Galungan festival is the most significant Hindu festival in Bali. Like Diwali in India, it signifies the victory of dharma, or goodness, over adharma, or evil. For the Balinese, who blend animism with Hinduism, Galungan is the day when ancestors and spirits come back to earth, staying for the next ten days or so until Kalingan, when they return to the spirit world.
Galungan falls on December 26th, and in Bali Christmas Day is spent preparing the penjor, a tall bamboo pole with a curve at the tip which represent the Dragon. The penjor’s base is the head of the dragon, and the stem of the bamboo representing the body, and the curved tip representing the tail. According to Balinese belief, the sections of the penjor also represent the three states of being – heaven, earth, and hell.
When visiting Bali during the Christmas holidays, it’s a great idea to bring your camera and roam the island around the neighborhoods surrounding Ubud. The villages around Ubud are representative of this festival commemorating the triumph of good over evil.
1. Ubud neighborhood streets are lined with the penjor during Galungan. A penjor can cost up to around 500 dollars each, depending on the elaborateness of the design.
2. Village temple near Ubud
The festival of Galungan is a family celebration. Balinese go to the temples in their village and surrounding areas to pray and make offerings. Many families will schedule around 8-10 temples to visit during the day, and the roads and the temples are busy with crowds.
3. Goa Gajah elephant cave temple is an 11th century temple dedicated to Ganesh, whose earthly form to humans has the face of an elephant. The cave is a small T-shaped space with niches where priests used to meditate. During Galungan, Balinese Hindu make offerings and pray in the shrine of the cave and temple grounds host entire villages who also pray and make offerings.
All day there is a steady stream of worshippers, dressed in the traditional clothing that is de rigeur during temple festivals.
4. Tirta Empol holy spring
The holy springs at Tirta Empol are cool water springs. Worshippers come and receive blessings from the holy water at the pools of Tirta Empol.
If you wish to join the locals who immerse themselves in the spring, do remember that people are lined up. Also, remember that the sarongs lent by the temple folks are not for dipping in the water. There are other clothes you can borrow for that purpose, green in color with red sash.
Tips for photographing Galungan
Ask your guide for a sarong and sash you can borrow. Even if you are wearing long pants to the temples, it is required to wear the traditional sarong and sash as a sign of respect.
Be aware of worshipper-only areas. Goa Gajah has entire villages who pray at certain times, and you may be shooed away from the prayer area when the prayers begin.
If you want to photograph the preparations for the festival, check out the main streets in Ubud and you’ll spot people erecting the panjor on Christmas Day.
Processions of entire villages happen throughout the day. If traffic is particularly bad around the streets in Ubud district, chances are there is a procession in progress. A procession is a great opportunity to photograph worshippers carrying offerings, or entire Balinese musician ensembles playing music.
Few restaurants operate normal hours on Galungan. Many restaurant operators take the day off or close early to celebrate the festival. Also, restaurants that are open can be very crowded. Plan for this and don’t go hungry.