Monday, 8 May 2017

The Galungan Festival in Bali

Penjor lining the Jalan Kajeng
When we arrived in Bali last week, I noticed something that I had never seen before. There were long, beautiful bamboo streamers decorating all of the roads across Bali. Our driver, Gede, told us they were called 'penjor', and they were erected to celebrate Galungan.

Galungan happens twice a year, in April and November, and celebrates the triumph of good over evil. This year the festival started on the 4th and finished on the 6th April. It is celebrated by raising the penjor outside every household, by slaughtering pigs for communal feasts, and by baking traditional rice cakes.

The shrine, and dragon's head.
Gede informed us that the the penjor represents a dragon. The long curving bamboo streamers represent the tail of the dragon, while the shrine at the bottom represents its head. The shrine is filled with offerings of food, flowers and incense. The dragons conquer evil and keep it from arriving in Bali, the tail linking the mountains on the interior of the island, to the head on the beaches.

Kuningan marks the end of the festival 10 days later. We were lucky enough to see the penjor, because they remain up for a month and one week (if I remember Gede correctly). They were due to be removed just after we left.

The tail of the penjor

The legend goes that Galungan commemorates the Balinese victory of the Hindu God of thunder, rain and lightning, Indra, over the Balinese king, known as Mayadenawa, who denied his subjects the worship of Hinduism. He was so powerful, no-one could defeat him, and it took all of Indra's power and his magic arrow to finally kill him. The  site where he bled to death became a freshwater spring, the current-day site of the Tirta Empul Temple - the Holy Spring Water Temple, which is very beautiful; we visited it a few years ago. The penjor therefore also represents Hinduism and wisdom.

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