Binhing Banal: The Mandala and Traditional Philippine Sacred Seed,
by John Paul "Lakan" Olivares
The word Mandala has been universally accepted to describe sacred symbols and patterns, often emanating from a central point or circle. In fact the word Mandala is derived from the Sanskrit word meaning “circle”. In the Hindu / Buddhist traditions the mandala takes the form of the Yantra, which is a meditative device made in a series of geometric patterns that represent man’s relationship with the universe. Often these images radiate from a central circle, which represent the inner self, the center of the universe or even the seed of life.
In the Philippine context, the Tagalog word ‘mandalá’ means rice stalks (or bundles), which by an interesting coincidence can be alluded to a possible Sanskrit influence with rice being the central focus of many traditional Philippine cultural manifestations.
From the renowned Ifugao Rice Terraces, to lively Pahiyas festival with their colorful kiping buntings made of rice wafers decorating the town, and to the school calendars which are scheduled to start right after the harvesting of the rice; rice can be considered the very seed of Philippine culture. Hence in the many sacred symbols of the Philippine indigenous groups, the Binhing Banal (sacred seed) is a central figure in the traditional Philippine images that can be considered mandalic in nature.
Consequently it can be assumed the Binhing Banal symbolizes ugat (origin), pagbunga (fertility), kalinawagan (evolution), and paglasag(protection).
The Binhing Banal as Symbol of Ugat
The word Ugat means root, and in the use of the sacred seed symbolizes either the coming or return to the creator. Hence it also represents the very nature of the gods and the cycles of life which they control.
In the abstract floral okir (1) designs of the Islamic Maranao people of Lake Lanao, the very basic element of their designs is the ‘matilak’ or circle, which represents a seed. From this seed blooms the complex motif of the ‘pako rabong’ (growing fern), which is akin to the Tree of Life symbol of Persian origin.
The same seed motif appears in the ‘blata’ fern patterns (2) in the ceremonial t’nalak cloth of the T’boli of the Cotabato highlands, which only a babaylan (shaman) woman can weave. In the t’nalak, the weaver spins her visions of the creation and secrets of their world, and she cannot leave her loom unless the cloth is completed. No man can enter the room, and she sleeps and eats at the loom and heeds nature’s call only when another woman takes her place to sit at the loom. Much of the symbols of these cloths are kept as sacred secret by the weavers, very much like how the Australian Aborigine are mum about the true meaning of their Dreaming rock art.
Among the Hanunoo Mangyan of Mindoro island a common symbol used in their cloths is the auspicious ‘pakudos’, which evokes the Tree of Life branching out to all four mystic corners. The pakudos can also be compared to the ancient Chinese wu symbol, which means shaman.
The Binhing Banal as a symbol of Pagbunga
The word Pagbunga means to bloom, and in the use of the sacred seed symbolizes both the fertility of the land and the fertility of man to multiply.
Among the Cordillera indigenous people, such as the Ifugao, the lingling-o (3) is a symbol of the fertility of both the land the people. Worn as pendants or even earrings, the most basic form of the lingling-o resembles a seed or a woman’s uterus.
The Binhing Banal as a symbol of Kalinawagan
The word Kalinawagan means enlightenment, and in the use of the sacred seed symbolizes the eye of god (ugat) ones evolution in light of the gods’ ways.
Aside from the large floral designs of the Maranao, the matilak becomes the eye of thenaga (sacred serpent) and sarimanok (sacred rooster) patterns that signify messengers of Allah.
Among the Cordillera people of Luzon, they see their breast as the root of their being and they place tattoos in that area to signify great achievements in human and spiritual accomplishments, such as the ‘chaklag’ of the Bontoc people.
The Binhing Banal as a symbol of Paglasag
The word Paglasag means shield, and in the use of the sacred seed symbolizes the evoking of the gods (ugat) and the protection they may bestow.
Among the Batak people of the island of Palawan, their inaupan mat weaving evokes the many eyes of the spirits to protect the person sleeping on the mat.
Many of the lowland Philippine groups have been converted to Christianity, yet they were able to integrate many of the ancient beliefs and practices with Catholic conventions. One sample is the very strong folk belief in the use of agimat (talismans), which could be anything from a Catholic scapular, to a seed plucked under a full moon, Chinese Feng-sui trinkets, and to cult amulets with mixed symbols of local and Masonic symbols.
Another interesting coincidence is the Hindu practice of Kolam, in which they draw mystic patterns at their doorways with colored rice powder to bring good fortune to the household. In the Philippines, some mambabarang (witches) practice kulam (spell casting), in which they draw mystic symbols on the homes of their intended victim / patient.
In the study of the symbolisms of the Philippine people, the research on sacred seed concept does expand to the sacred circle and its manifestations. From the fire circles such as the dapayan on the northern Luzon people and the human home concept of Tausug architecture, there are so many expressions of the Binhing Banal as there are the different people of the archipelago. Unfortunately, this is very little study on the symbolisms and symbology of pattern making among many of the Philippine ethnographic groups; hence their meanings are lost to antiquity or unshared by the last remaining elders who know their truths.
Sadly, many of the young people do not wish to learn the processes of working with these symbols, and opt to join the outside world in the march to a global consumerist culture. With their true nature unknown, many of these symbols are lost in the commercialization of native crafts.
1. In the southern island group of Mindanao, the other indigenous people who practice the okir / ukkil motif are the Tausug, Badjao, Samal and Yakan people.
2. In the highlands of the island of Mindanao, the other indigenous groups who practice these weaving patterns are the Bagobo, Bukidnon, Manaobo and Agusan.
3. In the Cordillera highlands of the island of Luzon, the other indigenous groups who use the linglin-o are the Bontoc, Kalinga and Benguet.
*There are many other samples of the Binhing Banal among the many Philippine etho-linguistic groups, however many of the traditional names to these cultural manifestations have been lost to antiquity.
Binhing Banal: The Mandala and Traditional Philippine Sacred Seed, , by John Paul "Lakan" Olivares
Originally posted March 10, 2012.