Another festival has come and gone, and with it,
many more moments to cherish!
You guessed it – we’ve just celebrated another festival! Well, in truth, maybe half a festival. Due to our short trip back to Australia we sadly missed the beginning of the 10 day ‘Galungan’ celebration, but thankfully we’re here to see out the end, being ‘Kuningan’.
I was excited to get another opportunity to immerse ourselves in the celebrations and ceremonies around the 2nd biggest festival in Bali.
Here in Bali the Galungan festival is a BIG one, and considering there are over 60 ceremonies in one calendar year that’s a pretty big call.
I’ve come to notice the signs now, the signs that there’s a festival on the horizon.
The glorious display of the Balinese people, dressed in their finery, heading for the local temples in droves … offerings abound, and all with a little twist to signify that something is different, we’re in for something special … and the penjors – the magnificent penjors – swaying in the breeze, creating a delightful canopy over the roads of Bali.
AND … it’s bonus time! Being a ‘slow traveler’, (more on that label later) means that you find out, and experience, all these funny little ‘domesticated’ tasks, that in some way signify certain times of the year. I guess Galungan is a little like our Christmas period, it’s celebration time and it’s bonus time!
So there you go, all of these little indicators tell me that the Galungan festival is, or was, a ‘biggie!’
We returned from Australia to see that Galungan was well and truly underway, and we were heading towards Kuningan, the final day of the 10-day celebration.
The first thing I noticed was the offerings. They’re something I do tend to notice because I love them, and I just can’t help myself. Around this time of the year they really step up a notch and become very extravagant indeed. There are new and different ones everywhere, an assortment of brightly colored shapes of intricate patterns delicately woven from bamboo leaves, and placed alongside the standard offerings, which are gorgeous in their own right. Both Kadek and Wayan tell me about how busy the women are around Kuningan, I’m not surprised! The amount of offerings that need to be prepared for this special time can almost double. From a standard 40 per day up to around 60/70 for the family compounds, then there are 6 or 7 large offerings that need to be made for each day of Galungan and Kunginan. Then, on top of all of that, and the trickiest bit, is the making of the ‘decorative’ pieces that are made for the temples themselves. They are intricate and a difficult art to master, and super important to dress up the temples all around the compounds and villages in preparation for the ceremonies. Here in my compound alone there are possibly around 10 smaller temples and one main group of temples, and 11 villas all with their own single temples. No wonder we didn’t see our Balinese family for a while!
I was talking to Wayan this morning and was curious to know about the hours involved, she couldn’t tell me that exactly but she said that the women are known to prepare these offering for sometimes a few months prior to Galungan. Usually that’s means sitting in a bale, (a traditional construction that sits in the centre of the Balinese compounds, and is the place for such things as preparation for the ceremonies and offerings) weaving away well into the night, and that’s after a heavy day at work! Knowing that the ‘standard’ time spent on creating the daily offering is around 2 hours I can’t even begin to imagine the time involved in this preparation.
Now that’s dedication – or certainly a sign of unwavering faith.
The streets are adorned with Penjors, which are erected just before Galungan. (Sadly they were all a little brown this year, due to our absence!) Penjors, whether they’re freshly erected, or even towards the end of the 10 day celebration, are truly a sight to behold, and one of my favorite indicators that it’s ‘festival time’ in Bali!
The setting up of the penjors kicks off the Galungan festival, which comes about every 210 days, and is yet another festival that is exclusive to Bali, and the Hindu culture.
Penjors are very, very long, and quite flimsy bamboo poles that are erected proudly to the front/right side of every Balinese home. Standing at more than 10 meters high these visual delights are, without a doubt, one of my favorite Balinese rituals. Each one is different, and each one is just as stunning and as graceful as the next. They are beautifully decorated with all sorts of ‘origami like’ flips n flops and twists and twirls. During our time here I have loved seeing them all pop up, and I never tire of watching these incredibly creative people make a simple coconut leaf turn into something that, once erected, resembles an ancient street lamp. There’s something very cool about driving through the streets with these tall, tall beauties drooping over you, creating a whimsical, and very pretty canopy. Amazing!
Over the past 4 years I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of a few Galungans, and one of my favorite things to do during the preparation time is to sit and watch as the Balinese people create elegant and stunning designs from bamboo leaves that wrap around, and hang perfectly from the enormous bamboo poles. The simple, yet somehow intricate patterns and stunning designs have me captivated, and I can find myself sitting for hours watching them weave their magic. Once decorated, the penjors are adorned with fruit and flowers, bunches of rice, traditional cakes and sweets and although I’ve never been bold enough to have a peek, I’ve heard that they hold 11 Chinese coins, although chatting to Wayan this is new to her, maybe that’s in the more ‘affluent’ areas? All of these offerings are placed within a small shrine that sits at about head height (I know that because I’ve made a few ‘Matrix’ moves on my scooter to avoid a head-on collision with the demonic triangular shaped boxes!)
