As I said earlier, in visiting Ubud we were on a bit of a cultural voyage. So the fact that we arrived in Bali on the week of Galungan festival was serendipitous (you can read more about the festival here). I mean, Indonesia is always celebrating something. But this one is huge. More than a week of intense days of preparation, celebration, street decoration, food (particularly eating pork, sacrificed especially for the occasion), temple visits, kids parading about the streets in their clanging gamelan bands followed by a mini dancing dragon. Basically the idea is that once a year (210 days in the Balinese calendar) the spirits of cremated relatives come back for a visit and its everyone's job to be as hospitable as possible, through generous offerings, celebration and prayer. It is also when Balinece celebrate the victory of dharma over adharma. My simple understanding is that its a combination of the sentiments: 'things are in balance', 'good has beaten evil' and 'woohoo, we made it!'. Galungan was a perfect time to be in a Balinese village, because the community truly erupted in decoration and music. Everyone was dressed in traditional dress (heres a photo of us with Pak Tangsi ready for temple), smiling and enjoying their few days off. Although I must say, the women worked tirelessly, preparing all the offerings and food, and seemed mega exhausted once it was over.
Visiting the three village temples on Galungan day (each with its own meaning and symbolic location, find out more here if you're interested) was a really special experience. Wearing my traditional kabaya (tailored by Tangsi's clever wife, and wrapped snugly around me by Tangsi's daughter on the day) meant that I looked only slightly less out of place with my pale skin and light hair! Thankfully we already new some locals by then, so there were friendly welcomes all around, and one kind lady generously gave us flowers and incense when it was apparent we hadn't brought our own.
Tangsi also led us through the process of prayer. It had a lot more to do with contemplative thought, being grateful, and listening to your heart than anything I had expected. I actually found the practice quite calming! I'm not about to convert to Hindu or any religion anytime soon. But I could see why the ideals and practices of Balinese Hinduism might appeal to a westerner seeking solace. Hence the masses of women (in particular) who have flocked to Bali for all kinds of spiritual nourishment. Hence Eat Pray Love. I kinda get it.
For visitors that don't get caught up in local festivities, the appearance of penjor along the streets is probably the most obvious sign of Galungan. These welcoming street decorations are prepared and displayed by each family and erected out the front of their homes. They are made from a bamboo pole and decorated by things from the ricefields or farms - flowers, bunches of rice kernels, leaves. While they are all similar, each family takes pride in making it their own way. They have a rule that everything it is made from has to be natural. But every rule can be bent for convenience of course - they were fastened together using staples! Love it!
Note: This post forms part of a whole bunch on my trip to Ubud, Bali. If you want to read it from the start, heres the first post!