The celebrations of Galungan in Bali
Updated: Apr 28
Galungan is one of Bali's most important Hindu holidays: every 210 days, the celebrations last for 10 days and are filled with many different prayers, offerings and ceremonies. This holiday represents the fight between the good (or virtue) called dharma and the evil, called adharma. The ceremonies remind people to be united with spiritual strength in order to have a clear and bright mind and stay in the dharma. Galungan is also a time when the spirits of ancestors visit their families.
During Galungan, every entry of houses and temples is decorated with a penjor, a tall bamboo pole. Everything that is placed on the penjor is a symbol of a different Hindu god. Fruits and flowers are for Vishnu, protector of the universe. Rice cakes are for Brahma, creator of the universe. The bamboo leaves woven in the shape of a triangle are for Siva, destructor of the evil. The white and yellow cloth wrapped around them is a symbol for Ishvara, the spiritual inspiration.
The celebrations start three days before the day of Galungan. The first day is Penyekeban, when green bananas are put into banana leaves and clay pots to accelerate their ripening (however, this tradition differs from a village to another). The second day is Penyajaan, when little rice cakes, called Jaja, are cooked for the offerings. The third day is Penampahan, when pigs and chickens are blessed and sacrificed for cooking the traditional food. This represents killing the bestiality inside humans. Galungan day is then reserved for prayers.
I was invited by a Balinese family to participate in the ceremonies, at their family temple. In Bali, every family has its own temple. During Galungan, people go back to their native village to celebrate with their relatives.
To enter a temple, women must wear the traditional costume: a batik kamben (or sarong), the colorful piece of cloth tied around the waist, a kebaya, the lacy top usually white for ceremonies, and a scarf used as a belt. Men must wear a kamben, a white shirt and a white udeng, wrapped around the head. The kambens are wrapped differently for men and women. The kids also wear the traditional clothes.
The prayers of Galungan are done with holy water (tirta) and scented water (air wanga). The water is sprinkled three times over the head of the person praying, poured in their hands and drunk three times, then poured in their hands and ran over the head and face. Flowers also play a central role: white, yellow and red flowers are held in joint hands when praying. The incense smoke is believed to help the prayers reach the gods. All-day, food and flowers offerings are made in the different temple altars.
Having the chance to join locals for this very special ceremony helped me understand more deeply the traditions of Bali. The Hindu religion is omnipresent, and most of the daily rituals are organized around those beliefs. However, people from any religion or background are more than welcome to join the ceremonies and learn. This is one of the treasures of traveling around the world: being able to discover how diverse and colorful the different cultures are, and how precious this diversity is.