Most Important Ceremonies in Bali
During a trip to Bali you will likely cross paths with at least one cultural ceremony. It could be a modest Odalan (temple anniversary), or a more festive village ceremony such as an Ngaben (cremation ceremony), or even a larger one where all the streets are lined with decorative bamboo poles and offerings.
Stay longer, or become a resident and or a student in Bali, chances are you will be invited to family rituals such as Otonan (birth celebrations), tooth filing ceremonies, or a vibrant Balinese wedding.
Here are some important Balinese calendar festival highlights you can witness and be a part of:
Galungan and Kuningan
Galungan is a Balinese holiday celebrating the victory of dharma over adharma (the triumph of good over evil). It marks the time when ancestral spirits of deceased relatives revisit Earth. The last day of the celebration is Kuningan, when they leave Earth again. The spirits of deceased relatives return to visit their former homes and the Balinese have a responsibility to be hospitable, welcoming their ancestors through prayer and offerings throughout their home. The most obvious sign of the celebrations are penjor, bamboo poles with offerings suspended on the end, lining the streets.
Odalan (Temple Ceremony)
Bali isn’t called the “Land of a Thousand Temples” for nothing. There are over 4,500 temples on the island. Each temple has its own anniversary known as Odalan, and is celebrated once every 210 days.
An Odalan, or temple ceremony, usually lasts for three days, but larger ceremonies occur every 5, 10, 30 or 100 years, and can last for 11 days or longer. It is a time when the Balinese honour the deities that rule over the temple by giving them a myriad of offerings, vocal music, dance and gamelan musical performances.
Temples at Bali Island School has its Odalan too, where students, teachers, as well as staff members can join in the merriment as part of the family.
Nyepi: Day of Silence
In the Balinese lunar calendar (Saka), Nyepi is New Year’s Day. It is a day wholly dedicated to rest, staying in, turning off the lights, and keeping quiet for 24 hours. It is a unique ceremony, where staying indoors is enforced by law. The Balinese dedicate an entire day of introspection and spiritual cleansing. All businesses close, no transport is allowed on the roads (except for emergency services), Internet and cable services are switched off for 24 hours, and the airport shuts down. This sacred day provides everyone on the island a break and is also a public holiday for the rest of Indonesia.
Students of Bali Island School participate in this festival by making Ogoh-Ogoh (giant paper dolls) symbolizing the evil spirits battled against the night before Nyepi.
This is the day when the Balinese strengthen their mind and soul against evil forces.
The Pagerwesi ceremony is celebrated every six months according to the Balinese pawukon calendar. The celebration is usually held three days after Saraswati day (the Goddess of Science and Art). Pagerwesi is derived from the two Balinese words pager and wesi, which mean fence and iron, a symbol of strong inner-self. On this day, one needs to focus on personal strength to prevent evil from entering their mind, speech and deeds.
Celebrated to worship Sang Hyang Rare-Angon, the God of Animals, Tumpek Kandang is a Balinese celebration for household animals such as cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, dogs, and birds – all highly valued by the Balinese. On this day, pigs are usually dressed with a white cloth around their bellies. The animals are then fed with special food, sprinkled with rice and holy water, and prayers are offered.
This is not an animal worship ritual, but an act of considering animals as friends for life created by God as a living creature.
Full Moon, Purnama
A full moon is believed to be the moment God answers our prayers. It is considered to be a favorable day to plant things in the garden as Purnama helps to obtain an abundant harvest the following year.
Balinese prayers include honouring shadow and light to find the balance of life. This play of opposing forces and the acceptance of light and dark, joy and sorrow, benevolence as well as maliciousness, is called Rwa Binneda in Balinese culture.