There is a myriad of festivals in Bali. Some are dedicated to the art of woodcarving, the birth of a goddess, and percussion instruments. Other festivals include temple festivals, fasting & retreat ceremonies, parades to the sea to cleanse villages, special prayers for the dead, nights of penance (sivaratri), harvest festivals (usaba), blood sacrifices, and house deity anniversaries (odalan sangguh).
Melasti, another religiously inclined festival, is a purification festival held the day before Nyepi. On Melasti, villagers will dress in their finest and make their way to the sea or holy springs. They would carry umbrellas, offerings or flowers, and fruit and sacred statues. The statues are affectionately washed with water, and pigs would be sacrificed by holy men as offerings to their gods. This festival must be carried out amid the din of gamelan and drums and lots of merry shouting. All must then fall silent the following day on Nyepi.
Nyepi is a festival that marks the beginning of a new lunar year and usually falls during the spring equinox (late March or early April). On this day, everyone in Bali including tourists must remain silent. No one is allowed to work, travel or partake in any indulgences. Visitors are advised to observe this custom and to stay within their lodgings for the day. It may seem like a day is wasted, but the previous night’s festivities would have sapped substantial energy and spirit to make up for the day of stillness. It is believed that evil spirits will leave the island, thinking that the place is uninhabited due to the complete stillness.
Galungan is another festival related to religion. It is observed in the eleventh week of the 210th day in the Balinese calendar and celebrates the creation of our world. Bali’s most significant annual event, locals will spend the day visiting family, friends and neighbors decked in their finest and indulge in heavy feasting.
Ten days after Galungan is Kuningan. This festival commemorates the end of the holiday season. On this occasion, ancestors are worshipped and honored with celebrations held at the water temple Tampaksiring, along with other events at Bangli and Ubud.
The restoration of balance between good and evil is also commemorated. Eka Dasa Rudra is the island’s most important festival and is originally held every hundred years. It is now being revised to hold the festival more frequently and the next one is yet to be announced.
Non-Religious Festivals and Holidays
If you are in Bali between July and October, you will have the opportunity to experience the Negara bull races. The pampered bulls are spruced up with accessories, hitched in pairs to makeshift chariots, and steered by jockeys who combine their riding skills and tail twisting to induce maximum performance.
Then there is also the rice harvest festival, which is dedicated to the rice god Dewi Sri. This is a blessed season for the villages and the entire place will be repainted and decorated with flags. An atmosphere of happiness pervades. Small straw rice-god dolls are placed throughout the fields and villages as a tribute.
Indonesia’s Independence Day falls on August 17, when the Republic of Indonesia achieved independence from the Dutch.
Balinese ceremonies are normally held during late afternoons or evenings when the day is cooler. They also hold firm to the belief that the island is owned by the supreme god Sanghyang Widhi, and has been handed down to the Balinese in sacred trust. To show their appreciation, the people fill their waking hours with symbolic activities and worship. If you see a procession of women garbed in traditional wear, carrying small bowls or balancing towering offerings on their heads, or a group of batik-clad men with headcloths, just put on a shirt, grab your camera and mingle with the crowd – you will always be welcomed.