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Galungan (Balinese New Year)

Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal, Religious (Bali Hindu)
Date of Observation: Every 210 days
Where Celebrated: Bali
Symbols and Customs: Barong, Lamak, Penjor, Tri Datu
Colors: Galungan is associated with the tri datu or "three colors": red, white, and black (see TRI DATU ).
Related Holidays: Nyepi


When it comes to determining festival dates, the Balinese use an indigenous calendar known as the wuku, which is believed to have been linked to the cycle according to which the islanders traditionally planted and harvested their rice. Instead of having a standard-length week of seven days, the wuku calendar has weeks of ten different lengths that run simultaneously rather than sequentially. Certain weeks-particularly those with three, five, or seven days-are considered more auspicious than others, and the best days for festivals are those that occur when certain of these weeks conjoin. The wuku year is 210 days long, and the new year celebration known as Galungan is therefore observed about once every seven months according to the Western or Gregorian calendar.

The dominant religion of the island of Bali in Indonesia is known as Bali Hindu, or Agama Tirtha, the Religion of Holy Water. Claiming more than two million adherents in Bali, the faith is a blend of ancient indigenous Balinese beliefs and strong Hindu and Buddhist influences. The emergence of Bali Hindu as a distinct religion is thought to have occurred sometime between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Balinese Hindus believe that the gods and ancestral spirits return to their earthly homes at this time of year and must be entertained with ten days of feasting, dancing, prayers, and holiday visits. Preparations begin on the Sunday before the Wednesday on which Galungan is observed. This day is known as Panyekeban, and it is devoted to ripening green bananas, a key ingredient in Galungan offerings, by placing them in covered clay pots and heating them. The following day, known as Penyajaan, is also devoted to preparing offerings, this time rice dough cakes known as jaja. The day before the holiday, known as Penampahan, is spent slaughtering pigs and other animals for the holiday feast. Other preparations include erecting the PENJOR -a decorated bamboo pole-and the woven palm-leaf decoration known as the LAMAK at the gate of each home.

Galungan itself, which falls on a Wednesday, is a time for prayer, feasting, and family gatherings. The temples are decorated and their shrines are wrapped in cloth-symbolizing the presence of the visiting spirits. B ARONG dancers and children playing traditional Balinese instruments go from house to house entertaining people and receiving gifts in return. On the last day of the festival, which is known as Kuningan and marks the end of the ancestral spirits' ten-day visit, a festive holiday dish known as nasi kuning, made from cooked yellow rice, spices, and coconut milk, is served.

In addition to marking the start of a new year, Galungan commemorates the victory of dharma (good) over adharma (evil). In fact, the name of the festival comes from a Javanese word meaning "win." This is because, according to legend, there was a time many centuries ago when Bali was ruled by an evil king named Mayadenawa, who did everything in his power to stamp out Hindu beliefs and celebrations-including the observance of Galungan. During his reign, there was famine, drought, and disease everywhere. Finally Indra, the Hindu god of weather and storms, came down and helped the people destroy the evil king, and his death became symbolic of the victory of good over evil. People started celebrating Galungan again, and suddenly the crops started growing, people and animals regained their health, and life returned to normal. By observing Galungan, the Balinese are reminded every 210 days how blessed they have been since that time.



Balinese Hinduism mixes traditional Balinese folk beliefs with Hindu religious beliefs and practices. The Barong is a lion-like creature who, according to Balinese mythology, is widely believed to protect Balinese villages by fighting off evil in the form of a witch named Rangda. The Barong is visible throughout the ten days of Galungan, often wandering from door to door and scaring off evil spirits. Sometimes there are spontaneous performances at the temples by Barong dancers wearing shaggy lion puppet heads. During the dance, Rangda tries to get the Barong supporters to stab themselves with their knives, but they go into a trancelike state and the knives have no effect. Although the Barong symbolizes goodness in the battle between good and evil, he is also associated with fun and mischief.


Lamaks are an ancient Balinese art form. They are made by weaving strips of palm leaf, bamboo, or other native plants together to form rosettes, treelike designs, or Galungan

decorative borders. One of the earliest motifs in many lamak patterns is the figure of a shapely young girl known as a cili, whom scholars believe may represent an ancient fertility goddess. During Galungan, lamak banners several yards long can often be seen hanging from PENJOR or adorning the gates to private homes. Despite their beauty and complexity, however, lamaks are not made to last. By nightfall on Galungan day they have usually wilted.


The long, curved bamboo poles known as penjor are used to decorate the entrances to family homes as well as village streets during the holiday period. They are elaborately decorated with sheaves of rice, woven coconut leaves, fruit, cereal grains, flowers, and often coins or a piece of ceremonial cloth. Penjor are erected not only in celebration of religious holidays such as Galungan but to mark special occasions such as marriages.

The arch formed by the penjor is said to symbolize Mount Agung, the sacred mountain where the Balinese Hindu gods live; the pole itself represents the river that flows from this mountain and provides drinking water; and the decorative items are the products of the harvest and the basic items people need to survive. The penjor is traditionally set up at the gate or entranceway to the family home, where it serves as a reminder of the things for which the Balinese must be thankful and whose existence they must protect.

Tri Datu

Tri Datu refers to the "three colors"-red, white, and black-representing the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The tri datu colors can be seen throughout Bali on temples, private homes, and other buildings, especially during the ceremony held to purge buildings of evil spirits; in fact, they are part of most Balinese ceremonies.

During the celebration of Galungan, the Tri Datu are most commonly seen in the colored threads that the Balinese wear on their wrists, ankles, and heads. The threads are believed to impart physical and mental strength while ridding the mind of negative or disturbing thoughts.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Merin, Jennifer, and Elizabeth B. Burdick. International Directory of Theatre, Dance, and Folklore Festivals. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979. Shemanski, Frances. A Guide to World Fairs and Festivals. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985. Trawicky, Bernard, and Ruth W. Gregory. Anniversaries and Holidays. 5th ed. Chicago: American Library Assocation, 2000.
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009


Every 210 days
Galungan is a major 10-day religious festival commemorating the Balinese New Year that is celebrated throughout the Indonesian island-province of Bali every 210 days. (The Balinese calendar followed for holidays is a 210-day cycle.) This is a Bali Hindu festival (Balinese religion is a mix of traditional Balinese and Hindu practices and beliefs), during which the gods are thought to come to earth. Balinese festivals include rituals in the temples, where small thrones are symbolic seats for the gods to occupy; cockfights, a combination of sport and gambling; offerings of foods, fruit, and flowers to the temple by the women; and card games, music, and dancing.
Numerous temple festivals are held during the year in individual Balinese villages, but Galungan is island-wide.
The Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia
2020 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
202-775-5200; fax: 202-775-5365
GdWrldFest-1985, p. 112
IntlThFolk-1979, p. 218
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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The Balinese New Year is a day of retreat and purification when cars, buses and planes do not run and only hotels with dispensation are allowed to use electricity after dark.