Bali’s most important festival is the Galungan festival.
It is a feast and festival which is held throughout the whole island and an annual event in the wuku year. It is believed that during this ten day period all Balinese gods, including Sanghyang Widi, the supreme deity, will descend to earth for the festivities. Barongs prance from temple to temple and village to village in celebration of the Galungan with the gods.
Galungan to the Balinese, is the most important holiday period as it symbolizes the victory of Dharma, or Virtue, upon Adharma, or all that is Evil. The festivities are made extra special by the fitting of ‘penjor’ on the right side of the entrance to every house.
A penjor is a tall bamboo pole terrifically decorated with woven young coconut leaves, cakes, fruits and flowers; and also a must for every Balinese household. The Galungan also sees the Balinese decked in their finest clothes and jewels for the day.
The last day of the 10-day festival is the most important day. Known as Kuningan, it is the climax of the ten-day Galungan, and also serves to bringing the holiday period to a close. Kuningan is a day for prayer, and a special ritual ceremony is held for the spirits of the Balinese’s ancestors.
The preparations for Galungan begin several days before the actual feast day.
Three days before Galungan – “Penyekeban” – families begin their preparations for Galungan. “Penyekeban” literally means “the day to cover up “, as this is the day when green bananas are covered up in huge clay pots to speed their ripening.
Two days before Galungan – “Penyajahan” – marks a time of introspection for Balinese, and more prosaically, a time to make the Balinese cakes known as jaja. These colored cakes made of fried rice dough are used in offerings and are also eaten specially on Galungan. This time of the year finds a glut of jaja in every village market.
A day before Galungan – “Penampahan”, or slaughter day – Balinese slaughter the sacrificial animals that will go into the temple or altar offerings. Galungan is marked by the sudden surplus of traditional Balinese food, like lawar (a spicy pork and coconut sauce dish) and satay.
On Galungan day itself, Balinese devotees pray at the temples and make their offerings to the spirits. Women are seen carrying the offerings on their heads, while men bring palm fronds.
The day after Galungan, Balinese visit their kinfolk and closest friends.
The tenth day after Galungan – “Kuningan” – marks the end of Galungan, and is believed to be the day when the spirits ascend back to heaven. On this day, Balinese make special offerings of yellow rice.