Udeng – Balinese Head Cloth

Head cloth, or udeng is the most striking part of Balinese traditional dress. An udeng is actually a piece of square cloth about one meter on each side. It may have overall design but it is usually symmetrical. The wearer folds the cloth into a triangle rolls up the long end several times until the remaining triangle is small enough to cover the head, and ties it to the head.

The entire udeng is tied to the head in such way that the point of the triangle faces toward the rear and the knot is centered on the forehead, then one side of the triangle is pulled behind the knot, making a crest known as “jambul,” after the tuff of feather on the head of some birds.

There are many style of udeng; above mentioned technique is used to make a general udeng which are widely used by Balinese men. Some men prefer to use different style of udeng to distinguish themselves from the crowd but some use a different kind of udeng as a mark of their social or religious role, for example: priest used a distinguished style of udeng, known as “udeng mangku” as a sign of priesthood; this style has a knot on the back of the head and the triangle cover the head.

Pecalang (traditional security force) also use a unique style of udeng known as jejantaran as sign of their role as a security force. Some people prefer a pre-formed udeng, that shaped and sewed firmly in place, that fit over the head like a cap. There is also a semi pre-formed udeng, it is shaped and sewed but need to be tied around the head.

Unlike pre-formed udeng that cannot be adjusted the semi pre-formed udeng offers a freedom of adjusting the udeng to fit the head of the wearer. There is a convention on the color and pattern of udeng which is used in a certain occasion. For a temple ceremony or anniversary a white udeng or dominant white with gold thread pattern is used.

For a human related ceremony such as wedding, tooth filling, birthday, etc an udeng made of Batik cloth or with batik motif is preferred and for a cremation ceremony a black udeng or batik motif with black accent is widely used. As any other thing in Bali, there are many interpretations on the meaning of udeng.

Some say it is a symbol of Garuda, king of bird who guard our mind from all evil influences, that is why udeng is used on the head since head is the seat of mind. Some say the tip of the triangle of udeng which forms a crest is a symbol of Hindu triad: Brahma, Wisnu, and Siwa. Others said that udeng serve as connector between God and human like antenna in Radio.

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