At any time during the year, the people of Bali are very likely celebrating one of the many festivals that are spread throughout their wuku calendar. Balinese festivities are largely defined by the people’s spiritual beliefs and religious practices. They revolve around the various Hindu gods and demigods, the souls of their ancestors and the deities of harvest that nourish the earth that provides their food. They can involve animal sacrifices, decorated temples, parades to the sea, the booming of the gamelan, nights of penance, sumptuous feasts and whole days of silence.
Tourists and visitors are always welcome to join in the celebrations. After all, it is a Balinese trademark to gladly receive people from foreign lands. But it is also important to understand the spirit that moves each and every colourful festival. Take a look at some of the biggest festivals that the people of Bali celebrate every year.
Melasti. On the day before the Balinese New Year, the locals dress up in their finest cloaks and march to the sea or the inland springs, carrying with them colourful umbrellas, baskets of fruits and flowers and other offerings to honour the powerful waters of the sea. They also carry the three sacred statues, Arca, Pratima and Pralingga and cleanse them with seawater while the men, women and children shout and dance for joy to the music of the gamelan. At night, on the eve of the New Year, the Balinese gather on the streets to watch a purification ritual in the form of a parade of ogoh-ogoh, huge monster dolls that represent the evil spirits that yearly visit the island.
Nyepi. The Balinese New Year is a day of silence, meditation and, for some, fasting. Everyone is expected to stay inside and do some self-reflection after the ruckus raised during the previous day’s celebrations. No fires are lit and no indulgences are sated. Even tourists are expected to stay inside their hotels during this day. All establishments, even the lone Balinese airport, are closed and the hotels may provide limited service. It is believed that the evil spirits that have taken up abode in Bali will mistake the silent island for an uninhabited island and will thus flee, making way for a fresh, new start for the incoming year.
Odalan. An odalan is a temple festival that usually lasts three days to a week. People celebrate odalan for one thing only-to please the deities to whom these temples were built. The temples are adorned with palms leaves, flowers and towers made of bamboo on the day before the official start of the odalan. The festival typically begins with a contemplative prayer known as a muspa and is followed by the throwing of rice and holy water by the high priest. Afterwards, it is pure spectacular merrymaking from there, with lots of dancing, feasting and parading on the streets.
Galungan. Galungan is the most important day of the Balinese calendar, as it is believed that the gods and the spirits of their ancestors come back down to earth on this day and celebrate with them the triumph of Good (Dharma) over Evil (Adharma). It is like Christmas in Western parts of the world. Women prepare for this special day a month before it comes, weaving intricate patterns of coconut leaves, flowers and brightly-coloured cloth into a bamboo pole that is erected to the right side of their houses, while men choose their fattest, juiciest pigs to please the palate of the gods and the friends and family who come to visit.