Galungan and Kuningan

When visiting Bali for longer, you will notice beautifully decorated bamboo poles every 210 days. Called “penjor”, this is the sign that Galungan Day is around the corner. Decorated with fruit, flowers and coconut leaves, these tall poles are found on every street outside every Balinese home.

Galungan marks the beginning of the most important Balinese religious ceremonies and is a unique 10-day celebration of the victory of ‘Dharma’ over ‘Adharma’, also known as the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. The spirits of deceased relatives are believed to return to visit their former homes, and the current inhabitants are responsible for being hospitable through prayers and many offerings. You will see that during this festival, all Balinese will return to their home village to spend time with their family and help in the household by making offerings and food. The spirits are said to leave the earth again on the last day of the celebration, called Kuningan, which takes place ten days after Galungan.

The day before Galungan, the men of the village head out at dawn in search of a pig that will be used as a temple sacrifice. From the meat, they will make traditional spicy “lawar” dishes containing satay, jackfruit, dozens of herbs and spices and enough to feed the whole family and visitors.

It is family time on Galungan Day itself (always the Wednesday). Every Balinese will return home to their family compound. In the morning, they will all go to their village and family temples to pray. Many restaurants and shops close for a few days, and Bali will be very quiet and peaceful during these days. You will see the Balinese youth gathering at night in the streets for some Bintang or Arak (local palm rice liquor), and families spend their days at home to enjoy their time together, playing cards, kids playing their kites and women come together for some long catching up chitchat.

In the afternoons, Bali’s streets will be full of schoolchildren performing “Barong” dances with great enthusiasm as they strongly believe that the Barong will scare away evil spirits. The barong is invited into homes as he makes his way through the village. His presence is meant to restore the house’s balance of good and evil. The house residents will pray before the dancing Barong. If a Barong arrives in front of your home, you should give an offering called canang with sesari (money). After receiving the offering, the barong will dance and bless your house and family. The procession will come with great sounds of “Gamelan” (traditional Balinese music) and is a great joy to watch. Unfortunately, this is rare now unless you’re in a village with an active youth group and a strong community. People sometimes do this in the city, but it’s uncommon. You will see many of these groups in Ubud as it has also become a tourist activity, and the youth community can collect money for their community activities.

Kuningan Day, which marks the end of the Galungan holiday, is celebrated ten days after Galungan (always the Saturday). The Balinese believe that Kuningan day is the day when their ancestors return to heaven after visiting the earth during the Galungan celebration. They make offerings for the ancestors on their farewell day. The offerings include yellowed rice (Kuningan originates from the word kuning, which means yellow) in a small “bowl” made of coconut leaves. The yellow rice is a symbol of gratitude towards God for all the life, joy, wealth, health and prosperity given.It is also said that on Kuningan Day, Ida Sang Hyang Widhi (God for the Balinese) blesses and gives prosperity to the whole world. The celebration should be done before noon before the gods and goddesses return to the heavens.There’s also another Kuningan ornament to mention, the Tamiang. It’s a shield made from coconut leaves. You find it hanging on cars, doors, and shrines. It’s believed to ward off evil and protect the family from harm.

The Galungan celebration lasts only four days (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday), but the entire process (according to traditional lore) can take up to a month. Here’s how it goes:

• 25 days before Galungan on a Saturday: this is Tumpek Wariga, when the Balinese ask for blessings from nature. In old times, people tapped or lightly cut tree trunks and whispered to trees so that the trees would produce fruit more quickly. Today, this is rarely done. People rather present offerings on the shrines on trees.

• 6 days before Galungan on a Thursday: this is called Sugihan Jawa. It is believed that the tradition originated from the Majapahit Empire, and on this day, the Balinese present offerings to “cleanse” the universe (bhuana agung).

• 5 days before Galungan on a Friday: this is called Sugihan Bali. It’s similar to Sugihan Jawa, but this time, the Balinese “cleanse” themselves (bhuana alit).

• 3 days before Galungan: Penyekeban day marks the first day dharma comes to Earth in the form of three evil spirits.

• 2 days before Galungan: Penyajaan day, the second evil spirit descends to Earth.

• 1 day before Galungan: Penampahan day, the last evil spirit descends, and people finalize their preparations for tomorrow.

• Galungan Day: Balinese ancestors ride into battle and defeat the evil spirits. 

• 1 day after Galungan: Umanis Galungan, the time Balinese take a break and visit families to strengthen cordiality.

The official calendar only marks Galungan and Kuningan as “national holidays”. But due to the amount of preparation needed, the local government allows a two-week vacation period for (almost) everyone. That way, people can prepare for both Galungan and Kuningan at the same time.