Its Galungan / Kuningan time of year again in Bali, and I feel so lucky that this is my second experience witnessing the joy and palatable energy of this incredible celebration. Every 210 days this island erupts with more color and festive buzz than its usual positive vibe. I love how the Balinese culture celebrates life and death and all the momentous miracles in- between.
Galungan in particular is probably my favorite because it celebrates something that is intangible, yet so powerful: the power of Good (dharma) and its prevalence over Evil (adharma). The word “Galungan” is derived from the ancient Java language meaning to win or to fight.
This festival also celebrates the descent of the Balinese Gods, accompanied by the ancestor spirits to the island. These extraordinary events call for a spectacular celebration and that is exactly what happens.
One sure sign that Galungan has begun are the festive ‘penjors’ (long bamboo pole in an arching shape representing Mt. Agung , highest mountain in Bali) that sprout over the end of each driveway or temple. The penjors have been spectacular this year, with bright colors splashing against the blue sky. These arching offerings are woven with beautiful fruit, coconut leaves and flowers rising from a small bamboo alter bearing offerings for visiting ancestors.
The preparation before and during Galungan set the stage for the final celebration of the festival which is Kuningan, the final day when the spirits ascend back to heaven. I find the stories behind each offering in this ancient, deep tradition intriguing.
For example, three days before Galungan is “Penyekeban” when families begin their preparations for Galungan. “Penyekeban” literally means “the day to cover up “, as this is the day when green bananas are covered up in huge clay pots to speed their ripening.
Two days before Galungan – “Penyajahan” – marks a time of introspection for Balinese, and more prosaically, a time to make the Balinese cakes known as jaja. These colored cakes made of fried rice dough are used in offerings and are also eaten specially on Galungan. This time of the year finds a glut of jaja in every village market.
A day before Galungan – “Penampahan”, or slaughter day – Balinese slaughter the sacrificial animals that will go into the temple or altar offerings. Galungan is marked by the sudden surplus of traditional Balinese food, like lawar (a spicy pork and coconut sauce dish) and satay. All this is just before Galungan!
The celebrations, visiting with ancestors and celebrating past and current lives all comes to a close with Kuningan. On this day yellow rice is prepared as the offerings to Gods before they return to nirvana.