he cleanses himself in the Tīrtha Pañcaka. One way to look at the Five Tīrtha is through akṣara. The five sacred syllabaries of Śiva [i.e., NA MA ŚI WA YA] are also called Five Tīrtha. Thus, the episode of the soul cleansing himself in the Tīrtha Pañcaka is “purification through the realization of Śivahood.” According to Balinese esoteric texts, when the soul realized himself as Śiva, various signs of perfection are granted. In the Aji Palayon Kakawin, that state of achievement is described through the soul’s ascending to the realm of the gods and having all of their glories.


For us who are still alive, the Aji Palayon Kakawin not just offers a glimpse of what we will go through in the afterlife, but also a reminder of spiritual practices we need to take during this lifetime. As Aji Palayon put it, we need to master “The Science of Death.” That science is yoga practices that lead to recognition of every aspect of ourselves, to wholeness and beyond.

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