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Balinese Ceremony and Ritual by BaliSpirit.com

The Balinese Celebrate Life through Ceremony & Daily Rituals


meru

It is said there is never a day in Bali without a ceremony of some kind and if you include all the life cycle rites (baby ceremonies, puberty rites, weddings, cremations,Temple festivals), then this adage is probably true. There are definitely certain times that are “ceremony-heavy” such as the full moons in April and October and the high holy days of Galungan (see below for more info). Balinese religion (called Agama Hindu Dharma) consist of three primary elements: Hinduism based on what is practiced in India but differing substantially from those traditions, animism (where every living thing has a soul) and ancestor worship (the Balinese deify their ancestors after a proscribed process of cleansing has been done).

Temple festivals are held on the anniversary of when the temple in question was consecrated. This could be an annual event, held on a new or full moon or more likely every 210 days, based on the wuku system, a complex calculation of overlapping days of confluence, some being more “powerful” than others (think of Friday the 13th).

An Odalan or temple ceremony usually lasts for three days, but larger ones (which occur every 5, 10, 30 or 100 years) can last for 11 days or longer. The gist of what is happening here is that the Balinese are honoring the deities that rule over the temple by giving them a myriad of offerings, performances of vocal music, dance and gamelan music. They invite them down from their abode on Mount Agung to partake in the activities.

The temple is dressed up in colorful golden clothes, the images of the deities are taken to the local holy spring to be bathed and dressed in their best, shrines are cleaned, performances are rehearsed, committees are formed and then the big day arrives. Usually people take their offerings to the temple in the late afternoon, after the heat of the day has gone, and everyone's work and school obligations are over.

The offerings, consisting of fruits, rice cakes and flowers, are brought in on women's heads and placed at strategic points around the temple. These are blessed with holy water by the temple Pemangku or priest. The pilgrims then pray, are blessed with and drink holy water and then take the offerings home to share with their families. The gods have taken the sari or essence of the offerings, leaving the “leftovers” for the humans to consume. In the evenings, there could be spectacular performances of music and dance by local groups.

Since every village has at least three major temples (and often many more than that), there is always some kind of community religious activity going on. Aside from the village temple festivals, every household compound's family temple (mrajan/sanggah) also has its ceremony every 210 days.

Aside from the Odalan, there are a dozen or so life and death cycle rites that are performed throughout a child's life:

child praying
  1. Gedong-gedongan : this is done in the 8th month (Gregorian calendar/7th month Balinese calendar) of pregnancy to ask blessings for an easy birth. The pregnant woman and her husband wade into the river, where eels and small fish are placed face down on her protruding belly to show the baby the right way out!
  2. Birth: Only the husband and the midwife/doctor are allowed to hold the placenta or after birth. This is washed and then buried on the right (if the baby is a boy) side of the northern pavilion or left (if a girl). With it are buried a comb, a dance fan, a pen, a book—whatever the family wishes the child will grow up to enjoy.The parents are not allowed to go into the kitchen for three days.
  3. Three Days after birth: the parents undergo a simple cleansing ritual so they can go into the kitchen
  4. Rorasin: 12 days after the birth the umbilical cord has usually fallen off. This is placed in a special shrine dedicated to Kumara, the Guardian of Babies.
  5. 42-day ceremony: Once a baby has reached this age, a rather large ritual is performed for her/him. This is to ensure that her/his development will continue unhindered. One of the things done at this time is that a baby chick and baby duck are brought in to peck off/dust off cooked rice that is on the baby's third eye. This is to show the child how to use her hands and feet as well as her mouth to gather food, as the animals do. She is placed under a cockfighting basket where she grabs items that have previously been placed into a clay pot. It is said that whatever she grabs is her vocation.
  6. Three month ceremony: This is also quite a grand ceremony that all the relatives and neighbors are invited to. This marks the first time a child touches the ground for the first time (he is carried everywhere previously). In some villages, this is when the child is “replaced” by a dressed up eggplant or cucumber. The priest sings the praises of the the eggplant so that spirits of chaos that might be lurking around will follow the eggplant when it's thrown out the front door, while the real baby stays protected.
  7. Odalan or six months (210 days) ceremony. This is the baby's birthday and will be celebrated ritually every 6 months. But no birthday cakes here!
  8. Three odalans is traditionally when the child has her or his hair cut off and head shaved to represent purity.
  9. Menek kelih or puberty. Not all castes perform this ceremony. It happens when the girl gets her period and the boy's voice cracks. They are paraded around the village announcing to all that they are now adults (and in the olden days, ready to marry)
  10. Tooth filing: In their late teens, Balinese get the top middle teeth filed; this symbolizes the filing away of greed, anger, lust, drunkenness, envy and confusion.
  11. Wedding: the ultimate fusion of male and female
  12. Death: within death, there are a number of rites. The first is the ritual cleansing of the corpse by the family and the banjar (neighborhood), then comes the burial or the cremation (if the family can afford to cremate right away, they will choose that option) and then the post-crematory purification rites where the soul becomes a deity that shall be worshipped in the family temple.

