Galungan in Bali: When the Dharma is winning


Galungan is a Balinese holiday that occurs every 210 days and lasts 10 days. On this day, most locals head back to their villages for a day to participate in ceremonies with their families. 

Kuningan is the last day of the holiday. Galungan means “When the Dharma is winning.” During this holiday the Balinese gods visit the Earth and leave it on Kuningan.

Occurring once every 210 days in the pawukon (Balinese cycle of days), Galungan marks the beginning of the most important recurring religious ceremony that is celebrated by all Balinese. During the Galungan period the deified ancestors of the family descend to their former homes. They must be suitably entertained and welcomed with prayers and offerings made for them. Those families who have ancestors that have not yet been cremated, but are still buried in the village cemetery, must make offerings at the graves.

While the women of the household have been busy for days creating beautifully woven ‘banten‘ (offerings made from young coconut fronds), the men of our village usually wake up before dawn to join and help their neighbors to slaughter a pig unlucky enough to be chosen to help celebrate this occasion. Then the finely diced pork is mashed to a pulp with a grinding stone and molded onto sate sticks that have been already prepared by whittling small sticks of bamboo.

Chickens may also be chosen from the collection of free-range chickens that roam around the house compound. Delicate combinations of various vegetables, herbs and spices are also prepared by the men to make up a selection of ‘lawar‘ dishes. While much of this cooking is an offering to be made at the family temple, by mid-morning, once all the cooking is done, it’s time for the first of a serie of satisfying feasts from what has been cooked.

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While the women continue to be busy with the preparations of the many offerings to be made at the family temple on the day of Galungan, the men also have another job to do this day. A long bamboo pole, or ‘penjor‘, is made to decorate the entrance to the family compound. By Tuesday afternoon, the visitors can see these decorative poles all over Bali, creating a very festive atmosphere in the streets.

On Wednesday, the day of Galungan, one will find that most Balinese will try to return to their own ancestral home at some stage during the day, even if they work in another part of the island. This is a very special day for families, where offerings are made to God and to the family ancestors who have come back to rest in their family temple. Visits are made to the village and family’s temple with offerings as well, and to the homes of other families who may have helped other families in some way over the past six months.

The day after Galungan is considered a holiday go visit friends or maybe take the opportunity to head for the mountains for a picnic. Everyone is still seen to be in their ‘Sunday best’ as they take the streets to enjoy the festive spirit that Galungan brings to Bali.

Tourists visiting Bali might spend a little extra time admiring the temples and penjors that line every street. Pura Sakenan, the temple on the island of Serangan, is the home to one of the big ceremonies for Kuningan.