Bali has such a unique and special culture, rooted very deeply into the daily life of not only the Balinese, but everyone residing or visiting the island. Besides the temples on every corner of the street, the daily offerings placed everywhere, the endless ceremonies and arts and crafts of the local craftsmen, there is actually something very significant that makes Bali even more special. Did you know that here in Bali, Indonesia, we use two kind of calendars? Probably not right?
Bali has its own calendar system. Actually it has two. The Saka Calendar which is based on the lunar cycles and the Pawukon Calendar which originates from the rice growing cycles in Bali.
The Saka calendar is quite similar to the Gregorian calendar. The Pawukon calendar system however, is very unique and quite difficult to read or understand if you aren’t from Bali.
Let’s begin to understand the Saka Calendar. This calendar is based on the moons cycles. The year is divided in to 12 months consisting of 29 – 30 days each, each month beginning after the New Moon. Every 30 months an extra month is added to keep the calendar in sync with the solar year.
The Saka calendar is the calendar that determines the date for the Balinese New Year, Nyepi – The day of silence, where the entire islands shuts down and the whole island of Bali is quiet for 24 hours. For more details about Nyepi day, check out this blog.
That wasn’t too complicated right? Well, let’s try to understand the Pawukon Calendar now. One Pawukon year consists of 6 months of 35 days per month, making a total of 210 days in one year.
The difficult part of the Pawukon Calendar is to understand the weeks and the weekdays. The calendar has 10 different week-circles, all running simultaneously. The weeks are from one to ten days long all with their unique set of names for the week days. That mean the same day often have different names, depending on which of the 10 week circles is being used. To make it even more complicated, the ordering of the weekdays isn’t always the same (like in the Gregorian calendar, where Wednesday always follow Tuesday) and a 4, 8 or 9 week isn’t always 4, 8 or 9 days long, since 210 (the days in a year) can’t be divided by these numbers, so some weeks have extra days added.
Okay, wow, complicated!
Pawukon sets the date for many of the traditional Balinese holidays and festivals, like Galungan and Kuningan, Sarasawati or other big ceremonies that are celebrated every year (equals 210 days)
Another interesting fact is how the Balinese keep track of their birthdays. Every Balinese has an international birthday which is the actual date the person is born. But they also have a Balinese birthday, which is based on the Pawukon Calendar and not related to the actual date. So every 210 days, the Balinese have their birthday. This day is called ‘otonan’ and is celebrated with offerings and a small ceremony. So no big parties every 210 days. The younger generation does celebrate their international birthday nowadays with a party and presents.
The average Balinese is able to read the basics of the Pawukon Calendar. This means they know how to calculate when the next Galungan ceremony is. (Galungan is the biggest ceremony in Bali. Read more about it here).
But to really understand the details of this calendar, to know when exactly a specific ceremony will be held, when the temple has their special days or how to see when it is a good day to start preparing with offerings, is not something everyone can do.
The Balinese also believe that there are specific days to do a certain activity, or to have a special ceremony. Examples are days to get married, days to start building a new house, but also smaller things like a special day to get a haircut, to make a new fence for the animals at home or to get a blessing ceremony for an existing building.
In order to find out when these days occur, the Balinese will go to a special priest who is able to read the calendar. He will know exactly when it is a good day for the above.
So if you see Balinese men all with a new haircut around in Bali, you know it has been a good day on the calendar to get that haircut. Same goes for weddings, don’t be surprised if you receive 5 wedding invitations for the same day!
This is just one of the things that makes Bali so unique. It might be hard to understand for people who haven’t been spending time in Bali, but for those who have, we hope this blog helps you understand a little bit more about the spiritual and unique Balinese culture and way of life.
Want to continue learning about Balinese culture? Read our blog post about Balinese offerings here!