In Bali, you can see the Tridatu black, red and white colors engraved into the wood of pillars of houses and temples. The black evokes powerful and protects from bad spirits, the red evokes creativity and bravely, and white evokes spirituality and goodness.
Tri Datu (Datu is an ancient Southeast Asian word related to the Indonesian Ratu, or king) is expressed by the three colors Red, White and Black that are related to each of the three first manifestations of God – Brahma (the creator), Visnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer), or Trimurti.
The three colored thread is called tatebus. Balinese attach the threads to their bodies, around the right wrist (a red thread), around the ankle (a black thread) and attached to the ear (a white thread). The threads can also be wound together around the right wrist or placed on the crown of the head.
No matter how the Tridatu is worn, the threads are placed or attached with prayers to endow the recipient with power, strength, and longevity. The use of the Tridatu is to calm the mind so that it won’t be influenced by negative thoughts.
The Gelang Tridatu (‘Three Kings’ or ‘Three Devas’) bracelet worn by Indonesian Hindus consists of 3 colored yarns and is purified by holy water and given to the devotee by a priest.
The Tridatu is an essential part of the religious ritual. Tridatu thread is especially used for the Manusa Yadnya and Mabya Kala ceremonies, occuring at Galungan (Indonesian equivalent to the Christmas – New Year period).
During sacrifices as well, an animal is sacrificed to provide the blood to make the red color, while the white is made from lime or chalk and the black made from charcoal. For a Ngaben (cremation ceremony), Tridatu threads called panjang-hilang are used (meaning “long and lost”, because they are consumed in the fire of cremation).
On specific occasions, Tridatu is used as a cloth worn by the male inhabitants of a village, the black being worn as a shirt, the white as an under-skirt sarong, and the red as an over-skirt. This dress is worn more generally, when the people celebrate Nyepi (‘Day of Silence’). When people wear the Tridatu dress, they are called sambangan, which implies that they are awaiting a blessing or help from God.
During the fifth and sixth months of the Balinese calendar, you see the Balinese wearing sikepan. This is just another form of Tridatu, where the three colored threads are plaited and the ends tired together forming a necklace or bangle. Before it is worn it will have various items attached such as old Chinese coins (the ones with the holes in the middle), or Jangu (medicinal plants and roots).
Sikepan is a symbolic marker of those asking God for a blessing and, more likely, protection from the bad spirits that infest the earth during the 5th and 6th months of the Balinese Calendar. Without the coins and Jangu, the entwined threads are not sikepan and are merely intended as personal adornment.
A person seen wearing the sikepan can also currently having an exorcism (called Tilem) at their home to rid the area of bad spirits that cause problems, that is held during the dangerous months mentioned.