Galungan Frenzy

It’s the Balinese religious holiday of Galungan which celebrates the victory of good over evil. It occurs every 210 days and lasts for ten days. It is beautiful to see all the Balinese traditionally dressed to celebrate and make offerings to their ancestor’s spirits returning home, marked by the last day of the festivities called Kuningan.  All the villages along the side of the roads are decorated with the beautifully crafted penjor – bamboo poles weighed down by offerings suspended at the end. Each village displaying a different version. Like pendulums the magic of the swaying penjor hypnotically fills you with the mysticism of ritual. It became a mesmerising preoccupation during the three and half hour drive out of the center of town. My friends and I were heading towards the Nth of Bali for a five day snorkelling holiday adventure.

Lazy days were spent exploring the beauty of land, sea and mountains. Nature and full moon energy was all around us as we were softly lolled into a space of quiet etude. A spell of peace and tranquillity had descended upon us. However, an unexpected invitation to join in Galungan celebrations was now questioning whether we should compromise our peaceful serenity with one of bustling busyness. It was the last night of the holiday and we were going to make the pilgrimage with Komang and his family to two different temples; Pulaki and Melanting.

The dress code required kabiah and sarong..Well we all had a sarong but not a kabiah; beautiful lace tops that are worn for all religious celebrations. Naturally Komang’s wife had a collection which we were able to choose from and with elaborate offerings in hand we make the journey to the first temple Pura Pulakai. This is the temple we often stop to make an offering for our arrival and departure when visiting this area. Usually it is always a quiet stop and the blessing doesn’t take long. But for Galungan festivities throngs of Balinese were starting to gather. Pulaki temple is known also as the monkey temple.  There are groups of monkeys that dwell in the hill forest around the temple and are now surrounding us from the rooftops as we make our way to the temple gateways for prayers, blessings and offerings.

There was a gracious mood in the air and for me a pleasure to be part of the Balinese community. But approaching for the second entry gateway where the most elaborate ancestor offerings were being taken took us by surprise. Hot and sweaty, the crowds seem to be filling quicker than what could be allowed in through the doorway to the second temple platform. We were right smack in the middle of a mass gathering with nowhere to move.  From the peaceful spacious time by the seaside we now stood squeezed in amongst a penetrating crowd.

Each time the temple door opened the more constricted we became as we were being inched forward awaiting our turn to be admitted. I started to imagine my circumstance as a baby who is entering the birth canal, why I am not sure; perhaps through the experience of constriction, the waiting time, and the effort to stay calm but strong to move you through the canal of people to the other side of that door. But when I felt the constriction of my lungs and the difficulty in breathing an automatic response took over. Suddenly I was aware that my basic instinct of survival clicked in and my inner core energetically started to expand into an amour of protection around my body. It felt solid and firm, allowing space around my lungs so I could breathe again. There was no escape, other than one direction through that canal to the space and liberation beyond; blessings and holy water.

The traditions of the Balinese are community and communion with all of life. I was grateful to be feeling a part of their customs and rituals. In all the chaotic frenzy that took place, pushing and shoving, the most notable thing about them was their good humoured nature. Never a cross word or harsh tone was ever emitted in that long, long, hot and sweaty wait. The people’s gentle smiles always exchanging in laughter. Not even a whimper out of the children was remarkable to observe. For although you could see they were distressed by the wait, the parents gently cajoled them into a placid state of acceptance. Pulaki seemed to be the birthing room and is visited first before going to Melanting. In complete contrast to Pulaki Temple, the tranquillity and beauty of Melanting; the lavish temple of prosperity, left me thinking I had died and gone to heaven. Pure pleasure, space and serenity was the final destination of our holy pilgrimage. It’s as if I had just lived a full cycle of life in the just four hours of twenty four.

Galungan in all its frenzy and chaos and mass movements of people around the island was for me a blessing in disguise. The experience brought together my spirit of belonging in a different time, space and culture as natural as the day I was born. A reminder that life in all manner of speaking is precious. It brought to mind and heart that when threatened our basic instinct is survival to live. And the one thing in common that is shared amongst us is that we are all born to ultimately die, so in between let’s make the most of it because life, connection and love is precious!