top of page


Galungan and Kuningan - even Bali has its Christmas, but quite different …

Over the centuries, people in Bali have maintained their own religion and their own cosmic world view. There are gods and nature, magic and earthly, good and evil. But all these are not opposites, but the good, divine powers and the dark, demonic powers coexist permanently and it is up to the Balinese to keep the balance of this cosmic balance constantly through sacrifices, rituals and ceremonies. Soothing the demons and blessing the gods will help all together to make people happy and peaceful.

Spread over the whole year (often oriented to the moon phases) there are in addition to the innumerable smaller ceremonies also some larger festivals. Galungan-Kuningan is the most important holiday season in the ritual annual calendar of the Balinese, comparable to our multi-day Christmas. It begins with the Galungan Day, which always falls on a Wednesday, and which follows after ten days of the Kuningan Festival, so that the preparations and ceremonies on the days before and between the two dates result in a whole festive season of particularly holy days.

Devoted to Galungan is the supreme divine Being Sangyang Widi, the all-encompassing Creator and Lord of the Universe, a super-deity of the Balinese who is perceived as abstract.

While God sent his son Jesus to earth on our Christmas Day, the Balinese Sangyang Wifi, along with other deities and god-forsaken ancestors from the Mount Gunung Agung (the world-famous volcano) climb into the temple to the Galungan festival people descend to stay with them during the ten-day festival period until Kuningan Day until they then ascend again to heaven.

The festival preparations on the days before Galungen follow special traditional rules or a specific schedule, and all families of the village community take part in it. Among the prepared offerings are small sweets that women make from rice flour or yeast. Instead of the Christmas goose that is common in Western cultures at Christmas, large numbers of chickens and pigs have to give their lives to life in Bali, from which imaginative and elaborately designed offerings and tasty dishes are made. Part of it, of course, is also offered to the evil spirits, who must also be considered to keep the balance and the village from harm.

The western Christmas tree on Bali also has a certain, albeit very distant relative with different meaning. One of the most striking festivities on the eve of Galungan is the setting up of the penjors that adorn the village streets. These are long ornate bamboo poles whose tips tend towards the middle of the road in a graceful arc. Artifacts made out of palm leaves, fruits and flowers are hung there. They stand in front of almost every front door and are symbolic thanks to Sanghyang Widi for his kindness, to give people life and prosperity and to let the fruits grow in the fields. In front of the entrance of each house (which in Bali is more like a small settlement of several houses and a small house temple), a small bamboo altar is also set up.

Western Christmas is traditionally the feast of families. Also in Bali, everyone at Galungan endeavors to be at his hometown, at the ancestral home of his family, in order to celebrate the festival together with their relatives. Finally, it is the day on which the deities descend from the heavenly spheres into the house temples and sit down in the throne seats reserved for them. During their stay on Earth until Kuningan Day, the gods and ancestors await a diverse festival program that reveals all the cultural richness and magnificence of religious expressions of the Balinese people. Here, quite typical for Bali, spiritual ritual and worldly pleasure merge seamlessly into one another and easily have their place next to each other.

On the Balinese feast days, the Balinese in their best dresses and festively decorated attracts early in the morning to the family shrines and in the temples, in which there is now bustle. In the temples pile up opulent and imaginative designed offerings of food, f.e. from rice dough or meat, wicker and flowers. With a sure and proud step, the women carry always new artificially high towers piled offerings on the heads. In solemn ceremonies they are blessed by the Brahmin priest and are now brought back to the houses as sanctified, where they are consumed together in the family.

For the edification of gods and men believers in sumptuous garments draw as a festival procession through the streets to the temples. Dances and theatrical performances provide divine guests and faithful with a pleasant pastime. This traditionally includes the shadow players and the magical barong, and above all hovers the unmistakable sound of the gamelan orchestra.

Apart from all festive activities, Galungan is also an occasion for inner contemplation and contemplation. People's thoughts go back to their deceased and ancestors, who now also dwell in their homes and are honored with prayers and sacrifices.

Kuningan is the last day of temporary residence of the gods and ancestors on earth. Before they ascend again to heaven, they are offered last offerings of fruits, cakes and meat dishes.

On the following day, one last large temple procession takes place, for example, to the turtle island Serangan off the southern coast of Bali, where the Turtle Festival takes place. Here, too, deep piety in the temple mixes with Western business acumen at the countless stalls around.

Galungan-Kuningan offers unforgettable insight into the deep, unadulterated religiosity of the Balinese, far from any folkloristic staging, but a living expression of the real world of beliefs and everyday life of the Balinese people.

© Images and Text TRAVEL-EDITION & © travelART by ELLEN


All posts 

bottom of page