Galungan is one of the most important ceremonies on the Balinese calendar. The exact dates of this auspicious day are calculated through the 210-day Balinese calendar, where the Galungan period will last 10 days.
You’ll know when Galungan is coming a few days, or even weeks before it actually arrives as the whole island is bedecked in glamorous religious ornaments. Most notable are the penjor, bamboo poles decorated with offerings, that are erected on the side of the street, at the front of homes and shops.
Galungan symbolises the day that spirits, notably ancestors and deities, come down from their heavenly abode and visit Earth. To some it may resemble Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, or day of the dead, but philosophically it is more akin to India’s Diwali as both celebrate the triumph of dharma (good) over adharma (evil).
As with all good Balinese ceremonies, there is a myth, or story, associated with it. During the era of the Majapahit empire, a predominantly Hindu empire, a Balinese king known as Mayadenawa denied Hinduism in his lands. He was a strong and powerful king, even the Majapahit army could not dethrone him.
Battles were fought and the mighty Mayadenawa was winning. That is until Hindu God Indra (god of thunder, lightning and rain) took it upon himself to join the fight. Lord Indra descended from heaven and fought the King and his army in Tampaksiring, Gianyar – which is in fact the start of the whole area’s history, but that’s another story!
Of course, the powerful God was victorious. The Hindu troops thus celebrated this victory of Indra (dharma) over King Mayadenawa (adharma) as Galungan Day – Indra’s descent to Earth was also symbolic of other spirits descending on the same day.
On the eve of Galungan, 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.
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).
Every temple and shrine and all the street corners will likely be busy with worshippers on Galungan Day, making it a truly amazing cultural showcase to witness. The atmosphere is alive: whiffs of incense in the air carry the smell of devotion even before the crack of dawn. Everybody is coming out in their traditional Balinese best to pray on this special day.
The day after Galungan, Manisan Galungan, people will visit their families, then 10 days after will be the end of the Galungan ‘season’ called Kuningan, where the spirits will return to the land ‘up there’.