Huge societal and cultural shifts may be seen in Bali.
In the past 50 years, Bali has gradually shifted from an agricultural community to one centered on the needs of tourists. But the Balinese have kept their spiritual roots alive by continuing to follow cosmic order (dharma) in their daily lives. Cultural processions and other events in Bali are spectacular displays of the Balinese people’s strong devotion to the spiritual traditions that are the foundation of their culture. Visitors from all over the globe go to Bali on its holiest days to see the island’s religious festivities and to marvel at the beautiful way the Balinese people appreciate every facet of life.
Contrary to several other cultures all around the world that celebrate the New Year with sparkling festivities and ending the year with a bang, the Balinese New Year is a six-day celebration. One of the days is dedicated to complete silence – NYEPI, when the entire island comes to a standstill. With no scheduled incoming or outgoing flights from Ngurah Rai airport in Denpasar (DPS). It’s indeed an exceptional experience, not only for the Balinese but also for all the visitors that are in Bali during Nyepi. If you are in Bali during Nyepi, make sure you do not plan any traveling or outside activities.
Galungan is one of the significant 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, women balance on their heads the offerings made out of fruit and flowers, stacked up high and neatly in baskets. The streets are filled with the beautiful ‘penjor’, tall bamboo poles decorated with different patterns of woven palm leaves, while the lower base is a unique covered stand made to place some small offerings. The Galungan celebration will go on for ten days until Kuningan, the day when the spirits leave earth.
Kuningan marks the end of Galungan; the time when the ancestor spirits leave the island to return to their heavens above. Special offerings such as yellow rice are prepared (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.
Hari Raya Saraswati is a day devoted to Saraswati the Goddess of Knowledge and Creativity. Statues and paintings depicts the Goddess 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.
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.