“Why are those beautiful bamboo decorations at almost every doorway?” I ask when Barry and I first arrived back in one of our favorite places in the world: Ubud, Bali.
“They are penjor, and it’s Galungan.”
Penjors, tall bamboo poles decorated with harvest yields such as tubers, fruits as well as cakes, are festooned with young coconut leaves and more. The bow of the penjor symbolizes holy Mount Agung, the tall bamboo, the rivers that run down from the mountains to the sea, and the decorations of fruits and plants are symbolic for the crops that can grow where the river passes the farm lands on its way to the sea.
Set at every Balinese Hindu family compound entrance, penjors symbolize prosperity of the earth that is bestowed on them – and their gratitude.
The entrance decorations are only part of the preparation needed for Galungan.
As an island of mainly Balinese Hindus, the temple celebrations are numerous, varied, and rich in meaning. Each day, Balinese make offerings and pray, but some days are really special and involve much preparation and fanfare. Two of those very special celebrations were held during September 2016: Galungan and Kuningan.
Generally considered the most important celebrations of Hindu Bali, Galungan celebrates the victory of dharma (the path of righteousness and living one’s life according to the codes of conduct as described by the Hindu scriptures) over adharma, unrighteousness. The series of Hindu religious ceremonies performed during the ten days of celebration focus on the importance of living a life based on right living. This year, Galungan was on September 7.
Preparations really began 25 days before Galungan Day, on the Saturday of the 7th week of the Balinese Pawukon calendar, Wariga. Thus the total length of the ceremony period is 35 days, which in the Balinese calendar equals five 5 weeks, one Balinese month.
To give you an idea of the variety and richness of the Balinese Hindu religious practice, here is a list of the celebrations (including Galungan and Kuningan) for this month, September 2016:
1 September 2016: Sugian Jawa/Tilem (Dark Moon) – On this day, Balinese Hindus pay extra attention to worshiping all the positive power of the Gods.
2 September 2016: Sugian Bali/Kajeng Kliwon Enyitan – The ceremony of Sugian Bali is to clean the inner world of the individual of negativity, so that he/she will be able to hold and utilize this inner space in an appropriate, spiritual way.
5 September 2016: Penajaan Galungan – In Balinese, Penajaan means “true, right, serious.” The Balinese Hindus prepare spiritually to celebrate and welcome the important approaching Galungan holy day. On this day as part of the preparation, the Balinese make special rice cakes, called jajan.
Also on this day, Bhuta Dungulan, an evil spirit, is likely to test the self restraint of each Balinese Hindu.
6 September 2016: Penampahan Galungan – On this day, Balinese Hindu kill a domestic animal (usually pig or chicken) as a special offering. Although Hindu, the Balinese believe that an animal’s spirit is released at the moment of death, so they do eat meat unlike most Hindus. The meat offering is meant to get rid of negativity in both the Bhuana Agung (the big world) and the Bhuana Alit (the small inner world of each individual). Besides using the meat for offerings, it is cooked for traditional Balinese dishes such as lawar, babi guling, and satay. Balinese children especially look forward to Penampahan Galungan as a family party day with lots of delicious dishes.
In the afternoon of Penampahan Galungan, people install the penjor in front of their family compounds.
7 September 2016: Galungan Day – A most important holy day for the Balinese Hindus. In the morning, they bring offerings to their village temples and pray for the well being of their bodies and souls and for prosperity and protection.
On the way to or from the temple – on Galungan Day.
Each family also performs a private ceremony at the temple in their family compound.
8 September 2016: Umanis Galungan – The ceremonies of this day are to cleanse in a physical and spiritual sense the Bhuana Alit, the inner world of each individual. After the ceremony finishes, as a symbol of obtaining blessings from Bhatara Hyang Guru (God), family members share fruits and cakes that have been given as offerings.
16 September 2016: Penampahan Kuningan/Purnama (Full Moon) – Balinese Hindus kill a domestic animal for ceremonies and for food on Kuningan Day.
17 September 2016: Kuningan – Marking the end of the Galungan ceremonies, Kuningan is celebrated every 210 days. The Balinese believe that on Kuningan, their ancestors return to heaven after visiting the earth during the Galungan celebrations. Offerings to be given to the ancestors on their farewell day include yellowed rice (Kuningan is derived from the word kuning which means yellow) that is placed in a small “bowl” made of coconut leaves. Other common offerings: a seeds, fish, and fruit like papaya and cucumber. The yellow rice is the symbol of human gratitude towards God for all the life, joy, wealth, health, and prosperity given. The bowls are decorated with small figures of shadow puppets that represent angels that bring joy and wealth to earth. Some people see these offerings as a symbol of food supply for the journey of the ancestors from earth to heaven. From a spiritual view, however, they represent the essential provisions that every human should carry-knowledge and homage.
On Kuningan day, God blesses and gives prosperity to the whole world.
In some villages, especially in Gianyar region, barongs or ngelawangs – lion like creatures – go from house to house followed by kids playing traditional Balinese music instruments. We saw them in Ubud too.
If such a creature arrives in front of your house, you should give an offering – money, and the barong will dance and bless your house and your family.
On Kuningan, a lovely Danish woman, Bettina, and I went to the Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal Temple in the Monkey Forest Sanctuary to see what we could of the final hours of the celebration (since the ceremonies should be done before the sun sinks to the west – before noon).
27 September 2016: Anggara Kliwon Medangsla Temple Festival – celebrated at many temples in Bali – to worship and pray to request safety and prosperity.
28 September 2016: Buda Umanis Medangsia Temple Festival – celebrated at several temples in Bali – to pray for agricultural prosperity.
The reality is that when you come to Bali, on many days during any month, you will see Balinese Hindus on their way to – or from – their temples – as they live their religion. Come and see.
Selamat Tinggal, Renée
P.S. Barry just pointed out an ad in the local Bali paper for a cook, housekeeper, and other extra duties (English speaking, of course). The potential employer can’t have been in Bali for long — since the offer includes a “generous” four days off a month. Ha, ha, ha, ha . . .
Balinese Hindus need much more time off than that just to practice their religion. Barry’s favorite masseuse needs to be called in advance and sessions arranged around temple responsibilities; we don’t see favorite local families for days at a time here because of temple duties; businesses close during the most important holidays. Realize that Galungan, for instance, is a Balinese holiday that occurs every 210 days and lasts for 10 days. This is Bali life. 🙂
Images and sources from: <http://www.wonderfulbali.com/galungan/>, <http://blog.kura2guide.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/kuningan-3.jpg>, <http://www.holidaysia.com/events/galungan-kuningan/>, <http://data.whicdn.com/images/1304014/original.jpg>, <http://www.tanahlot.net/home/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=171:penampahan-galungan-day&catid=1:latest&Itemid=46>, & much of the calendar text from “List of Ceremonies” Ubud Community, Sept. 2016, p. 8-12.