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Bali Information: Balinese Culture

Balinese Ceremonies

 

BALI TRADITION AND RELIGION
- BALI HOLY DAYS AND ANNIVERSARIES -

 

THE DAY OF SILENCE


In more than one way, Bali is the exact opposite of the West. While Westerners usher in the New Year in revelry, the Balinese greet their own New Year in silence. This is Nyepi Day, the Balinese day of Silence, which falls on the day following the dark moon of the spring equinox, and opens a new year of the Saka Hindu era which began in 78 A.D.
 
On Nyepi day, which starts with sunrise, don't expect to be able to do anything. You will have to stay in your hotel. No traffic is allowed, not only of cars, but also of people, who have to stay in their individual houses. Light is kept to a minimum, radio tuned down, and no one works, of course. Even love making, this ultimate activity of all leisure-timers, is not supposed to take place, nor even attempted. A whole day simply filled with the barking of a few dogs, the shrill of insects and simple long, long quiet day in the calendar of this hectic island.
 
Nyepi is a religious event. Bali is a Hindu society, one that believes in the karmapala principle, according to which the dynamics of life and of Man's individual fate is set in motion by "action". Man is in the midst of a Samsara cycle of incarnations, each of which is determined by the quality of his actions (karma) in his former existence. His "ideal" is thus to put the system to rest, i.e., to control one's actions, and thus to subdue one's "demons". Only in such a way can Man hope to achieve "deliverance" from his cycles of life (moksa) and eventually merge with the Oneness of the Void, the Ultimate Silence of Sunya.
 
The day of Silence is a symbolic replay of these philosophical principles. At the beginning of the year, the world is "clean". The previous days, all the effigies of the gods from all the village temples have been taken to the river in long and colorful ceremonies.
 
There they have been bathed by the Neptunus of Balinese lore, the god Baruna, before being taken back to residence in their shrines of origin. The day before Nyepi, all villages have also held a large exorcist ceremony at the main village crossroad, the meeting place of the demons. And, at night all the demons of the Bali world were let loose on the roads in a carnival of fantastic monsters, the Ogoh-ogoh.
 
The parade is held all over Bali after sunset. All the banjar neighborhoods and hundreds of youth associations make their own Ogoh-ogoh monsters. Some are giants from the classical Balinese lore, while others are guitarists, bikers or even AIDS microbes. All with fangs, bulging eyes and scary hair, illuminated by torches and with the accompaniment of the most demonic gametan music (bleganjur) of the Balinese repertoire. They surge suddenly by the hundreds from every street, some more "horrible" than the others; each carried on the shoulder of four to thirty youths, jerking this way or that way so as to give the impression of a dance, or suddenly turning in a circle, much to the fascination of the spectators. And, believe it, this is not a small "procession": it lasts for three to four hours, as if Bali has an inexhaustible pool of demons. No more than it gods and goddeses for sure.
 
Thus, on Silence day, the world is clean and everything starts anew, with Man showing his symbolic control over himself and the "force" of the World. Hence the mandatory religious prohibitions of mati lelangon (no pleasure), mati lelungan (no traffic), mati geni (no fire), and mati pekaryan (no work).

 

THE GALUNGAN FESTIVAL

The Galungan Ceremony: Overview
One of Bali's major festivals, celebrates the return of Balinese gods and deified ancestors to Bali. For ten days, Balinese families will entertain and welcome with prayers and offerings, along with ceremonies to cleanse and balance the inner and outer energy on the island. Galungan lasts for 10 days and features, among other things, barongs dancing from temple to temple in each village. The festival symbolizes the victory of good over evil. The origins of Galungan are still a mystery, but essentially this is the beginning of the week in which the gods and ancestors descend to earth…and good triumphs over evil.

Detail:
Among the many holidays in the Balinese 210-day calendar, the most prominent are undoubtedly those of Galungan and Kuningan; the former on the Wednesday of the Dungulan week and the latter on the Saturday on the Kuningan week. Due to their frequency - roughly once every seven Gregorian months - these festivals are not celebrated as national holidays, but don't try to do anything between Penampahan Galungan (the day for the slaughter of the pigs that precedes Galungan) and Manis Galungan, the day following it, or on the Friday preceding Kuningan; everything is closed. People go back to their village of origin to present offerings to their ancestors and village temples.
 
Unlike most Balinese festivals which celebrate the particular anniversary of a temple, and are therefore scattered across the calendar, Galungan and Kuningan are all-island holidays: everywhere, temples are all dressed up, with batik and white or yellow cloth wrapped around their individual shrines as a sign that they are "occupied," meaning the gods are visiting their descendants. The ritual involved is a reminder of the strong ancestor's cult aspect of the Hindu-Balinese religion. When it took root in Bali, Hinduism, instead of throwing away the older tradition as Christianity and Islam tended to do, integrated elements of ancestral beliefs and natural animism into its corpus, the rationale being that everything and every belief can be interpreted as "ray" or a manifestation of the "Ultimate Sun" of Surya (Siwa ).
 
The ancestors do not come before being properly "invited.". They are expected to come on the Sugihan Jawa day when one makes offerings for the welfare of the world. The call is made in familiar language: "Mai jani mulih. Uba yang ngaenang banten. Mai delokin damuh-damuhe," which means: "Please, come back home for a visit, we have prepared you food, please come and visit your descendants." This is all the more important for "dead" souls which have not yet undergone the whole cleansing process. If the dead is still buried in the cemetery, the soul is thought to be still hanging around nearby, provisionally entrusted to the god, the deity Prajapati. Thus it has to be handled with special care, and given the right punjung offering, lest it wreaks havoc among the living. But if the soul has been cremated and enshrined in the family temple, the danger is lessened and the chances are that its influence will be beneficent. The language will change, though, to become more formal and religious, and the offering will be different, too: this time it will be a saji.
 
The visit of the ancestors is expected to last until Kuningan. They will have feasted long enough and it will be time for them to go back to their realm of death. Another injunction will do: "Mangkin mantuk ke kedituan," which means "Go back over there to your abode of the dead". The shrines are then undressed and the temples return to quietness, waiting for another festival.

 

SARASWATI

This day is devoted to God's Manifestations as Dewi Saraswati, the beautiful Goddess of Knowledge, Art and Literature. On this day, books of knowledge's, manuscripts and the Wedas are blessed and special offerings are made for them.

 

PAGERWESI

The name literally means, "iron fence", on which day ceremonies and prayers are held for strong mental and spiritual defense in well coming the Galungan holiday.

 


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