The Checkered Cloth ( Kain Poleng)

You may wonder, why are we talking about the Checkered Cloth, known as Kain Poleng in Bali? If you have ever been to Bali (and the world before covid-19 would surmise that there is a high possibility you have been to Bali. You may recollect from a visit here, how often you may see the checkered cloth in your surroundings. Perhaps around trees, statues or altars.

In last week’s team catch up Dewa had contributed a topic for a Rembug session and here it is. The Black and White Checkered Cloth. ‘Kain Poleng’ as it is referred to in Bali. By definition, ‘kain’ means cloth and ‘poleng’ means ‘check or checkered pattern’.

The Checkered Cloth

It is made up of two colours, (if in this instance we set aside pure colour theory and categorise black and white both as colours). However it appears like there are 3 colours, due to the fact that white and black crosses over and makes grey on the overlapping section of the checkered pattern.

The two colours carry a meaning that symbolises the balance in Nature. The things that cannot be separated from each other. Positive and negative, day and night etc. This Natural Balance is what is known in Bali as ‘Rwa Bhineda’.

This touches on a core aspect of Balinese Philosophy. It loosely translates to Dualism. That all life is dependent on the power of opposites, the balance between these opposing forces. ‘Rwa’ means two and ‘Bhineda’ means different. It is the law of connectivity between two opposites that are different but connected.

That is our philosophical digression. The definition and philosophies of ‘Rwa Bhineda’ can be Google searched any time. Our weekly ‘rembug sessions’ is about learning from each other’s experiences and viewpoints.

Dewa Made says that this Cloth, from their recollection, is tantamount to how they associate their first memories of learning about Good and Bad. Because this is where Balinese children begin to learn about life. About the bitter and sweet, day and night, good and bad. About choices that one makes and their consequences. That type of moral foundation had begun for Dewa with the association to the ‘Kain Poleng’.

Though it is a simple object, it is everywhere. Through such simplicity, it carries with it Balinese lifes’ central philosophy. The accepted reality of this duality extends to Niskala and Sekala. The tangible and the intangible. Bhuana Alit (Earth) and Bhuana Agung (Universe).

In general, altars at the front of the house will wear the Checkered Cloth, perhaps following on from the concept that as those who stand guard at the entrance of a home, symbolises that they are the judge of positive and negative energy entering the house.

As we discussed their respective memories, Dewa Made shared his most prominent feelings and thoughts about the Checkered Cloth. He realises, that he feels happy when he sees this cloth on a tree. This led us to discuss why it makes him so happy when he sees this cloth on a tree.

I am happy to see the checkered cloth on a tree. It means, safe is this tree. Protected is this tree. From whatever can be done by people. Because, once there is the Checkered Cloth on a tree, it means the Tree has been made Sacred. With that truth, no one will dare to cut down or damage that tree. If there was to be any care done to the tree, there has to be a ceremony with the permission of the local Priest and Village Representative.Village Elders.

Dewa Made
Kain Poleng

This reveals an extraordinary thing, when we think about it. This really does epitomise the Balinese consciousness. It shows just how real the connection to Nature is. That Nature’s Scared rights are held above man’s in these instances.

Long ago there are evidently more trees than today. And we know that the ‘Kain Poleng’ also graced those trees. However, with the changing of times and far more trees are being cut for resources,.. this practice also has a positive impact on our community’s environmental consciousness.

Image Left: The Sacred Pule Tree of Pengosekan, Ubud Bali.

The Checkered Cloth, that is essentially fragile. It can wither away with rain and weather and time. It gets dirty and damaged, but the symbol and meaning that it carries, is an unbreakable fortress. No blade will cut through this cloth. Both our Dewas said a similar thing with a smile on their faces matter how dirty with mud or weather, you can see the colours black and white shine through. Its unmistakeable, the ‘Kain Poleng’.

The Checkered Cloth

The Checkered Cloth encircles Sacred Trees in Temples as well as other community places, as well as in the home.

Left: Pelinggih in Pura Anyar Saba Beach, Bali.

Tumpek Uduh Ceremony

Speaking about the rights of trees, raised the topic of related ceremonies. Dewa Oka mentioned that every six months there is a ceremony called ‘Tumpek Uduh’, which is for all trees and especially fruiting trees. This ceremony asks for Blessings that the tree grows prosperously and healthy. In essence, it is to say thank you to the trees for all that the trees have given to our communities.

Simply though, Dewa Made said ‘ what is practiced in Bali with faith and conviction from long ago, is very real and interesting.

Symbol of Community Safety

Returning back to the memories and impressions of the Checkered Cloth to members of our team, we noted that ‘Kain Poleng’ is also the uniform of the Pecalang, who are the traditional law officers in Bali. They are in charge of keeping the community safe and the traditional laws followed. When the community see the Pecalang, wearing the Checkered Cloth, they naturally associate that this is someone who is there to keep the people safe.

The Checkered Cloth is a Sacred Cloth. In the shared memories of our Team, they remember in earlier childhood, when they see the ‘Kain Poleng’ they are filled with awe, respect and sometimes fear. It communicates and channels power.

We had an interesting question in this Rembug session..

‘Does the Checkered Cloth, in symbolising balance of opposites, black and white, good and bad, does it automatically mean it delivers justice?’ Does balance equal fairness?

Dewi Dian

Dewa Made said ‘ if it is peace, there would be no fear”..

I said.. ‘perhaps fear is not from the cloth, it is from the person facing the cloth. They may feel fear because of the power of truth in the cloth that they are not able to face in themselves.’

We ended our Rembug session with this thought..

All things in the environment is alive with Natures’ Energy. It is Nature’s Law that is at the centre of the Checkered Cloth. The invisible reality that is called ‘Niskala’ but is equally real to the Balinese Consciousness.

Todays Sawidji’s Rembug Session was held with Dewa Made, Wayan Konco and Dewi Dian.

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