Celebrating Galungan, Bali’s biggest holiday

Posted on by 0 comment

When I left Flores, I knew that my budget was running thin and that I had only two weeks left in Indonesia. Part of me threw around the possibility of going to West Timor or Sumba – I mean, I was that far out into Indonesia already, I might as well tick off the islands out this way while I can.

I started leafing through my Lonely Planet for ideas, and I found that one of Bali’s biggest holidays coincided with my last two weeks in Indonesia.

I was sold. I scraped any other plans that I was trying to put into fruition having faith the Indonesia is somewhere I will come back to time and time again.

Galungan – one of Indonesia’s biggest festivals – was happening soon in Bali, which would coincide with my last week there.

Galungan is a 10-day holiday in Bali that honors the triumph of good over evil, celebrates deceased ancestors and celebrates the creator of the universe. Each year its start date falls on a different calendar day as the holiday goes according to the 210-day Balinese calendar.

The 10-day holidays commences with Galungan and culminates with Kuningan, which was celebrated this year on the 31st of May – one day after I left Bali.

The three days leading up to the 21st involved a lot of preparation, with people on the street decorating the roadside lamps with these palm-like giants that soared up into the air. The locals were preparing food and the offerings that they would make both at the local temples and their own private temples.

photo 5



I decided to head to Bali and I deliberately chose to go to Ubud, the island’s cultural heart, to partake in and observe the traditions and the ceremonies associated with Galungan.

I traveled to Ubud with my new Danish friend Marie, a 21-year-old whose mellowed out voice would have made you think she was a 70s re-incarnate.

We woke up early on the morning of the 21st in attempts to find some traditional dress to wear into the temples. In order to enter any of the temples on Galungan, both men and women needed to wear sarongs.

Once we acquired our sarongs, we headed to the temple nearest to our hostel.


It was still the early morning hours, some time around 9:30 or so, and the streets were slowly starting to come alive with colors. More horns were blasting and honking than usual, and families of four or more – carrying everything from their offerings to drinking convenience store slushies – zipped through the streets on motorbikes.

As we made our way up the temple steps, there were countless families making their way down.

photo 3

“We missed it!” I hissed at Marie. “Everyone is leaving.”

We continued to walk up the steps in utter defeat, thinking that all the services and offerings were done and over with.

Little did we know they would continue all day long, with families coming in and out of the temple every 20 minutes or so to make their offerings and receive their blessings before heading back to their villages to spend time with their families.

Unfortunately I understood very little of the process, and I (along with a group of other tourists) sat back as a silent observer watching the intimacy of the ceremony unfold.

Men and women in sarongs filed into the temple with their children in tow; many of the women carried offering baskets on their heads and many of the men had grains of rice resting in the base of the necks as well as placed right between between their eyes. Additionally, the men wore cloth-like wraps around their head like headbands with just yellow flowers placed just at the back.

The temple grounds were a rainbow of colors, from pink sarongs with white lacy tops to black and white checkered sarongs to these powerful ocean blues and rich, deep golds.

photo 1



There was some kind of religious leader at the front. In a way he reminded me of Catholic priests when they offer up the body and blood of Christ to be blessed for communion.

He sat raised above everyone else – a small pagoda-sort of structure in which he had his back turned to the worshippers as he read, prayed and sang aloud. Families sat behind him, their legs crossed under him and their hands held in prayer against their heads.

The ceremony was only about 20 minutes to 25 minutes in total, with the worshippers held in prayer raising their hands up and down again in synchronized motions.


Once the ceremony was over, a couple of people walked around with teapots of water, lightly splashing water on the worshippers, and and bowls of rice.



Men first would take some grains of rice from the bowl and put them on their forehead and on their necks – a sign that they had already been to temple and prayed that day.

Additionally, worshipers cupped their hands and drank the water that was poured into them. This happened three times before they then started to lightly put the water on the tops of their head three times, one after the other.



Families would then go and deliver their offerings up at the front of the temple before leaving the grounds.

Other groups of families would come in, and the ceremony would continue.

We sat and watched the ceremonies unfold time and time again, until we decided to go check out some of the other celebrations and festivities. By mid-day, the streets were lit up with smiling faces, sprinkled with offerings every which way you look, families squeezed onto motorbikes and a cheer that reminded me of Christmas time in New York.

I rented a motobrike on my own that afternoon and traveled through the roads and towns surrounding Ubud, taking in the festivities and the swirls of color that painted the streets and the friendly waves from those celebrating with their loves ones.

It was a day and an experience that made me fall in love with Bali, that made me see beyond its market-lined streets and its vendors hustling prescriptions of viagra on the down low.

It made me see Bali for Bali, see the culture in its prime and the intricate and delicate traditions and beliefs that make this island unique from the other 16,999 or so that surround it.

And, to top off the most perfect day – I didn’t crash my motorbike!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>