The Supreme Being and Creator of the Universe
An illustration depicting Bathala, a Diwata and the bird Sarim
According to the indigenous religious beliefs of the Tagalog people, Bathala (sometimes spelled Batala) is the supreme deity who created the universe. A descriptive honorific is often attached to his name, describing him as the Bathalang Maylikha (Bathala the Creator; lit. "Actor of Creation") and as the Bathalang Maykapal (Bathala the Almighty; lit. "Actor of Power").
It was after the arrival of the Spanish missionaries on the Philippines in the 16th century that Bathala came to be identified as the Christian God, thus its synonymy with Diyos (God) or Dibino (Divine, e.g. Mabathalang Awa), according to J.V. Panganiban (Diksyunaryo-Tesauro Pilipino-Ingles); in some Visayan languages, Bathala also means God.
In early Philippine history, Bathala was strongly associated with the Tigmamanukan omen bird – so much so that early chronicler Antonio de Morga thought the Tagalogs saw the bird as their ultimate deity. The anonymous author of the Boxer Codex (1590 b, 379) also nearly made this mistake, but was advised by the Tagalogs not to equate the two, because the Tigmamanukan was not the creator god "but only his messenger."
Bathala or Batala was apparently derived from Sanskrit "bhattara" (noble lord) which appeared as the sixteenth-century title "batara" in the southern Philippines and Borneo. In Indonesian language, "batara" means "god", its feminine counterpart was "batari". It may be worth noting that in Malay, "betara" means holy, and was applied to the greater Hindu gods in Java, and was also assumed by the ruler of Majapahit.
According to the scholar and linguist Jean-Paul Potet (2017), there is silence regarding the gender of Bathala in the early Spanish accounts of the Tagalog religion. The term may have been used as an epicene one by the Tagalog people but the use of the Sanskrit-derived masculine term also suggests that the deity's gender might be male. In a similar vein, the Tagalog word hari (meaning "sovereign) is also mentioned as an epicene or genderless term by Potet, since the term is not exclusive to male-gendered sovereigns, but also to those who are of the female gender.
Since the name Bathala was Sanskrit in origin, some scholars such as Isabelo de los Reyes believed that Maykapál ("Creator") was the indigenous term for the Supreme Being of the Tagalogs. Dr. José Rizal doubted that the Tagalog god was named Bathala. Most historians and scholars however accepted that the god was properly called Bathalang Maykapál ("God the Creator") as stated in Relación de las Islas Filipinas (1595–1602), and could be addressed simply as Bathala (God) or Maykapál (Creator). According to William Henry Scott (Barangay: Sixteenth-Century Philippines Culture and Society); "Loarca and Chirino said that the Tagalogs recognised a creator god they called Bathala though other informants named the god of the Tagalogs as "Molaiari" or "Dioata", possibly derived from Malay deity "Dewata Mulia Raya" (the greatest of the gods).
Bathala according indigenous Tagalog religious beliefs
An excerpt from the Boxer Codex (1590b, 367) about Bathala according to the "heathen" Tagalogs:
"They said that this god of theirs was in the air before there was heaven or earth or anything else, that he was ab eterno (from eternity) and not made or created by anybody from anything, and that he alone made and created all that we have mentioned simply by his own volition because he wanted to make something so beautiful as the heaven and earth, and that he made and created one man and one woman out of the earth, from whom have come and descended all the men and their generations that are in the world."
Anitería was the term coined by Spanish missionaries to denote the Tagalog religion as they observed that despite the people's belief and respect to the omnipotent Bathala, they offered prayers and sacrifices to ancestral spirits called anito. Miguel de Loarca (Relación de las Yslas Filipinas, 1582) asked them why the sacrifices were offered to the anitos, and not to Batala, they answered that Batala was a great lord, and no one could speak to him directly because he lives in heaven (Kaluwálhatian), so he sent down the anitos to provide for them. Thus, the soul (káluluwa) of a person becomes an anito after death to serve Bathala and intercede on behalf of the living, similar to concepts in Folk Catholicism or Spiritualism. Bathala is believed to have married the ancient deity of fertility and hermaphrodites, Lakapati, after the cosmic creation.
