Bathala, the Tagalog God

Bathala, the God of the Tagalogs

The word Bathala is believed to have come from the Sanskrit Bhattara Guru or “the highest of the gods.”

In Philippine mythology, the highest-ranking god of the ancient Tagalog people is Bathala, also known as or Maykapal or Abba. Bathala is the creator of all things — the sea, the sky, the earth, and all the plants. He dwelt in the highest realm of the sky. No one knows where Bathala came from. One day, he simply appeared (in different versions, heralded by flood, fire or strong earthquake) and announced his authority over the world. So great and powerful is Bathala that no one dares question his demand for obedience and reverence. He is often imagined as very humanlike.

Bathala welcomes gifts from people with deep appreciation and is pleased when they are helpful and obedient to his moral laws. He is lavish in his love toward those who kept his commandments and paid him homage. It is the people’s dependence on Bathala to do all things for them that may be responsible for the Bahala na (let whatever happen) attitude of Filipinos, a philosophy that can be of resignation and passiveness, but also of recklessness and even bravery.

Bathala is compassionate, but he is equally unforgiving in his punishment to sinners. He sends thunder and lightning to strike the transgressors of his moral laws. He rules over the lesser gods who care for the needs of the people and guard the general welfare of the reverent families.

It was after the arrival of the Spanish missionaries on Philippine shores in the 16th century that Bathala came to be associated with the Christian God, who is referred to as Panginoon (Tagalog) or Diyos (from the Spanish Dios). Today, the more common Filipino word for ‘God’ is Diyos.