Galungan is one of the most important ceremonies on the Balinese calendar. The exact dates of this auspicious day are calculated through the 210-day Pawukon calendar, where the Galungan period will last 10 days.
What makes this ceremony so special? What is its history and origins? Host Eddy Speirs shares the legend behind Galungan and why the Balinese Hindu celebrate this festive season.
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Galungan is one of the most important ceremonies on the Balinese calendar. The exact dates of this auspicious day are calculated through the 210-day Balinese calendar, where the Galungan period will last 10 days.
You’ll know when Galungan is coming a few days, or even weeks before it actually arrives as the whole island is bedecked in glamorous religious ornaments. Most notable are the penjor, bamboo poles decorated with offerings, that are erected on the side of the street, at the front of homes and shops.
Galungan is the day that the spirits, notably ancestors and deities, come down from their heavenly abode and visit Earth. To some it may resemble Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, or day of the dead, but philosophically it is more akin to India’s Diwali as both celebrate the triumph of dharma (good) over adharma (evil).
So, what are the origins of Galungan?
As with all good Balinese ceremonies, there is a myth, or ledgend even, associated with it. In fact there are two stories associated with Galungan, but I’ll share the most commonly accepted.
During the era of the Majapahit empire, a predominantly Hindu empire, there was a strong and frightening figure known as Mayadenawa – the son of a malevolent king, whose powers knew no bounds.
It was said even the great Majapahit army could not defeat him. Mayadenawa wreaked havoc amongst the Hindu, destroying temples, denying worship. The Hindu people appealed to the gods, and it was the God Indra who answered.
Lord Indra descended from the heavens and began a mighty war against the vicious – and godless – Mayadenawa. Battle after battle, Indra and his army fought the horrific character – but of course, the God was victorious.
Their victory took place on the Wednesday of the 11th week of the Balinese Pawukon calendar – known today as Galungan Day, celebrated on the same cycle every 210 days. The Wednesday of the 11th week of the Pawukon calendar. this festival commemorates the this victory of Indra (dharma, OR GOOD) over King Mayadenawa (adharma, OR EVIL).
Indra’s descent to Earth was also symbolic of other spirits descending on the same day.
Just a side note on Galungan. This legend of Indra fighting Mayadenawa is also the origin story of the Tampaksiring area.
It was said, during their war, Mayadenawa crept into the barracks of Indra’s men and poisoned the well. To sneak out, he walked on the sides of fit, carving footprints into the mountainside. This is where the area gets its name, Tampak means food and siring means slanted.
Tirtha Empul, the famous holy water temple, is also found in Tampaksiring, and the legend says the spring was made by Indra himself to heal his troops after being poisoned by the evil being.
So, what takes place during the Galungan festivities?
On the eve of Galungan, Penampahan Galungan, animals are sacrificed as special offerings which are meant to get rid of negativity in both the bhuana agung (the macrocosm, the world around us) and the bhuana alit (microcosm, the world within us); the meat is afterwards prepared and cooked for traditional Balinese dishes such as lawar, babi guling, and satay. The Balinese, especially the children, are looking forward to Penampahan Galungan as it is a typical family party day with lots of delicious dishes.
It is also believed that on the day of Penampahan Galungan the Sang Kala Tiga in the shape of Sang Bhuta Amangkurat descends to earth for the third and last time to tempt mankind to Adharma (evil).
Every temple and shrine and all the street corners will be busy with worshippers come Galungan Day, making it an amazing cultural showcase to witness. The atmosphere is alive: whiffs of incense in the air carry the smell of devotion even before the crack of dawn. Everybody is coming out in their traditional Balinese best to pray on this special day.
The day after Galungan, Manisan Galungan, people will visit their families, then 10 days after will be the end of the Galungan ‘season’ called Kuningan, where the spirits will return to the land ‘up there’, Tanah ane wayah.
In the Balinese calendar, Kuningan is in fact the third ‘tumpek’ ceremony of the Balinese year, which takes place on the Saturday of the 12th week of the Pakuwon cycle; it should in fact be called Tumpek Kuningan.
Why does Kuningan happen 10 days after Galungan?
Going back to the legend of Galungan (read in the Galungan story), after King Mayadenawa was defeated in battle, the victorious Balinese and Majapahit troops were worried that in fact the cunning ruler had simply conjured magic to disguise himself as a statue, a tree or animal. So, they waited for 10 days to be sure.
Upon the 10th day their victory over Mayadenawa was officially announced to the people, this was to be dubbed Kuningan Day. The word is said to have two meanings, ‘to announce’ – following the events of the legend – and yellow, which is the central colour seen throughout Kuningan worship and celebrations.
This stems from the fact that yellow rice is used as the special offerings on this day, the rice receiving its colour from the yellow root of turmeric, often used in cooking.
Yellow is also the colour of the god Wisnu, the protector of the Hindu trinity. Even worshippers will don yellow kebaya and sarongs and sashes, sticking to the theme of the day.
Prayers, offerings and family visits can be seen throughout the day. Most Kuningan celebrations take place in the privacy of the home, in the shrines of the family temple and housing compound.
Of course, the Balinese will find a way to make a spectacle out of these special days.