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Ceremonial Balinese Cockfighting

Therefore, if you see a group of people attending a cockfight which has no religious significance, you can be sure that the tajen (cockfight) is taking place for the purposes of gambling only. A tajen can last the entire day, depending on the number of gamblers involved, and its rules can only be understood by the gamblers themselves.

In Balinese culture there is a tradition called ‘tabuh rah’ initiated by an animal fight (perang sato) between birds such as roosters. ‘Tabuh’ or ‘taburan’ means ’spills’, while ‘rah’ or ‘darah’ means blood, so tabuh rah can be translated as the spilling of the blood of the sacrificed animal. This tradition has close links with the practice of Hindu Balinese culture, but it has nothing to do with gambling.

Originally, the spilling of animal blood was conducted by cutting the neck of the bird for sacrifice and the ceremony required three fights only. This was followed by an activity similar to the Western game of ‘conkers’, using nuts, coconuts, eggs, and other offerings.

The roosters used for the purposes of tabuh rah are young ones which have never been in a fight for the same or similar purposes, as a symbol of the sincerity behind the sacrifice. Three fights indicate the magic cycle – beginning, middle and end – while the animal fight signifies the eternal struggle of good against evil. Tawur, the Balinese ceremonial sacrifice offered prior to Hari Nyepi (Day of Silence), is not complete without tabuh rah.

Balinese Hindus believe that the souls of the sacrificed animals will be able to reach a better life after death when they are reincarnated, according to Hindu belief, as a more advanced form of life, or even as a human being.

References to tabuh rah can be found in the ancient inscription of Sukawana (804 Caka), Batur Abang (933 Caka), Batuan (944 Caka). Other sources are Lontar (Palm leaf book) Siwatattwapurana  and Yadnyaprakerti and Kesatuan Tafsir Aspek-aspek Agama Hindu (Interpretation of the Aspects of Hinduism).

Bhuta Yadnya, holy sacrifices, that can be accompanied by animal fights are called Caru Panca Kelud, Rsi Ghana, Balik Sumpah, Tawur Agung, Labuh Gentuh, Pancawalikrama, and Eka Dasa Rudra. (These ceremonies will be discussed in the following articles).

Therefore, if you see a group of people attending a cockfight which has no religious significance, you can be sure that the tajen (cockfight) is taking place for the purposes of gambling only. A tajen can last the entire day, depending on the number of gamblers involved, and its rules can only be understood by the gamblers themselves.

Prior to the big fight in a tajen, all the gamblers shout and yell and raise up their hands holding a certain amount of cash.  They repeatedly shout ‘Chock – chock – chock, dapang-dapang-dapang, teludo- teludo- teludo’, indicating the amount of money they are gambling.

Tajen seems to be getting more frequent now in Bali and a religious ceremony is often used as an excuse. The gamblers often call it tabuh rah. Consequently, the religious significance of a real tabuh rah has been negatively affected. This can also create the misapprehension that Hinduism legalises gambling and the abuse of animals. In fact, like other religions, Hinduism teaches its followers to fight against any forms of gambling since it can ruin them.

So, as visitors to Bali, we hope that you are now able to distinguish between tajen, which is a Balinese form of gambling, and tabuh rah, which is the ceremonial shedding of sacrificial blood.

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