Power, Prestige and Possession: Interwoven Legacies of Ida Pedanda Istris ‘Priestesses’ in Balinese Hinduism

  • Madhu Khanna


This chapter is a spin-off from my constructive engagement with an ongoing research project on life and religious roles of Ida Pedanda Istris, ‘Priestesses’ in Balinese Hinduism. It is based partly on historical continuities of Hindu culture in Bali, complemented by ethnographic and field explorations that I conducted on the living culture of Ida Pedanda Istris, their power and prestige, and the interwoven legacies in a variety of ritualistic religious practices that are traceable to the Hindu tradition in India.



The author is grateful to several people, especially scholars and Pedanda Istris in Bali, who were willing to share their knowledge and experiences during my research tours in 2009 and 2015. I am obliged to Luh Ketut Suryani for her useful advice. Ida Pedanda Istri Kania, Kajeng, at Badung; Ida Ayu Agung Mas at Sua Bali; and Mutwan at Denpasar shared their knowledge and experience with me with the utmost intimacy. I am also indebted to Cok Sawitri, the eminent writer and theatre personality, for her insightful comments. Ida Pedanda Gede Made Gunung, the Śaiwa master, ritual specialist, shared his rich understanding of the tradition. Ms Malini Saran in Delhi inspired me to take up the challenge of this study. I am grateful to Prof. Tom Hunter, who raised critical questions and clarified many complex issues. I am also grateful to Prof. Andrea Acri for providing influential contacts in Bali and Windhu Sancaya for his timely support during my last visit.


