Ceremonies in Bali


It occurs every 210 days and lasts for 10 days. Galungan means “when the Dharma is winning.” During this period, Balinese believe the deified ancestors of the family descend to their former homes. They must be suitably entertained and welcomed, with prayers and offerings made for them. Those who have ancestors buried in the village cemetery, must make offerings at the graves.

Although Galungan falls on a Wednesday, most Balinese will begin their ‘holiday’ the day before, so that the deified ancestors may see them busily preparing offerings and cooking for the next day.

A long bamboo pole, or penjor, decorates the entrance to the family compound during this holiday. By late Tuesday afternoon, these decorative poles create a festive atmosphere on the streets throughout.

While the women spend days creating elaborately woven banten (offerings made from young coconut fronds), the men usually wake up well before dawn on Wednesday to join with their neighbours to slaughter a pig unlucky enough to be chosen to help celebrate this occasion.

Finely diced pork is mashed to a pulp with a grinding stone, then molded onto sate sticks prepared by whittling small bamboo stalks. Chickens may also be chosen among those chickens that roam around the house compound. Delicate combinations of various vegetables, herbs and spices are also prepared by the men to make up a selection of lawar dishes. By mid-morning, once all the cooking is done, time comes for the first of a series of satisfying feasts.

Most Balinese try to return to their own ancestral home even if they work in another part of the island. As well as the family temple, visits are made to the village temple with offerings as well, and to the homes of other families who may have helped in some way over the past six months. Balinese most often spend the following day relaxing, visiting friends, or heading to the mountains for a picnic to continue the festive spirit of Galungan without the formal festivities.


The Balinese “Day of Silence” falls on Bali’s Lunar New Year, in late March or early April. On New Year’s Eve families parade with a giant monster doll known as Ogoh-Ogoh to the village temple where they symbolically burn it to exorcise evil spirits for the year to come. Next the island itself must be purified, an excuse for everyone to run amok through the villages all night, smashing effigies and clanging the kulkul, a traditional bamboo bell. The next day, Bali is completely silent (no electricity, working, traveling or eating) to ‘trick’ the malicious spirits into believing the Hindu isle is now uninhabited so they will leave for another year.


Balinese people in the Northern part of the island celebrate the first four days of the new Pawukon cycle as special religious days called Pagerwesi. The word itself comes from two Javanese words, pager (fence) and wesi (iron). According to their belief, one should surround oneself with a strong fortification against the forces of evil.

Pagerwesi celebrates an ancient battle between good and evil is celebrated. Locals will put up penjors, and make special offerings for the uncremated dead bodies in the cemeteries. The offerings are usually placed at every house compound and temples.

Before Pagerwesi, celebrants will perform a series of temple rituals known as Soma Ribek. Following the celebration, Balinese Hindus will continue to celebrate Sabuh Emas Day with colorful offerings made and dedicated to the Lord of Jewelries, especially gold jewelries and Chinese coins.

Ngaben (Cremation Ceremony)

The ritual performed to send the dead through the transition to the next life begins when the village Kul Kul, a bell hanging in the tower of the village temple, sounds a certain beat to announce the departure of the deceased. No tears are shed, for he is only gone temporarily and he will reincarnate into the family.

The Priest consults the Dewa to determine the proper day for the ceremony. On the day of the ceremony, the body is placed inside a coffin then inserted into a sarcophagus in the form of a buffalo (called Lembu) or a temple structure called Wadah made of paper and light wood. Next everyone takes part in the procession to the village cremation site carrying the Lembu or Wadah.

With fire originating from a holy source, the priest commences the burning of the entombed body so that the deceased may move to his afterlife and next reincarnation

Mesangih/Mepandes (Tooth-filing Ceremony)

In the Balinese belief system, Mepandes helps people rid themselves of the invisible forces of evil. Teeth symbolize the evils of lust, greed, anger, insobriety, confusion and jealousy. Filing the teeth therefore renders someone more spiritually beautiful, as well as announcing the rite of passage for an adolescent into adulthood.

Whenever possible, a member of the highest caste, the Brahman (priest) will file which is said to feel fairly painless. These Sangging use simple tools to conduct their work – a file, a small hammer, and a carver – purified with holy water prior to the ceremony by a lay priest. Items provided by the family include a mirror, a piece of sugar cane, and some young coconut. The person having their teeth filed must remain in isolation indoors for the whole day prior to the ceremony as protection since they are still considered “immature’, prior to the ceremony, they are particularly vulnerable to evil spirits.

During the joyous ceremony held between 04.00 am to 06.00 am, before the sun rises, two gender wayang instruments play their calming sound and soothing scale. People who have their teeth filed wear highly ornamental garb with the women donning gold-gilded headdresses.

Artifacts found in the Buleleng regency have resealed that the Balinese have been holding the tooth filing ceremony for over 2000 years, hence it was not originally a Hindu ceremony.

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