Galungan and Kuningan
The entire island of Bali will be gaily decorated and festive activities held across the island, when the Balinese celebrate the religious festivals of Galungan and its pinnacle, Kuningan, concentrated on Bali’s many temples, including the island’s mother temple, Pura Besakih.
Celebrated every 210 days according to the Hindu Saka Calendar, Galungan symbolizes the victory of Dharma over Adharma or virtue over evil which has its origin in the mythology of “Mayadenawa”. It is believed that during the ten days of Galungan, all the gods, as well as the supreme deity Sanghyang Widi, will come down to earth and join the festivities. The Balinese also believe that the spirit of ancestors and deceased relatives return to visit their homes, thus various rituals and offerings are conducted to welcome them.
During the festival, the whole island sprouts tall bamboo poles called “penjor” – that are usually decorated with fruit, coconut leaves, and flowers, and set up on the right of the entrance of every home. At each gate, one will also find small bamboo altars set up especially for the holiday, each one bearing woven palm-leaf offerings for the spirits.
The festival is preceded by several days of preparations which begin three days before the festival, and is called “Penyekeban”. Literally meaning “the day to cover”, Penyekaban marks the preparations for Galungan where families cover green un-ripe bananas in huge clay pots to speed up the ripening process. The second day is called “Penyajahan” which marks a time of introspection for the Balinese, and more prosaically, a time to make Balinese cakes known as jaja. These colored cakes are made from fried rice dough and are used in offerings, and are also eaten specially on Galungan. The last day of preparation is called “Penampahan” or slaughtering day. On this day, Balinese slaughter the sacrificial animals which will be used in the rituals.
During Galungan, a ceremony known as Ngelawang is performed in every village. Ngelawang is a ritual to expel evil and any negative spirits, which is 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 the house. The residents of the house will pray before the dancing barong, who will afterwards give a piece of his fur as keepsake.
The last and a pinnacle to the ten day festival is called Kuningan. It is believed that on this particular day, the supreme god Sang Hyang Widi descends to earth to give blessing for all the people. As closure to the series of Galungan rituals, Kuningan also marks the return of all the gods and ancestors to their own realm.
As one of the most important religious activities on the island, Galungan provides the best opportunity to observe the most fascinating part of Bali’s unique culture. A visit to Bali during the festival will surely be a treat for all the senses.