The Balinese culture and beliefs date back to at least 5th century BC. Today, the culture and religion are still inseparable from the everyday life of the Balinese people. From simple daily rituals to grand festivals and ceremonies, no opportunity is lost to worship their gods in an unending series of observances that in a way also showcases the unique culture of the island. Here we have listed the remaining Balinese Hindu Holidays of 2018 so that you may have have an opportunity to witness them whilst you’re on the island.
On the coming August 18, the Balinese will celebrate “Tumpek Kandang”, a day dedicated to Sang Hyang Rare Angon, the god of all cattle and livestock. On this day, domesticated animals on the island will receive great attention. Prayer is, of course, offered to the gods for the welfare of these animals. Holy water and rice are sprinkled to the head of these animals at the end of the ceremony.
The Balinese consider these animals as a friend of life and fellow brother created by god as a living creature. Human life is much assisted by animals, especially in satisfying the needs of food, the labor force, religious ceremony and economy. For the sake of preservation and prosperity of such animals, the Balinese plead to god as the Greatest Source. This means, there is an awareness of owing ‘merits’ to the animals, since such creatures are the preservers of the equilibrium in the ecosystem. Without animals on earth, the life cycle does not work, and even interrupts.
On this day, puppeteers or locally known as dalang throughout the island will present offerings to their shadow puppets or wayang kulit with the intention of honouring the Lord Iswara. The puppets are taken out from their cases to be blessed by their owners and placed in a position as if an actual performance is being held. The objective is to invoke smoothness and reliability during a real performance, and for the puppet to be able to captivate the audience.
A theatrical expression in Bali, wayang is often performed as entertainment as well as an integral part of a number of Balinese Hindu Rituals. The Wayang figures, normally portraying Hindu characters, are manipulated with rods by the dalang. The dalang tells the story to captivated crowds alongside the gamelan orchestra. They are not only forms of entertainment however, often the stories of the dalang were used to share and spread lessons of good morals to the people.
Although Tumpek Wayang is a holiday for puppets and puppeteers, it is considered very unlucky if a baby is born on this day. The Balinese believe the child is prone to illness and injury from Kala, the demon god, and if a child should come to this world on this inopportune day, a special ceremony has to be performed in order to purify the child and protect it from harm.
This purification ceremony is called Sudamala; it is carried out by a dalang in which the dalang narrates a story about the birth of Kala, and how the dalang receives special blessing from Kala that enables him to purify the baby. With the help of certain puppets, the dalang carries out the Tumpek Wayang ceremony, and makes holy water or known as toya penglukatan that is used to purify the baby. Tumpek Wayang normally falls on a Saturday, the day known as Sanicara Kliwon Wayang.
Despite modern sciences and technologies currently taking control of the lives of many, the Balinese people still pay homage to the old manuscripts written on lontar (palm leaves) to thank for the ancient wisdom and knowledge the ancestors and the gods have bestowed upon them. It is during Saraswati Day that the sincere people of Bali pray and give offerings as a gesture to express gratitude and celebrate knowledge.
Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge, symbolised by a beautiful woman with four hands, riding on a white swan among water lilies. Her hands hold a lontar, the palm leaf manuscript; a chain, the symbol of knowledge as something that never ends; and a musical instrument, the symbol of science as something that develops through the growth of culture. During Saraswati Day, schools and institutes of education across the island will be flooded with students all dressed up in their ceremonial finery for a session of communal prayer. Resource books are piled high and blessed with offering of fruits, flowers and a sprinkling of holy water. Students take this opportunity to pray for guidance with future studies and to lead a harmonious life that adheres to the basic guidelines of Hinduism. The Balinese Hindus in general will also flock to the temples and other sacred sites during this day.
Pagerwesi Day has a close association with Saraswati Day. It falls four days after Saraswati, the day of knowledge and wisdom, tying in the two special holy days on the Balinese calendar. Pagerwesi commemorates the day upon which an ancient battle between good and evil was fought. In English, the word Pagerwesi translates to “iron fence”, symbolic for the day that the Balinese strengthen their fortifications against evil. The correlation between Pagerwesi and the Saraswati is that knowledge is so powerful that it must be protected from bad influences.
Pagerwesi Day reminds people to be wise and more aware of the function and power of knowledge. As the opening of a Pagerwesi ritual, the Balinese people hold the celebrations of Soma Ribek and Sabuh Emas. During this time, a series of ceremonies are held, colorful offerings are made and dedicated to the Lord of Jewellery – the “metals” specially dedicated to the gold jewellery and Chinese coins.
Tumpek Landep is a special day on the Balinese Hindu Calendar, it is the time when the Balinese Hindus across the island pay homage to Sanghyang Pasupati, the god of steel implements. During the morning hours, the Balinese will flock to their village temples for the Tumpek Landep ceremony, where priests await to give blessings and lead special prayers. At home, a blessing ceremony will also be conducted, where offerings will be laid out to the family’s heirlooms. From sacred weapons such as the Keris dagger (most Balinese families own the dagger), family cars and motorbikes, and all the other instruments and tools made of metal will be blessed for proper function and magical abilities. In a modern world such as today even computers may be subject to the ceremony! Can you believe it?
As you walk or drive around the island, you may see cars and bikes adorned with little offerings – some hang on the front of cars, or dangle from side mirrors. What may be seen as simple decoration to outsiders or tourists, these offerings are signs that the object has been blessed.
You know it’s Galungan when the whole island is bedecked in glamorous religious ornaments. Bamboo poles called penjor – decorated with offerings to the returning ancestors and deities – are being erected along the edges of streets everywhere. Whiffs of incense in the air carries the smell of devotion since before the crack of dawn. The atmosphere is buoyant. Everybody is coming out in their traditional Sunday best to visit their neighbours and relatives.
Although drawing its core idea from similar Aryan tradition called Wijaya Dasami, Galungan is characteristically Balinese, in which the original narrative is appropriated to local settings. On the face of it, the story of Galungan is an accomplishment of a tradition that stems from ancient farming community.
Galungan is is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil, which philosophically bears a closer resemblance to Easter – which occurs a few days after. On the eve of Galungan or known as penampahan Galungan, animals are sacrificed as special offerings which are meant to get rid of negativity in both the bhuana agung (the environment of the individual human being) and the bhuana alit (the inner world of the individual human being); the meat is afterwards prepared and cooked for traditional Balinese dishes such as lawar, babi guling, and satay. The Balinese, especially the children, are looking forward to Penampahan Galungan as it is a typical family party day with lots of delicious dishes.
Balinese Hindu Holidays are great times to see Bali’s culture come alive. It is what we call a ‘living culture’, whereby ritual and everyday life come hand in hand. If you’re around Bali on the dates above, you’re in luck.