As one of the most important feast for the Balinese Hindus, Galungan  festival is celebrated to honor the creator of the universe (Ida Sang Hyang Widi) and the spirits of the honored ancestors.

It also symbolises the victory of good (Dharma) over evil (Adharma) and encourages the Balinese to show their gratitude with offerings and prayers.

These ones are for the Gods

The offerings, the penjor, the temples being decorated and house all deep cleaned. The Sunday’s best? Yes, they are all for the Gods and ancestors.

In the 210-day cycle of the Balinese calendar, Galungan marks the time of the year when the spirits of the ancestors are believed to visit the earth. Balinese Hindus perform rituals that are meant to welcome and entertain these returning spirits.

The house compounds that make up the nucleus of Balinese society come alive with devotions offered by the families living within. Families offer bountiful sacrifices of food and flowers to the ancestral spirits, expressing gratitude and hopes for protection. These sacrifices are also offered at local temples, which are packed with devotees.

The whole island sprouts tall bamboo poles, or penjor, which are usually decorated with fruit, coconut leaves, and flowers and set up on the right of every residence entrance. At each gate, you’ll also find small bamboo altars set up especially for the holiday, each one bearing woven palm-leaf offerings for the spirits.

Six steps to victory

There are some practice and preparations for Galungan, and one that marks the end of it (Kuningan). They are as follows:

  • Penyekeban: Three days before Galungan. On this day, families begin their preparations with “Penyekeban.” which loosely translated to “the day to cover up,” that actually has a literal meaning as this is the day when green bananas are covered up in huge clay pots to speed their ripening.
  • Penyajahan: Two days beforehand marks a time of introspection for the Balinese and, more prosaically, a time to make the Balinese cakes known as jajan. These colored cakes made of fried rice dough are used in offerings and are also eaten especially on Galungan.
  • Penampahan: On this day, Balinese slaughter the sacrificial animals that will go into the temple or altar offerings. Galungan is marked by a sudden surplus of traditional Balinese food, like lawar (a spicy pork and coconut sauce dish) and satay.
  • Galungan Day: Wearing their Sunday’s best, offerings in hands, Balinese devotees pray at the temples and make their offerings to the spirits.
  • The Day After Galungan: Time to visit their families and closest friends.
  • Kuningan: The tenth day after Galungan Day marks the end of Galungan and is believed to be the day when the spirits ascend back to heaven. On this day, the Balinese makes special offerings of yellow rice.

What to do or to expect during Galungan

Balinese Cooking Class image from Civitatis

During Galungan, some local restaurants ride the rising demand for Balinese food by offering specials on all sorts of native dishes. This is a great time to try Balinese food for the first time, if you can stomach the herbs and spices! On the downside, many places is  closed for Galungan or operating in a shorter time of service.

One thing you must remember, as the Balinese calendar follows a 210-day cycle, Galungan happens twice a year roughly every six months. Check to see if your trip will coincide with Galungan. You might want to reserve a hotel in Bali early for these dates, as holiday-goers from all over the world are making Galungan plans of their own.


Images credit: iStock