Celebrating The Balinese Christmas

Culture | Written By, Namhar Hernanto |

Festivity will also surround the Balinese Hindus this 25 December as they celebrate Galungan, or the ‘Balinese Christmas’. On this day, the whiff of incense will carry the smell of devotion since dawn, welcoming the gods and spirits of ancestors. Everyone is out in their traditional Sunday best visiting neighbours and relatives.

Galungan & Kuningan - Photo by JovanelGalungan & Kuningan – Photo by Jovanel

To outsiders, this palpable festivity may show resemblance to the Judaeo-Christian tradition of Christmas, where everybody rejoices the coming of the almighty saviour, Jesus. In local Hinduism, the equivalent divine figure is the god Indra who comes down to earth to rescue his human subjects from oppression on the holy day of Galungan.

You know it’s Galungan when the whole island is bedecked in glamorous religious ornaments. Penjor, the typical, traditional Balinese bamboo poles 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 an event based off of the 210-day Balinese calendar. It is a celebration of the triumph of dharma (good) over adharma (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.

Final preparations of the special day offerings are also done on eve go Galungan, including installing the Penjor pole in front of the family house compound. It is also believed that on the day of Penampahan Galungan the Kala-tiganing Galungan or Sang Kala Tiga in the shape of Sang Bhuta Amangkurat descends for the third and last time to earth to tempt mankind to Adharma (evil).

The Galungan celebration lasts until Kuningan, another associated observance that comes 10 days after. Kuningan is the day that marks the end of the Galungan festive season, by the departure of the ancestors, back to their own world. The ceremony surrounding Kuningan refers to special offerings made of yellow turmeric rice. Yellow is also the colour of the god Wisnu, the protector of the Hindu trinity.

It is a celebration of the triumph of dharma (good) over adharma (evil)

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Namhar Hernanto



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