Even though, sadly for me, we missed the preparations of the penjors this year it was somehow comforting to drive back to Ubud from the airport, through the streets, and see the fairytale like structures drooping charmingly over us, almost welcoming us home.
Like all Balinese ceremonies Galungan comes with some pretty interesting, and (to us) slightly melodramatic stories and beliefs. The 10-day festival symbolizes the victory of Dharma, or Virtue (the good), upon Adharma, or all that is Evil. The first day of the festival, Galungan, is all about welcoming the good spirits down to the island with prayers and offerings, cleansing ceremonies and abundance. And boy do the Balinese people do that well!
Chatting to Wayan about these ceremonies and beliefs is on one of my favorite things to do. I promised her that I would write about it one day – and that I will (keep posted!)
So, we’re happy to be home to celebrate Kuningan, which is the day after the 10-day celebration, and is said to represent the day when the spirits ascend back into the heavens. Both days, Galungan and Kuningan, bring about much celebration and union of the families and villagers.
The heart warming visual of the impeccably dressed Balinese people all squished into the back of the ‘mini utes’ and 5 aboard the scooter, heading for the temples symbolizes that Kuningan is upon us. Another day of prayer, another day of community and union of heart and spirit – gorgeous!
The preparations for Kuningan are costly and seemingly endless, and include the men of the village heading out at dawn in search of an unsuspecting pig, which is to become the temple sacrifice. And we’re here to tell you that this is an actual event! Wayan laughed as she showed us the stained concrete in her family compound from the pigs blood! Then, still laughing pointed to the motley, brown and black intestine hanging from the rafters, all curled up like a long plump sausage and squished between what looked like a wire jaffle iron. Ekkkk – I found it pretty gross and gruesome, Deni screwed her nose up and replied – ‘yuckky’, and Jed found the whole thing quite exciting, and of course a little humorous!
They use the meat of this poor unsuspecting pig to make traditional spicy “lawar” dishes containing satay, jackfruit, dozens of herbs and spices and always enough to feed a small army. And that small army includes us! Every Galungan and Kuningan day both Wayan and Kadek pay us a visit, laden with a smorgasbord of traditional celebratory dishes, all neatly wrapped in banana leaves. They range from lawar, one of my favorites, to satay, to some concoction that’s an odd shade of pink – made from the pigs blood! eeekkk (obviously my least favorite!). And I’m yet to taste the traditional dish that comes from the dried intestine, although Wayan tells me that “It’s just like the sausage we had in Australia – remember, at Little Creatures?” Oh, the chorizo … hmmmm – somehow I’m a little dubious!
This year we joined Wayan on the morning of Kuningan to pray with her at her temple. Jed awoke with excitement and was dressed in his Balinese clothes before I’d even rubbed the sleep from my eyes. Bless his precious heart!
It’s funny because I was really excited about taking the children to the temple again and I didn’t really give myself much significance in it all, but it has been a really special experience for me. Each time I go I get something different, this time it was an enormous feeling of gratitude. Not only for the welcoming Balinese people, but also for the sheer experience of just being there. Just sitting there in the almost ancient looking temple, sheltered from the morning sun by the enormous, and highly spiritual Banyan tree. As I kneel among these beautiful and peaceful souls it really is a moment in time that I feel privileged to be able to own. It’s times like these that I realize just how wonderful our journey is, and how lucky we are to be living it. I don’t know how much detail, if any, the children will remember, but I only hope that they will always have a memory of that feeling of community, the spirit and oneness that has drawn me to this wonderful place, and made me fall in love with the Balinese culture and people. I get all choked up every time.
On the way home from the temple I noticed that everyone was in full dress, all day, and it make me smile and think of Christmas back home, where I love the sight of Santa’s hats, worn proudly by every generation. Here, there are no Santa’s hats but instead there’s every generation of ‘Udengs’, (traditional Balinese hats worn by the men) and I guess, again – ‘it’s their sort of Christmas’.
So, It’s with much, much gratitude that I can write, once again, about another amazing experience of being involved in a Balinese celebration and ceremony. I don’t know if you ever read this Wayan and Kadek (and families) but from me to you ‘thank you so very, very much for allowing us to be a part of your very special ceremonies and traditions. I am eternally grateful for your endless love, generosity and kindness.’