Every 210 days you will certainly notice on the whole Island of Bali you are surrounded by bamboo poles, known as “penjor,”. This is the sign that Galungan Day is around the corner. Decorated with fruit, flowers and coconut leaves, these tall poles are found on every street outside every Balinese home.
Galungan is a unique 10 day celebration of the victory of ‘Dharma’ over ‘Adharma’, also known as the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. It marks the time when the ancestral spirits visit the Earth. The last day of the celebration is Kuningan, 10 days after Galungan, when they return.
Actually, Galungan itself only lasts 4 days (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday), but the entire process (according to traditional lore) can take up to a month. Here’s how it goes:
- 25 days before Galungan on a Saturday: this is Tumpek Wariga, when the Balinese ask for blessings from nature. Fun fact: In old times, people tapped or lightly cut tree trunks and whispered to trees so that the trees will produce fruit quickly. But today, this is rarely done. People just present offerings on the shrines on trees.
- 6 days before Galungan on a Thursday: this is called Sugihan Jawa. It has nothing to do with the island of Java; it is said to be called this because it was a tradition that originated from the Majapahit Empire. On this day, the Balinese present offerings to “cleanse” the universe (bhuana agung).
- 5 days before Galungan on a Friday: this is called Sugihan Bali. It’s similar to Sugihan Jawa, but this time, the Balinese “cleanse” themselves (bhuana alit).
- 3 days before Galungan: Penyekeban day, marks the first day adharma comes to Earth in the form of three evil spirits.
- 2 days before Galungan: Penyajaan day, the second evil spirit descends to Earth.
- 1 day before Galungan: Penampahan day, the last evil spirit descends and people finalize their preparations for tomorrow.
- Galungan Day: our ancestors ride into battle and defeat the evil spirits. Hurray, we win!
- 1 day after Galungan: Umanis Galungan, the time Balinese take a break and visit families to strengthen cordiality.
The official calendar only marks Galungan and Kuningan as “national holidays”. But due to the amount of preparation needed, the local government allows a two-week vacation period for (almost) everyone. That way, people can prepare for both Galungan and Kuningan at the same time. Sometimes, those two weeks is cut into a mere six days.
Galungan marks the beginning of the most important Balinese religious ceremonies. The spirits of deceased relatives who have died and been cremated return to visit their former homes, and the current inhabitants have a responsibility to be hospitable through prayers and many offerings. You will see that during this festival, all Balinese will return to their home village to spend their time with their family, and to help in the household by making offerings and food.
The day before Galungan, men of the village head out at dawn in search of an pig that will be used as temple sacrifice. From the meat they will make traditional spicy “lawar” dishes containing satay, jackfruit, dozens of herbs and spices and always enough to feed the whole family and visitors.
Traditional lawar is made from pork, however these days a lot of Balinese make lawar from chicken or duck as well and even some Balinese can make vegetarian lawar!
If you are staying at our volunteer accommodation, you will see and experience all the preparations and activities first hand. Don’t be surprised if you are woken up by the family at 7 AM to have a large Balinese breakfast and eat together with the whole family.
On Galungan day itself (always the Wednesday) it’s a time for families. Every Balinese will return home to their family compound. In the morning they will all go to their village and family temples to pray. Many restaurants and shops close for a few days and Bali will be very quiet and peaceful during these days. You will see the Balinese youth gathering at night in the streets for some Bintang or Arak (local palm rice liquor) and families spend their days at home to enjoy their time together, playing cards, kids playing their kites and women come together for some long catching up chitchat.
In the afternoons, the streets of Bali will be full with schoolchildren performing “Barong” dances with great enthusiasm as they strongly believe that the Barong will scare away the bad spirits. The barong is invited into houses as he makes his way through the village. His presence is meant to restore the balance of good and evil in the house. The residents of the house will pray before the dancing Barong and if a Barong arrives in front of your house, you should give an offering called canang with sesari (money) on it, after receiving the offering; the barong will dance and bless your house and your family. The procession will come with great sounds of “Gamelan” (traditional Balinese music) and it is a great joy to watch this. Nowadays, this is pretty rare, unless you’re in a village with an active youth group and a strong community. People sometimes do this in the city, but it’s uncommon. In Ubud you will see a lot of these groups as it has also become a tourist activity and the youth community can collect money for their community activites.
Kuningan Day, that marks the end of the Gaungan holiday, is celebrated ten days after Galungan (always the Saturday).
The Balinese believe that Kuningan day is the day when their ancestors return to heaven after visiting the earth during Galungan celebration. They make offerings to be given to the ancestors on their farewell day. The offerings include yellowed rice (Kuningan is originate from the word kuning which means yellow) which is placed in a small “bowl” made of coconut leaves. The yellow rice is the symbol of human’s gratitude towards God for all the life, joy, wealth, health and prosperity given.
It is also said that on Kuningan day Ida Sang Hyang Widhi (God for the Balinese) is blessing and giving prosperity to the whole world. The celebration should be done before noon, before gods and goddess’ return to the heavens.
There’s also another Kuningan ornament to mention, the Tamiang. It’s a shield made from coconut leaves. You find it hanging on cars, doors, and the shrines. It’s believed to ward off evil and protect the family from harm.
During the week of Galungan, VP Bali will not run any programs as all the Balinese are too busy with the preparations of this big event. For you as a volunteer it is the perfect opportunity to go around the Island to see all the beautiful decorations of the streets and temples. During the Galungan period you will notice Balinese people dressed beautifully in bright colored dresses and it is a great time to take some of your best pictures of your volunteer experience.
On Galungan Day itself you are more than welcome to join your Balinese host family to the temple and eat with the family. Be prepared for some real traditional Balinese food and don’t hesitate to try everything.
Please do note that if you are going to the temple, you are required to wear a sarong and a t-shirt with long sleeves. You can ask your host family for a proper outfit and without any doubt they are more than happy to help you and they will very much appreciate your effort to be part of this beautiful Balinese tradition.