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Balians Bali's Magical Practitioners

Bali's Modern Medicine and Traditional Healers to Exchange Notes on Community Mental Health.

(11/10/2007) In the daily life of the Balinese the balians, or mystic mediums, play a central role. In fact, the name balian is loosely applied to a wide range of men and women who possess sacred skills or specialized knowledge in the performance of rituals of passage.

Members of the elite circle of balians may be called upon to interpret ancient lontar palm manuscripts, divine messages from the gods or ancestors, decipher "signs" of spiritual import hidden in the natural world, perform midwifery duties, prepare the dead for cremation, massage the sick, set broken bones or determine which family ancestor now inhabits the soul of a newborn child. The natural inclination to humility causes many Balinese who perform balian roles in their community to deny they fill a mystical or sacred function implied by that title; much as many gifted artisans in Bali do not view themselves as artists.

In an effort to understand exactly how widespread the role of the balian is in Balinese society, the Suryani Institute Bali is undertaking pioneering research to catalog the number and variety of balians operating in 20 remote villages in eastern Bali. Preliminary results from Karangasem reveal that at least 152 balians or paranormal practitioners are operating in that region, according to Dr. Cokorda Bagus Jaya Lesmana, the Secretary of the Institute quoted in NusaBali.

Dr. Lesmana, a young Balinese psychiatrist who is also the Son of Indonesia's world-renowned psychiatrist and author Professor Dr. Luh K. Suryani, claims the balian plays a central and very beneficial role in local communities ranging from alternative medical practice to performing rain stopper services.

In surveying balians, the Institute intends to eventually improve cooperation and knowledge-sharing between traditional healers and modern medical practitioners with a particular emphasis on the treatment of mental illness and emotional disorders. In December 2007, the Suryani Institute Bali plans to hold a seminar involving medical and psychiatric experts and balians to discuss means of improving the mental health of local communities and curbing the rising suicide rates in Bali.