When in Bali, There’s Always a Festival – Galungan
Last time we visited Bali, we were here for Nyepi, the Balinese New Year and day of silence, and were sequestered in our hotel room for a day. So, I was not surprised to hear that there was a big religious celebration within days of our arrival in Bali. And, there was a second one 10 days later. I’ve learned. When in Bali, expect some sort of festival or celebration. The Balinese Hindu calendar is full of them.
Celebration of Galungan
This time, we were in Bali to witness Galungan, a celebration of good over evil. It’s a time when ancient ancestors visit the earth. They hang around for 10 days, and then on Kuningan they return, back to where they came from. I was intrigued.
Our first notion that something was brewing came during our first full day in Bali. As we walked we noticed penjor lining the road. A penjor is a tall, curving bamboo pole, with curved bamboo strips and flowers hanging off. The poles are placed in front of homes and businesses, and seem to scrape the clouds in their height. On some streets, you could see so many they seemed to form an arch over the street. We had not noticed these during our prior visits to Bali and were curious.
One the day of the festival, we were not sure what to expect. We asked around and learned that families would leave their house together and head to the temple to make offerings. I imagined a large procession of extended family – we have seen a Balinese funeral procession, and it was what I had in mind.
Instead, individual families, many on motorbikes, zoomed around town, often stopping at more than one temple to make an offering of incense, flowers, fruits, and more. Although the temples were closed to foreigners (with clearly marked signs, which we saw at least one white guy ignore), the families were everywhere in town. Although, general traffic was light for the day, motors of families ruled the roads.
Women were precariously balancing baskets on their heads, and entire families dressed in the traditional Balinese sarong and floral sash. Men wore simple white button down shirts, and scarves around their heads, and women wore ornate lace blouses. Even the children were dressed – like miniature versions of their parents. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood, saying hello as we passed.
At the Cremation Temple in Monkey Forest Sanctuary, we saw some good monkey fun with Balinese pouring into the forest to make temple offerings.
But, when we climbed the steps to Cremation Temple, the Balinese devotees were laying their offerings at various headstones. Because the offerings were filled with fruits and sweets, the monkeys were having a field day. I saw one grab a wrapped muffin, open the plastic, remove the paper muffin cup, and go to town.
The monkeys were immune to humans, they were not afraid, and some were aggressive, mostly because of to many people that pile into the forest and feed the animals. Some of the young girls shrieked when the monkeys came too close.
The holidays of Galungan and Kuningang were described to me as “imagine your in-laws come to visit for 10 days and you need to entertain them the entire time.” It is something along those lines. Although the population, for the most part, gets a few days off from work, a rarity. On the days of the holidays themselves, the processions to the temples occur. In between, it is customary to make your home hospitable to the ancestors, and to continue going to the temple for offerings. Some people often feel stress at the amount of work needed to “host” the ancestors for the 10 days.
We never saw a large procession, although Eric saw a traditional Balinese gamelan band while I was at yoga. We learned these were groups of young kids who parade around town banging drums and playing music, while seeking donations for the temples. Some of the kids were really aggressive!
We heard that tradition dictates that a pig is slaughtered the day before Galungan for a feast. Boy, what I wouldn’t do to get my hands on some of that pig. Particularly because we walked quite a distance in the midday heat the day before for some famous babi guling pig at Ibu Oka, only to be greeted by a “closed for Galungan” sign – closed for 3 days. I loved seeing the processions to the temple, and the lovely penjors, but I was desperate for babi guling!