You have heard the term ‘Bali – Island of the Gods’ To spend some time on this magnificent Indonesian Island will soon show you why.

The Balinese have a deep and colourful ancestral Hindu heritage and their calendar is marked by many auspicious occasions. These celebrations are mostly celebrations that involve prayer, family and respect to the deceased.

Galungan is one of these auspicious dates on the Balinese calendar and 19 February 2020 marks the day of the first Galungan for the western calendar year.

Galungan occurs twice a year in the 210-day cycle of the Balinese calendar and marks the time of the year when the spirits of family ancestors are believed to visit earth. Balinese Hindus perform rituals that are meant to welcome and entertain these returning spirits. An occasion that is colourful and a time that further bonds the strength of Balinese family life.

Families offer bountiful sacrifices of food and flowers to the ancestral spirits, expressing gratitude and hopes for protection. These sacrifices are also offered at local and family temples which are packed with devotees.

This is a time when venturing around Bali you will see the stunning traditional costumes and decorations that adorn the whole island. This day is one full of colour and tradition – and one where you will find many streets deserted because people rarely work, they are instead busy with family and performing many sacrifices and rituals.

Galungan is a big, happy celebration where people connect with God, eat good Balinese food and dresses up in traditional clothes to visit the temples and their families.

The whole island sprouts tall bamboo poles, or penjor, which are usually decorated with fruit, coconut leaves, and flowers and set up on the right of every residence entrance. At each gate car and motorcycle, you’ll also find small bamboo altars set up especially for the holiday, each one bearing woven palm-leaf offerings for the spirits.

History tells us that Galungan is a holiday that celebrates the victory of dharma over adharma (in essence, the triumph of good over evil). This is a day that is embraced by all Balinese Hindus, and while the precise history of this day is unknown, we know that it is adopted by all.

Galungan marks the time when the ancestral spirits of deceased relatives visit the Earth. The last day of the celebration is Kuningan when they leave earth. The spirits of deceased relatives return to visit their former homes and the Balinese have a responsibility to be hospitable and welcoming to their past ancestors through prayers and offerings throughout their home. The most obvious sign of the celebrations is the penjor – bamboo poles with offerings suspended at the end which line the roads.

On Galungan, you will see the Balinese put on their finest traditional clothes to attend temple prayers with their families and bring offerings to share and enjoy after praying. It is a day to remind themselves of the long lineage of their ancestors and beautiful story they are a part of. The Balinese reconnect and renew their commitment to trying to make tomorrow a better day.

The Balinese subscribe to the theory of ‘spiritual progress’ rather than ‘spiritual perfection’. Galungan is a time to reflect on this journey of a wonderful religion steeped in a commitment to family – both dead and alive. Galungan is a beautiful time to observe the most fascinating part of Bali’s spiritual culture.

If you are fortunate enough to be in Bali for one of the celebrated times of Galungan, you will be able to see a lot of beautiful ceremonies and feel the true spirit of Bali. Be sure to ask your Balinese friends about how you might be able to join in the public temples and be a part of the celebration. You won’t be able to miss it with all of the beautiful penjor offerings hanging on the streets and all the music and celebration.

If you are lucky, you will be invited to a Balinese family celebration of Galungan – a special day for a very special people. The Balinese!!!

Adam Lacey