About This Festival
Another day, Another festival
While its Hindu cousin India may hold the gold medal for the most high profile festivals in the world, no place on earth celebrates collective effervescence more frequently than the Indonesian island of Bali. With more than 20,000 temples on this island of nearly 4 million people, it’s no wonder that everyday is a holiday. Each village has at least three temples and every 210 days (based upon the Balinese calendar), each of these temples celebrates its birthday with an odalan. With fruit and flower offerings piled four feet tall on women’s heads and feasts fit for a king, an odalan can last for several days and visitors are heartily welcomed into the festivities.
Bali isn’t just an island paradise, it’s an anomaly. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, which is predominantly Muslim, Bali is a Hindu island mixed with a healthy dose of animism, the belief that everything, including inanimate objects, contains life. Galungan is the most important feast for Balinese Hindus, a celebration to honor the creator of the universe (Ida Sang Hyang Widi) and the spirits of the ancestors. The festival symbolizes the victory of good (Dharma) over evil (Adharma), and encourages the Balinese to show their gratitude to the creator and sainted ancestors.
Offerings to the Ancestors
Synchronized with the Saka and Wuku calendars, Galungan occurs once in the 210-day cycle of the Balinese calendar, and 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. They 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 bringing their offerings. The festivities go on for ten days ending with Kuningan, which is the day when spirits ascend back to heaven.
The gracious and adaptable Balinese, who created a complex means of irrigating their fields from the sacred mountains to the sea, have also created a complex, authentic culture built on unique celebrations that remind them who they are in this increasingly commercialised world.
The whole island sprouts tall bamboo poles called penjor- these 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.
Bali’s Special Place in the World
Why has Bali become the capital of the world for modern day mythology? Certainly, the local religion (called Agama Hindu) has some relevance. Balinese Hinduism is an amalgam in which gods and demigods are worshiped alongside Buddhist heroes, the spirits of ancestors, and indigenous agricultural deities. Most importantly, animism creates a sort of reverence that deserves celebration. And the fact that good and evil are in constant combat in the Balinese mind means that daily reminders are needed for how to live a good life. This is also why you see daily offerings placed throughout a home, at the doorways of local shops, and in rice paddy fields.
The Balinese have clung to their ancestral rituals through a series of conquerors from the Dutch to the Javanese who have come to this volcanic island to try and tame the locals. More recently, this has come in the form of millions of tourists who descend on this little speck of paradise seeking their own joie de vivre, including author Liz Gilbert, as documented in “Eat Pray Love” (the most common non-Balinese sightings here are the droves of middle aged American women hoping to find their own version of Gilbert’s bliss).