Appropriation of the term "Bathala" by Roman Catholic missionaries
After the conversion of the Tagalogs to Roman Catholicism, the katalonan (shamans) were condemned by Spanish missionaries as witches and were forced to convert. Ancestral and nature spirits were demonised, sometimes conflated with Biblical demons, and the term anito itself became synonymous to "idol". The Spaniards believed that the anitos were demons who deceived the Tagalogs from the worship of God, but Bathala was the exception to this as he was similar to the Christian concept of the Creator. According to Sir John Bowring (A Visit to the Philippine Island) "the priests have been generally willing to recognize the name Bathala as not objectionable in substitution for Dios (God)".
Bathala in other cultures and ethnic groups
In ancient Bicol, Bathala was worshipped as a minor deity, represented by a small image which they always carried for good luck; according to the Bicol grammar of Mark of Lisbon (1628, 61) "they say it was an anito that brought good luck to one it accompanied". Thus if a man was never hit by objects thrown at him, he was said to be batalaan.
Some scholars also identified Bathala with the Sambal deity "Mallari" (Mayari), though according to Andrés de San Nicolás (1664, 420), Bathala Mey kapal (Maykapal) was also listed among their deities, whose false genealogies and fabulous deeds they celebrated in certain tunes and verses like hymns, which William Henry Scott wrote may due to the influences of the Tagalogs in their culture or beliefs.
Among the Bisaya, their supreme deity, which is usually referred to as Kaptan, has also been called as Bathala. In Mindanao, the supreme deity of the Subanon usually called Diwata Magbabaya, as well as the supreme deity of the Bukidnon usually called Diwata na Magbabaya, have also been referred to as Bathala.
An ancient Visayan invocation goes:
1. Bathala, origin of the first creatures,
Lives in the high mountains;
In your two hands
Resides the generator-
Maniliw, who is a witch.
Tall like the trunk
Of the coconut;
Solid like rock;
Voracious like fire;
Fierce, more than the mad perverse dog.
From your breast
The generator Lulid
It is he
Who does what he likes;
More than the night-
Like the stalk of the Palay;
As if by means of rays of light,
Shoots the witches like an arrow.
Your living among the pygmies.
Destroy, oh, those bad characters
Of the generator Kamakala.
2. Bathala, thou art, oh, little bird, Adarna!
Oh thou, who art nestled in that encumbered home-
The abode of hawks and eagles,
Descend, we pray thee, to earth,
With all thy multicolored feathers
And thy silken, feathery tail-
Descend! Descend!-to earth.
Oh, thou bright-winged, little bird!
Celestial gift arth thou, prepared for the earth-
Our life's source, our mother devoted.
Verily, thou hast suffered pains in those confines
Of mountains craggy and precipitous-
Searching for lakes of emerald, now vanished.
Art thine, mother
Oh, venerable Mount Kanlaon-
The ruler of the people of the mountain.
Original Visayan invocation
Bathala, pinunuan sang mga
una nga mga inanak,
Dito mag estar sa mga layog
Sa anang alima na tagsa
Si amay Maniliw nga tamaw
Malayog anay sang puno ka
Mabakod angay sa bantiling,
Kag masupong angay sa
Mabangis labi a madal nga
Bany-aga nga ayam.
Sa amang kilid lumsit.
Si ama Lulid Amo;
Siya ang mag sumunod
Kon tunay sa boot niya,
Nga mag bulit labing
- Tagalog translation
Bathalang pinagmulan ng
mga unang nilikha,
Nakatira ka sa mga bundok
Sa kamay mo nakalagay
Si Maniliw, na mangkukulam
Matayog kang parang puno
Matigas na parang bato,
Masiklab na parang apoy,
Mabangis na higit sa
Sa dibdib mo lumabas
Ang manlilikhang Lulid Amo;
Siya ang nakagagawa
At nagbibigay dilim
Na higit sa gabi…
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Nothing is said about the gender of Bathala. The use of the masculine Sanskrit term suggests that it was a god, but it may have been used as an epicene one in Tagalog.
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