If you happen to be in Bali for the Galungan and Kuningan celebrations, you may consider yourself lucky. Bali is beautiful, mystical and enchanting and on this 10-days festivity, the magic in the air is even more tangible. From Seminyak to Lovina, the island bursts with colours and scents. The streets are decorated beautifully, the Balinese people are dressed up in traditional clothing, there are ceremonies held everywhere on the island and the Gods are honoured with abundant offerings.
Balinese New Year
When arched bamboo poles, decorated with bamboo leaves and flowers, line the streets of every town in Bali, you know what time of the year it is. These graceful street decorations are called ‘Penjor’ and they make a lovely welcome to all island visitors. Galungan is the start of a new year according to the Balinese Pawukon Calendar which has only 210 days. This means good news for you: Galungan and Kuningan happen twice a year and in 2018, the celebration starts on 29 May and 25 December. Kuningan always follows 10 days after Galungan.
Cultural meaning: Celebrating victory over Evil
Galungan is an important time for the Balinese. It is not only the start of a new year; it is also a victory celebration of good over evil: Dharma has won over Adharma.
The legends surrounding Galungan and Kuningan date back to the time of King Mayadenawa. Mayadenawa was a powerful, evil king with magical powers. He forbade the Balinese people to worship anyone but him and he destroyed shrines and temples. It was a time of darkness and the people were scared to stand up to him. Seeing all of this suffering, the Balinese priest Mpu Kulputih went praying at Pura Besakih, the mother temple of Bali. He prayed to get help from God and his prayer was answered: God Indra came down from heaven together with his troops. It was a fierce battle, taking many lives but in the end, King Mayadenawa was defeated, killed by an arrow of God Indra.
The holy spring temple Tirta Empul is of great significance in this story. As the troops of God Indra has been poisoned by the king, Tirta Empul was created, fed by holy spring water which saved them from death. Galungan is the day King Mayadenawa was defeated and Kuningan is the official announcement, 10 days after.
Visits from Ancestors
Another important element that makes Galungan and Kuningan so very special is the belief that ancestral spirits of relatives come to pay a visit to their former home here on Bali Island. The Balinese welcome their ancestors with offerings and prayers.
Galungan always takes place on a Wednesday. The preparations start already 3 days before the actual day. The Balinese women are busy with cooking. They put green bananas into large clay pots to make them ripe faster and they bake colourful traditional rice cakes. The Balinese men take care of the ceremonial slaughtering of chickens and/or pigs. The animals are blessed and sacrificed for the Galungan feast the next day.
Galungan Day is all about prayers and bringing offerings. All Balinese people dress up in their finest clothes, women carry offerings on their heads and everyone goes to pray at the local temple. As a visitor to Bali Island, it is amazing to see! A Barong ceremony is performed in every village. This mythical beast enters the houses of villagers to restore the balance between good and evil. The day after Galungan ‘Galungan Manis’ is about visiting family around the island and having fun.
As the spirits of ancestors ascend back to heaven before noon, they are honoured with special offerings made from yellow rice (nasi kuning). This day is all about purification and gratitude. The next day it is Kuningan Manis, another day of celebration and fun with friends and family.
The Galungan celebration is a feast for the eyes and ears! Go catch a glimpse of this unique island celebration. Allow yourself to get enchanted a little – you are in Bali after all, this world’s one and only ‘Island of the Gods’.
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