Festivities bloom once again on the equatorial island of Bali next month, this time with the celebration of Saraswati Day. Perhaps not as vibrantly celebrated as some of the other Balinese holidays such as Nyepi or Galungan, this day of offering is one that is honoured in the home, at school, and at the workplace. A celebration and day of offering for Dewi Saraswati, the four-armed goddess of science and knowledge, the day is filled with the blessing of, and offerings to, various books of knowledge, holy books and lontar (traditional holy manuscripts).
The celebration of Saraswati Day is rooted within the Hindu belief that knowledge should be constantly nurtured, flowing and free. Some of the most important aspects in this human world to Balinese Hindus, knowledge and understanding, take priority on Saraswati Day, and the day sees worshippers making offerings to Saraswati in hopes that knowledge, understanding, and blessings will befall Bali in exchange for the devout worship offered. The goddess herself, often seen sitting atop a white lotus representing light, knowledge, and truth, carries in her four arms a book, a garland, a lute and a water pot. These four items are also symbolic, and represent universal knowledge and understanding, inner meditation and self-awareness, the purification of the mind and body, and the creative and intimate pursuits of art and creativity, respectively.
This is done at home, in school and even at places of work, so don’t be surprised to see a few folks a bit preoccupied if you happen to trip into warung (local side-street cafe) in search of the next good bite.
Though as tradition seems to permit on the Island of the Gods, no holiday is ever only one day, and Saraswati Day is bookended by both Pengeradanaan – the day prior to Saraswati Day – and Banyu Pinaruh – the day after. Pengeradanaan, or the day before, is a day for the Balinese to prepare for the coming of Saraswati Day. Usually this means the cleaning and organising of books in the home, periods of manuscript reading, and general mental preparation for a day devoted to the gods – think spring cleaning for Balinese Hindus, but less focused on the house, and more on the books.
After the preparation has been completed on Pengeradanaan, Saraswati Day comes. On the day of, offerings are given to the books and lontar that were prepared the day before, and a series of prayers are recited. This is done at home, in school and even at places of work, so don’t be surprised to see a few folks a bit preoccupied if you happen to trip into warung (local side-street cafe) in search of the next good bite. During the afternoon, there is also a period when the Balinese are traditionally disallowed from reading or writing because all of the books and sources of knowledge are undergoing a religious rite of passage, but not for long, as evenings are usually filled (either at home or in the temple) with extended reading times of these holy books that were only just before cleansed in the religious offering ceremonies of the Balinese.
For those interested, hop down to any of the lakes, rivers or beaches that populate the island and take a look for yourself, and if the jamu isn’t your cup of tea, rest assured someone there will be happy enough to take it off your hands.
But the Saraswati celebration doesn’t end there, and the day after Saraswati Day, or Banyu Pinaruh, is probably the most visible, and outwardly celebrated day of the trio. Banyu Pinaruh, which literally translates to water wisdom, is a day which sees most Balinese families head towards any of Bali’s bodies of water to bathe and cleanse themselves. A day focused on good health, the bathing is oft accompanied with the drinking of traditional jamus (Indonesia’s traditional herbal drink) and is a reminder that after science and knowledge, one of the most important things in life is good health and well-being. For those interested, hop down to any of the lakes, rivers or beaches that populate the island and take a look for yourself, and if the jamu isn’t your cup of tea, rest assured someone there will be happy enough to take it off your hands.
Based on the 210-day Balinese Pawukon lunar calendar, the event happens twice every Gregorian year, and this year, it falls on November 28 (the other having occurred in May). While participation in the celebration may be minimal for travellers on the island outside of sharing a cup of jamu on Banyu Pinaruh, if one can negotiate – through the concierge service at either The Legian Bali or The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah, Ubud – an arrangement with a local family, school, or temple to participate in some of the religious ceremonies that are devised to bring knowledge and blessings to the island, you certainly would be getting a divinely new taste of an important, yet frequently overlooked, day for the Balinese.
(Featured image: Offerings like the ones pictured are common sights on Bali year-round, but come Saraswati Day many of these offerings move indoors in front of family book, manuscript and lontar collections. Saraswati Day is celebrated as a day to make offerings for, and to ask blessings from Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of science and knowledge. – Photo courtesy of Liza Latif-Grosskinsky)