Penjor, the symbol of the bounty of the earth

Galungan has already passed, but the decorations are still up. A ubiquitous cultural attribute you’d mostly see during Galungan is that tall, curved pole of bamboo adorned with decorations in front of virtually every building in Bali. Such a bamboo pole is called a penjor, a symbol of the bounty of the earth and an expression of gratitude for all that is good from nature.

There are two types of penjor in Indonesia: decorative and ritual. A decorative penjor is mainly used to lighten the place up, for example, in front of hotels, and is used for secular occasions, like a forum or wedding in Java. In contrast, a ritual penjor has a religious significance. An easy way to differentiate those two penjor types is this: if it’s not Galungan, it’s a decorative penjor.

Usually, the Balinese prepare the penjor two days before Galungan, although some prepare them a week before. The penjor on Galungan day is abundant with symbolism in every aspect. In this post, we’ll focus on the important aspects since there are so many to go through. In short, a penjor symbolises gratitude to the earth and gods for providing prosperity to the Balinese.

The height of the penjor represents Mount Agung, the holiest mountain on the island of Bali that provides protection and prosperity. The main element of the penjor, bamboo, symbolises the god of creation, Brahma. Bamboo is a vital element in most Balinese ceremonies linked to creation. The decorations on the penjor are made of young coconut and plawa leaves, symbolising the earth’s lush vegetation. Other decorations include small cakes and coconuts, all representing nature’s bounty. Though these are the main elements, some penjor is decorated with colourful fabric. It’s just a fashion statement, but it makes the penjor look better! At the base of the penjor is a small bamboo shrine where the Balinese place offerings.

When you’re walking in Bali during Galungan, you’ll notice there’s a penjor almost everywhere. Some of the penjor are modest, with simple decorations; others can be pompous with shiny ornaments. Whatever the penjor, they all carry the same meaning. They’re there to thank the gods for all that’s good.