Galungan is the most important feast for Balinese Hindus, a celebration to honor the creator of the universe (Ida Sang Hyang Widi) and the spirits of the honored ancestors.
The festival symbolizes the victory of good (Dharma) over evil (Adharma), and encourages the Balinese to show their gratitude to the creator and sainted ancestors.
Offerings to the Ancestors
Galungan occurs once in the 210-day cycle of the Balinese calendar, and marks the time of the year when the spirits of the ancestors are believed to visit the earth. Balinese Hindus perform rituals that are meant to welcome and entertain these returning spirits.
The house compounds that make up the nucleus of Balinese society come alive with devotions offered by the families living within. Families offer bountiful sacrifices of food and flowers to the ancestral spirits, expressing gratitude and hopes for protection. These sacrifices are also offered at local temples, which are packed with devotees bringing their offerings.
The whole island sprouts tall bamboo poles called "penjor" - these are usually decorated with fruit, coconut leaves, and flowers, and set up on the right of every residence entrance. At each gate, you'll also find small bamboo altars set up especially for the holiday, each one bearing woven palm-leaf offerings for the spirits.
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The preparations for Galungan begin several days before the actual feast day.
Three days before Galungan - "Penyekeban" - families begin their preparations for Galungan. "Penyekeban" literally means "the day to cover up ", as this is the day when green bananas are covered up in huge clay pots to speed their ripening.
Two days before Galungan - "Penyajahan" - marks a time of introspection for Balinese, and more prosaically, a time to make the Balinese cakes known as jaja. These colored cakes made of fried rice dough are used in offerings and are also eaten specially on Galungan. This time of the year finds a glut of jaja in every village market.
A day before Galungan - "Penampahan", or slaughter day - Balinese slaughter the sacrificial animals that will go into the temple or altar offerings. Galungan is marked by the sudden surplus of traditional Balinese food, like lawar (a spicy pork and coconut sauce dish) and satay.
On Galungan day itself, Balinese devotees pray at the temples and make their offerings to the spirits. Women are seen carrying the offerings on their heads, while men bring palm fronds.
The day after Galungan, Balinese visit their kinfolk and closest friends.
The tenth day after Galungan - "Kuningan" - marks the end of Galungan, and is believed to be the day when the spirits ascend back to heaven. On this day, Balinese make special offerings of yellow rice.
Ngelawang - Dance of the Barong
During Galungan, a ceremony known as Ngelawang is performed in the villages. Ngelawang is an exorcism ceremony performed by a "barong" - a divine protector in the form of a mythical beast.
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 house. The residents of the house will pray before the dancing barong, who will afterwards give a piece of his fur as a keepsake.
After the barong pays a visit, it is important to make an offering of a canang sari containing money.
A Treat for the Senses
While the actual festivities are open to Balinese only, tourists who visit Bali during this holiday get an eyeful of the local color.
It isn't every day you see richly-dressed women crossing the street to make food offerings to the local temple - and there's something festive about the penjor swaying in the wind everywhere you look!
During Galungan, some local restaurants ride the rising demand for Balinese food by offering specials on all sorts of native dishes. This is a great time to try Balinese food for the first time!
On the downside, many places will be closed for Galungan, as their devout Balinese employees will likely be going to their respective villages to celebrate.
As the Balinese calendar follows a 210-day cycle, Galungan happens twice a year roughly every six months. The holiday is calculated to occur on the following dates:
- May 21 - May 31, 2014
- December 17 - December 27, 2014
- July 15 - July 25, 2015
- February 10 - February 20, 2016
- September 7 - September 17, 2016
- April 5 - April 15, 2017
- November 1 - November 11, 2017
- May 30 - June 9, 2018
- December 26 - January 9, 2019
- July 22 - August 3, 2019
- February 19 - February 29, 2020
- September 16 - September 26, 2020
- April 14 - April 24, 2021
You might want to reserve a hotel in Bali early for these days, as holiday-goers from all over are making Galungan plans of their own!