The Balinese calendar is an impressive document containing a wealth of information for those who can decipher its meaning. In addition to the Roman calendar, this sheet of paper also tracks a lunar calendar similar to that used in India and a 210-day calendar unique to Bali. This indigenous system, called the pawukon, is further divided into overlapping cycles of three, five, and seven days, which explains why the Balinese calendar has more fine print than a prescription drug pamphlet. Each little square identifies the day’s standard Roman number, lunar month, and position within the short “weeks” of the pawukon calendar. The particular alignment of these concurrent cycles determines that day’s suitability for various activities.


Religious ceremonies can be divided into those marked by the lunar calendar, such as Balinese New Years and the many temple festivities that fall on the full moon, and those determined by the 210-day pawukon cycle. The most significant pawukon holiday is happening right now, an 11-day holy period beginning with Galungan and ending on Kuningan. During this time all the gods, great and small, will visit the earthly plane to enjoy festivities and receive offering.


Bali is especially beautiful around Galungan, when each family erects in front of their home a towering bamboo pole bedecked with rice stalks and palm leaf ornaments. The penjor is a symbol of fertility and kind of offering. This tradition reminds me of the Christmas tree back home. If you live in the country you go out and cut down your own bamboo tree. Around here you just buy one on the side of the road, sorting through the stack to find just the right one. Then you take it home, painstakingly decorate it with tinsel and ornaments, stand it up, and leave it to slowly decompose over the next month. Just like Christmas.


Like so many Balinese offerings, the penjor is a transient work of art. It is not meant to last because the same offering must be made again and again. Often, when the women on my street put out their small morning offerings, the ornate little trays of flowers are run over by motorbikes or pecked apart by chickens as soon as the woman turns her back. That night she will sweep the remnants into the gutter before laying out another carefully arranged gift to her gods and ancestors. This tradition is a testament to the natural bounty of Bali. The island’s fertility has produced a culture that devotes a staggering amount of its material riches to the production of short-lived offerings.


On Galungan day, every village’s barong parade through the neighborhood accepting offerings (as well as monetary donations) and giving out blessings. They stop on each block to lead a short ceremony. Families roll out woven mats on the street and kneel in prayer before the barong then stand aside to let the procession pass.


The following day is quiet. Most stores stay closed as people go to visit friends and family. But the reprieve is short; soon each household will start preparing a new round of offerings for Kuningan. These gifts to the gods will take every possible form: fruits, clothe, flowers, woven palm-leaves, sculpted rice crackers, music, and dance; in essence, everything Bali has to offer. 


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