Bali has a rich tradition of cultural rituals and festive celebrations that run pretty much year-round. But with July on the horizon, one of Bali’s holiest ceremonies — Galungan — is fast approaching. A celebration of ancestral spirits, the victory of good over evil, and one that keeps kitchens across Bali humming, there is perhaps no better time to see Bali in full traditional swing than the 10-day ceremony that is Galungan.
Flanked with banana leaves, vibrant arrays of flowers, the dancing and leaping of incense smoke and the admiring eyes of passersby, intricately designed bamboo penjor (bamboo street posts decorated with ornaments made of palm leaves) that go up one-by-one signal that Galungan — one of Bali’s holiest celebrations — is fast approaching. With July right around the corner, families will soon begin preparing for a 10-day holiday that submerges the island in spiritual ecstasy. Last we experienced one of Bali’s holy days it was Nyepi, the day of silence, these days however, are anything but. And for travellers looking for a time of the year to get closest to Balinese traditions, ceremonies, colours, vibrancies, aromas, sights and sounds that Bali is capable of, quite literally, offering, there are few better times to visit.
A celebration that marks the beginning and the ending of a spiritual journey made by ancestral spirits, Galungan is celebrated with vibrant penjors that line Bali’s streets, a frenzy of cooking, the hum of reuniting families, and the always-inviting aroma of seemingly eternally burning incense. Galungan, which kicks-off the 10-day long celebration, is the Balinese holiday that marks the day that dharma (good) trumped adharma (evil), and proved victorious on the spiritual battlefield. Rung in in style, the holy day, and days leading up to, keep the island’s streets filled with smiling and traditionally-clad Balinese running through a gamut of processions.
…but the most climactic of events occurs when the Balinese bring animals forth for sacrificial slaughter for the ancestral spirits, the creator, and all of the good that they hope will soon fill their island with joy and merriment.
Based on the 210-day pawukon calendar — one of three traditional Balinese calendars — Galungan truly begins three days earlier than the marked holiday (July 15) on a day called Penyekeban. Penyekeban is the day that families begin their cooking of foods and ripening of fruits for the foodstuffs that will make their way into the offering baskets that dangle from the intricately designed penjor. And while delicious aromas emanate from the Balinese households and the spread of food grows ever-larger, it’s not yet time to eat. Two days before Galungan, there is Penyajaan, another day of preparation, but this time a day for preparing fried rice cakes and seeking inner solace through periods of deep introspection. Then comes Penampahan, perhaps the most active of days leading up to Galungan, and for the faint of heart, perhaps the hardest to watch. Penampahan brings about the decorating of houses, penjor, temples and all of the last-minute preparations that may have been forgotten in the previous days, but the most climactic of events occurs when the Balinese bring animals forth for sacrificial slaughter for the ancestral spirits, the creator, and all of the good that they hope will soon fill their island with joy and merriment. A particularly gruesome day out at the temples, Penampahan marks the final day before Galungan — and the ancestral spirits — descends upon the aptly named Island of the Gods.
And finally Galungan arrives. Marked by families making offerings at home and at temples, Galungan seeks to bring those on the island closer to the ancestral spirits that have completed their journey back to the living world. With evil spirits and adharma in flight, this day of celebration is relatively more calm and composed than those that lead up to it, but for the Balinese, it is certainly the most important. Yet perhaps the most fun the Balinese have during this 10-day celebration is on Manis Galungan, that follows Galungan. A day of relaxation, visiting friends and family, and one that departs from the more ceremony-driven festivities, Manis Galungan offers families the chance to reap the fruits of their labour, which means food, fun, and for travellers, a very low expectation of things being done on the island — after all, babi guling (suckling pig) can leave a pretty nasty food hangover, especially for the folks that had been working so hard to welcome their spiritual family members.
Rung in in style, the holy day, and days leading up to, keep the island’s streets filled with smiling and traditionally-clad Balinese running through a gamut of processions.
This whole series of events finally comes to an end on Kuningan (25 July), a day when the spirits, full in belly and mind, ascend back to the heavens from which they descended. Being sent off with plenty of yellow-rice offerings, this day marks the end of what is for many Balinese, one of the most holy series of days on the small tropical island. And hopefully for them, what they cooked, killed, cleaned and built was more than enough to appease these spiritual wanderers for another peaceful year.
(Featured image: Traditional bamboo offering posts called penjors can be seen lining the streets across the island of Bali during the 10-day celebration of Galungan, one of the island’s most celebrated holidays.)