Aside from these major rituals, there are also honor days which occur every 35 days and are made for

  1. Anything out of metal: daggers, knives, gamelan instruments and now cars and the like
  2. Any fruiting trees
  3. Any domesticated animals, such as pigs, cows, chickens, goats.
  4. Shadow puppets and dance paraphenelia
  5. Literature (Goddess Saraswati)
  6. Kuningan : the end of the l0 day cycle of Galungan
offerings

Then we have Nyepi, the day of Silence, when one is not allowed to cook, light fires, go outside the home, drive, have sex or make a lot of noise. It occurs in March or April and one can palpably feel the energy in the air diminish for 24 hours.

Galungan is the day when the victory of Dharma or Justice/Truth wins over Adharma. It is when the family ancestors descend into the family temples, led there by seeing the long curved bamboo pole (penjor) that are erected in front of every Balinese house. For ten days, the ancestors are feted in the family temples; many temple festivals occur at this time of year and there is great feasting. On the last day, Kuningan, the ancestors are seen off with a flurry of yellow offerings and yellow rice.

There are also days to honor Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice, within the rice-growing cycle and other agricultural products.

Yes, nearly every day is a day to celebrate something in Bali! The above essay was written by Rucina Ballinger, founder of Dyana Putri Adventures.

Saraswati

Hari Raya Saraswati, the Goddess of learning, science and literature.

In accordance with Balinese Hindu belief, knowledge is an essential medium to achieve the goal of life as a human being. This day celebrates Saraswati in Bali, a special day devoted to the Goddess of learning, science and literature. Saraswati rules the intellectual and creative realm, and is the patron saint of libraries and schools. For Balinese Hindus, she is celebrated as she succeeded in taming the wandering and lustful mind of her consort, Brahma, who was preoccupied with the goddess of material existence, Shatarupa. On this day no one is allowed to read or write, and offerings are made to the lontar (palm-leaf scripts), books and shrines.

Saraswati Day is celebrated every 210-days on Saniscara Umanis Wuku Watugunung and marks the start of the new year according to the Balinese Pawukon calendar. Ceremonies and prayers are held at the temples in family compounds, villages and businesses from morning to noon. Prayers are also held in school temples. Teachers and students abandon their uniforms for the day in place of bright and colourful ceremony gear, filling the island with colour! Children bring fruit and traditional cakes to school for offerings at the temple.

Ogoh-ogoh

Hari Raya Nyepi, the Silence Day

The month of March brings us Nyepi - Bali's official day of silence (24hrs). Nyepi marks the first day of the Balinese Saka calendar (1929) and is practiced island-wide where the Balinese dedicate an entire day to introspection and spiritual cleansing, embarking on a new year based on the Balinese lunar calendar.

Nyepi is my favorite day of the year. The night before the silence begins, there is an island wide parade of paper mache monsters (Ogoh-Ogoh) sent about making a rukus to scare evil spirits off the island, back to where ever they came from. Starting from approximately 6 a.m. on Friday, March 23 and continuing until 6 a.m. the next morning, EVERYONE will stay in their family compounds (or hotels) and silence will overcome the island. There are no cars, no tv's or loud radios, no lamps or fires and no airplanes overhead as the airport is closed. This is the only place in the world where the government will shut down an airport for meditation & introspection!

Buddha

Waisak, is an annual holy day honoring:

  • The Birth of Prince Siddharta (also known as the Buddha) in taman Lumbini in 623 BCE.
  • Prince Siddharta achieving nirvana or enlgihtenment and becoming the Buddha in Buddha Gaya at the age of 35 in 588 BCE.
  • Buddha Gautama's death in 543 BCE at the age of 80.

Waisak is celebrated in Bali mainly at the very few Buddhist ashrams on the island. There is a huge celebration at Borobudur Buddhist temple outside of Jogyakarta when thousands of Buddhist pilgrims come to pay their respects.

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