Galungan in Bali
Have you ever wondered why sometimes when you are in Bali you see rows of beautiful bamboo poles lining the streets? Why are they there sometimes and not other times? Well, this time of year has rolled around again, and on May 30, 2018, Bali celebrates Galungan. Galungan is a time for welcoming the ancestral spirits back home to Bali. The island must look welcoming, colourful and festive for the gods. Galungan is a ten-day celebration symbolising the victory of good (dharma) over evil (adharma), during which Balinese Hindus honour their creator and their ancestors.
The celebration of Galungan occurs every 210-day on the Balinese calendar. During this time, the island is ablaze with colour as the Balinese make elaborate offerings and perform rituals to entertain the returning spirits. The house compounds that form the nucleus of Balinese society come alive, with families offering food and flowers to the ancestral spirits to express their gratitude and to seek protection.
The whole island sprouts tall bamboo poles (penjors), which are usually decorated with fruit, coconut leaves, bananas and flowers, and are set up at the entrance to every house. And, yes, we have one outside our home because I live in Bali. At each gate, you will also find small bamboo altars erected especially for the celebration, each one bearing woven palm-leaf offerings, bananas and fruit.
Preparations for Galungan begin well beforehand. Penyekeban, meaning the day to cover up, occurs three days before the Galungan day. This is the day when green bananas are covered up in huge clay pots to speed their ripening. Penyajahan occurs two days before the Galungan day and marks a time of introspection for Balinese. Colourful Balinese cakes known as jaja are made from fried rice dough. These are used in offerings and eaten during the 10-day Galungan time. This time of the year you see piles of jaja in every village market. The day before Galungan is Penampahan or slaughter day. The Balinese kill sacrificial pigs and chickens for uses such as temple altar offerings. On Galungan day streams of Balinese devotees can be seen bringing elaborate offerings to their temples, where they will pray. The next day the Balinese visit their extended family and closest friends. They wear their finest garb on this day and preferably new clothes.
Ten days later, Kuningan marks the end of Galungan. This is the day the Balinese believe the spirits ascend back to heaven. This is another fine and glorious event on the Balinese calendar. On this day, you will see unique offerings of yellow rice, and for sure, if you are staying in a village, expect a knock at the door, as your neighbour will no doubt give you some. Also, Ngelawang is performed at this time. It is an exorcism dance performed by a barong, a mythical beast representing the divine protector. 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 a home. The residents of the house will pray before the dancing barong, who will then give them a piece of his fur as a keepsake. After the barong rocks up at your front door and pays a visit, it is customary to make an offering of a canang sari (a flower offering) containing money, or a monetary donation is fine too.
During Galungan traditional Balinese food is abundant, like lawar (a spicy pork and coconut sauce dish) and satay. If you love trying local food, some local restaurants will feature extensive arrays of Balinese specialities. Make sure you try some. At Galungan the beautiful penjors line every road, lane and tiny street and sway in the wind, a continual reminder of this grand welcoming home of the ancestral spirits. Food, offerings, flowers, celebration and blessings honouring the invisible world brings balance to Bali – famed Island of the Gods.
Story by Stephanie Brookes
Photo by David Metcalf
Galungan 2018 May 30 – June 9, 2018
December 26 – Jan 5, 2019
Stephanie Brookes is a travel writer and blogger with tales from Indonesia and beyond.
Author of Indonesia’s Hidden Heritage
David Metcalf runs cultural photography tours in Indonesia and beyond. His photo gallery, Taksu Photo Gallery in Ubud, Bali is a showcase for beautiful photographic work from the many islands of Indonesia.