  1. Acri, Andrea. 2013. “Modern Hindu Intellectuals and Ancient Texts: Reforming Śaiwa Yoga in Bali” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 169, 68–103.Google Scholar
  2. Ahmed, Durre S. 1997. Women and Religion Vol. II The Hidden Woman Lahore: Heinrich Boll Foundation.Google Scholar
  3. Altekar, A.S. 1995. The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization, Delhi. Motilal Banarasidass.Google Scholar
  4. Coedes, George and Walter F. Vella (editors). 1968. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. Trans. Susan Brown Cowing. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
  5. Eisman, Fred, Bali Sekala and Niskala, (1989) Vol. 1 Essays on Religion, Ritual and Art., Singapore: Periplus Editions.Google Scholar
  6. Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck and Ellison Banks Findly. 1985. Women, Religion and Social Change, Albany: SUNY Press, p. 37–58.Google Scholar
  7. Fox, James. 1998. “Indonesian Heritage: Religion and Ritual”, Vol. 9 of Indonesian Heritage, (Editor) Timothy Anger, Singapore: Archipelago Press.Google Scholar
  8. Falk, Nancy A. and Rita M. Gross. 1980. Unspoken Worlds: Women’s Religious Lives in Non-Western Cultures, London: Harper & Row Publishers.Google Scholar
  9. Gonda, Jan. 1975. “The Indian Religions in Pre-Islamic Indonesia and Their Survival in Bali,” in Handbook of Oriental Studies. Section 3, Southeast Asia, Religions, Google Books pp. 1–54.Google Scholar
  10. Geertz, Clifford. 1966. Person, Time and Conduct in Bali: An Essay in Cultural Analysis, New Haven, Yale, Southeast Asia Studies.Google Scholar
  11. Geertz, Clifford. The Religion of Java. New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1960 Geertz Clifford (1975). Kinship in Bali Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  12. Goodriaan, T. and C. Hooykaas. 1971. Stuti and Stava (Baudha, Śaiwa and Vaiṣṇava) of the Balinese Brahmin priests. Verhande lingen der Konin Klijke Nederlandse Akademie van wetenschappen, ofdeeling Letter kunde, Nederlandse Akademic van watten schappen, a f deeling Letter kunde, nieuwe reeks, No. 76.Google Scholar
  13. Headley, Stephen C. 1991. “The Javanese Exorcisms of Evil: Betwixt India and Java”. In The Art and Culture of South-East Asia edited by Lokesh Chandra, pp. 73–110. Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.Google Scholar
  14. Hedihues. 2000. Mary Somers, Southeast Asia: A Concise History, London: Thames and Hudson.Google Scholar
  15. Hooykaas, C. 1974. “Cosmogony and Creation in Balinese Tradition. KITLV, Bibliotheca Indonesica, 9. The Hague: M. Nig ho66.Google Scholar
  16. Headley, Stephen C. 1980. Drawings of Balinese Sorcery Leiden: E. J. Brill.Google Scholar
  17. Headley, Stephen C. 2004. Durga’s Mosque: Cosmology, Conversion and Community in Central Javanese Islam, ISEAS, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.Google Scholar
  18. Howe, Leo. 2001. Hinduism and Hierarchy in Bali. Oxford: James Curry; and Santa Fe School of American Research in Bali.Google Scholar
  19. Khanna, Madhu. 2002. “The Goddess-Woman Equation in Śaktā Tantras”, in Durre S. Ahmed (Editor) Gendering the Spirit-Women, Religion and the Post-Colonial Response. London: Zed Books, pp. 35–54.Google Scholar
  20. Pott, P.H. 1946. “Pantheons in Java and Bali” in, Yoga and Yantra, Their Inter-relation and Their significance for Indian Archaeology, Leiden: E. J. Brill.Google Scholar
  21. Ram Seejer, U. 1986. The Art and Culture of Bali. Singapore: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Ramstedt, Martin (Editor). 2003. Hinduism in Modern Indonesia – A Minority Religion between Local, National and Global Interests. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Reuter, Thomas Anton, Custodians of the Sacred Mountains: Culture and Society in the Highlands of Bali, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2002.Google Scholar
  24. Stuart-Fox, David J. 2002. Pura Besakih: A Study of Balinese Religion in Bali. KITLV Verhandelenpen No. 193. Leiden: KITLV Press.Google Scholar
  25. Sudarshana Dewi. 1957. Ganpati-tattwa Satapitaka Series No. 4, New Delhi. International Academy of Indian Culture.Google Scholar
  26. Suryani, Luh ketut and Gordon D. Jeusen. 1993. Trance and Possession in Bali, Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Tantrajnana and Mahajnana Satpitaka. 1962. Series No. 23, New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture.Google Scholar
  28. Wrhaspati-Tattva, An Old Javanese Philosophical Text, critically edited and annotated. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1958.Google Scholar
  29. Witzel, Michael, “Vedas and Upaniṣads”, in Flood, Gavin, (2003) (editor), The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 68–98, especially p. 79.Google Scholar
  30. Wulandari, N. Putu Desi, Ni Nyoman Padmadewi, IGede Badasi. 2013. “Communication Strategies in Tabanan Nyentana Couples Related to Gender Difference and Matrilineal Marriage System”, in e-Journal Program Pascasarajana Universitas Pendidikan Ganesha Program Studi Pendidikan Bahasa Inggris (Volume 1 Tahun).Google Scholar


  1. “Bali Cultural Ceremony and Rituals”. retrieved April 7, 2009.
  2. “Balinese Hindu Dharma”, retrieved February 5, 2009.
  3. Sawitri, Cok, “Feminism is Not a Problem for Balinese Women” retrieved June 12, 2015.
  4. “Other Ways of Looking at Balinese Feminism” retrieved June 11, 2015.
  5. “Hinduism in Indonesia” – www.wikipedia, retrieved July 1, 2015.
  6. Reuter, Thomas, Great Expectations: Hindu Revival Movements in Java, Indonesia., Retrieved June 8, 2009.

Practical Ritual Handbooks in Balinese

  1. Tapini, Wiku and Kabupaten Buleleng, Manusa Yadnya (lepacara Tiga Bulanan Dan Otonan), Singaraja, 2009.Google Scholar
  2. Mekarya Tetangunan Sumber Sastran Ipin Ring Bama Kertih lan Panugrahan Bhagawan Wiswakarma Raryangon Widhi Sastra.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Madhu Khanna
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.National MuseumNew DelhiIndia
  2. 2.Centre for the Study of Comparative Religion & Civilisations, Jamia Millia IslamiaNew DelhiIndia

Personalised recommendations