Galungan has already passed, but the decorations are still up. A ubiquitous cultural attribute you’d mostly see during Galungan is that tall, curved pole of bamboo adorned with decorations in front of virtually every building in Bali. That’s called a penjor, and it is a symbol of the bounty of the earth and a thankful expression for all that is good from Nature.
Let’s make it clear first that there are two types of penjor: decorative and ritual. Decorative penjor are mainly there to lighten the place up, like in front of hotels, and are used for secular occasions, like a forum or weddings in Java; whereas ritual penjor cannot be used willy-nilly because they have a religious significance. One sure-fire way to know which penjor is which is to just remember: if it’s not Galungan, it’s a decorative penjor.
Usually, the Balinese prepare the penjor two days before Galungan, although some also prepare them a week before.
The penjor on Galungan day is rife with symbolism in its every aspect. Since there’s so many to go through, we’ll just focus on the important aspects. In short, the entire thing is a symbol of gratitude to the earth and gods for providing prosperity to the Balinese.
The height of the penjor represents Mount Agung, the holiest mountain on the island that provides protection and prosperity. The main element of the penjor, bamboo, symbolizes the god of creation, Brahma. Bamboo is an important ingredient in most Balinese ceremonies, and is thus linked to creation. The decorations are made of young coconut and plawa leaves, which symbolize the lush vegetation of earth. Other decorations include small cakes and coconut, all of which represent the bounty of nature. Though these are the main elements, some penjor are decorated with colourful fabric. It’s just a fashion statement, but it makes the penjor look better! At the base of the penjor is a small bamboo shrine where the Balinese place offerings.
When you’re walking in Bali during Galungan, you’ll notice there’s a penjor almost everywhere. Some of the penjor are modest, with only simple decorations; others can be grandiose with lustrous ornaments. Whatever the penjor, they all carry the same meaning. They’re there to thank the gods for all that’s good.