Paul and I find ourselves in Ubud for another Galungan & Kuningan holiday season.
As Westerners, Galungan & Kuningan always remind us a little bit of Christmas – people wear special clothes, there’s lots of fancy foods, and the streets are decorated with spectacular, colorful decorations of all shapes and sizes; it’s an absolutely incredible time to be in Bali.
The “holiday season” stretches for 11 days, beginning with Galungan and ending with Kuningan. The day of Galungan itself celebrates the triumph of Dharma (Good) over Adharma (Evil). Before Galungan, each family works for weeks to prepare the communal feasts and decorations that will be enjoyed on the day; it is a very joyous time.
Out of all these decorations, none is more glorious than the penjor. Penjors are massive bamboo poles that stretch high into the sky, naturally curving into a candy cane shape. The height and shape of the penjor is meant to mirror Mt. Agung—the holiest place in Bali.
Each househould erects a single penjor in front of their home—but it is not merely a bamboo pole. Oh no, no, no. These things are decorated to the nines. The men of each household work for weeks to decorate the penjors with items significant to Balinese culture: rice, coconuts, ceremonial fabric, and coconut leaves. Basically they make Clark Griswold look like an amateur.
The night before Galungan, each penjor is erected and the artistry is revealed. Some villages even have contests with large cash prizes for the most beautiful penjor! The sight of these magnificent altars swaying against the blue sky as you drive down the streets of Ubud is an unforgettable moment.
Galungan is a significant time of the year, not only because of its mythical roots, but its immense spiritual importance as well. The Balinese people believe it is the time of the year when all deceased relatives return to the family home. It is incumbent upon the living family to make them feel welcome and care for them accordingly. As an intensely, family-oriented culture—this is no small feat. The women of the home work hard to ensure the temples are up to snuff, offerings are sufficient, and meals are impressive.
Their devotion is humbling.
Galungan ends 10 days later with Kuningan. On Kuningan, deceased ancestors are bid farewell until the following Galungan—it is their time to return to the ancestral world. On Kuningan, you’ll see temples and streets adorned with turmeric-laden yellow rice, a goodbye gift for the spirits as they pass on to the next world. It is a time of gratitude and humility for all we have been blessed with.
Stay tuned here as we’ll post some pics and more history of Kuningan in 10 days’ time.