Religious Festivals and Ceremonies in Bali

Colourful and Vibrant

With an endless series of joyful cultural celebrations and processions, Bali offers unforgettable ceremonies showing the Balinese people honouring every aspect of their life. The holiest days in Bali bring international and local tourists together to experience the sacred rituals and soak up the magic. Here are some of the major religious festivals in Bali.

Bali has undergone massive changes culturally and socially since the last five decades due to the phenomena of mass tourism and due to the transition away from an agricultural society. But the Balinese keep a solid connection with their culture and the many rituals that come with it. And if they have not lost the connection by now, it is safe to assume that this beautiful and colourful culture will continue to stay with us.

Nyepi & Balinese New Year

Contrary to several other cultures all around the world who celebrate the New Year with dynamic and sparkling festivities, the crowning point of the Balinese New Year six-days celebration is a week dedicated to complete silence – NYEPI. On the third day, the entire island comes to a standstill, with no scheduled incoming or outgoing flights from Ngurah Rai airport in Denpasar (DPS). This day is called Nyepi, meaning “to keep silent” and falls on the day after the dark moon of the spring equinox when the day and night are of approximately equal duration. Hotels are asked to cover their windows, all shops are closed, all! No light or candle will be lit in any Balinese home, no cars on the road, no motorbikes, no people. It’s indeed an exceptional experience, not only for the Balinese but also for all the visitors and tourists that are on Bali during Nyepi Day. If you are in Bali during Nyepi, make sure you do not plan any travelling or outside activities.

More about Nyepi

Galungan

Galungan is one of the important festivals celebrating the victory of dharma (virtue) over adharma (vice). It marks a ten-day period when the spirits of the ancestors are believed to visit the island. Balinese Hindu families will welcome the spirits with prayers and offerings.

Dressed in traditional clothes, you will see women in processions, balancing on their heads the offerings made out of fruit and flowers, stacked up high and neatly in baskets. The posture and natural balance of the women of Bali would make any supermodel jealous. The streets are also a fantastic sight: filled with the beautiful ‘penjor’, a tall bamboo pole decorated with different patterns of woven palm leaves while lower at the base a unique covered stand is made to place some small offerings. Each house and building will have their penjor, and their intricate patterns and colours are worth our attention and admiration.

It takes three full days to celebrate Galungan. The first day, Penampahan Galungan marks the preparation for the ceremony. The women will be busy decorating the temples and preparing the flowers and food for the offerings while men make the penjors. The second day is the Galungan Day celebration which will mainly take place in the temples.

The third day is called Galungan Manis, which translates to sweet Galungan. It is a sweet day for the Balinese people as it is a day off work which will be used for visiting relatives and fun family day trips to Bali’s most popular tourist attractions. It might be a good day to stay in your hotel or villa and relax near the pool.

The Galungan celebration will go on for ten days until Kuningan, the day when the spirits leave earth.

Kuningan

Kuningan marks the end of Galungan; the time when the ancestor spirits leave the island to return to their heavens above.

Special offerings are prepared with yellow rice (Kuningan is derived from the word kuning, which means yellow) and placed together with fruit and flowers in a small bowl made out of coconut leaves. The offerings stand as a symbol of gratitude for all that life has given in happiness, health and prosperity.

It is believed that the ancestor spirits will ascend at midday and all special blessings and offerings should therefore take place before noon.

Saraswati

Hari Raya Saraswati is the day devoted to Saraswati the Goddess of Knowledge and Creativity. You can easily recognize her in statues and paintings as a four-armed beautiful woman dressed in pale-coloured clothes holding a lontar (a palm leaf manuscript), a musical string instrument (usually a type of lute) and a mala (string of prayer beads). She will be sitting or standing on a lotus flower or sometimes sitting on a swan surrounding by lotus flowers. The swan symbolizes, knowing the difference between good and evil, while the water lily or lotus flower indicates holiness.

Balinese celebrates Saraswati every 210 days based on the Pawukon calendar. Local will make prayers and do a ceremony in the family and village temples, as well as at the office and school. It is a day when children and teachers will wear brightly coloured traditional clothes instead of the compulsory school uniforms. Saraswati day is not a public holiday, schools and offices will be open as usual, but most of the mornings will be used for ceremonies and prayers.

Pagerwesi

Four days after Saraswati, the Balinese will devote themselves to increase their strength with prayers to the god called Sang Hyang Pramesti Guru. The name Pagerwesi is derived from the Balinese words for iron (wesi) and fence (pager); an iron fence which stands for the fortification against evil forces that might come that year.

Pagerwesi is celebrated in different ways, all depending on your location. In the north of Bali Pagerwesi will be marked similarly as Galungan: penjors, family visits and various delicious meals. While in the south of Bali, the festivities are scaled-down without penjors.

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