a game of kocokan
draws men and demons outside
the temple gate
Wandering around an odalan in Nyuh Kuning, I chance upon a group of men and boys dressed in white and black temple attire playing Kocokan outside the temple gate. Kocokan is a game of chance where players put money on a vinyl mat decorated with six different pictures of gods, demons or animals. This particular version depicts a sea turtle, a rooster, a crayfish, a flying fish, a crab and an eel. The dealer places three large dice marked with the same pictures in a bucket, shakes the bucket and uncovers the dice. The pictures that turn up are winners. I saw this game being played on the beach, but I am surprised to see it at a religious festival.
I go looking for Pak Win, an expert on Balinese culture who's always happy to explain customs to me. When I find him, he tells me that the purpose of gambling at an odalan is to draw the attention of demons away from the religious ceremonies going on inside the pura desa. Balinese believe that the world is made up of the eternal opposites, good and evil, which are both part of life. They do not strive to completely eliminate evil but rather to maintain a balance so that evil does not overpower good. The black and white checkered temple decorations and the men's white and black temple dress symbolize this balance of opposites. The "vice" of gambling serves the purpose of distracting evil spirits so that they stay outside the temple. Of course, it also attracts Balinese of all ages, especially young men and boys, who are happy to do their part by entertaining the demons.