Bali Festivals & Events Guide

Calendar of Bali Events

Festivals and events are important features in the social landscape of Bali, and also permanent fixtures in the lives of the Balinese. These festivals and events are determined by the calendars of the Balinese from long ago.

The major events in the life of a Balinese is believed to occur on fixed dates, which go according to the Balinese Calendar. Unlike temple festivals, these major events take place nearly every six months or every 210 days!

The Balinese believe in annual cycles and every six months of a Balinese's life is a celebration of holidays and life-cycle ceremonies. Since his conception in his mother's womb, every Balinese passes through certain stages, and this carries on up until marriage. These are the events celebrated to mark the passage of a Balinese as he progresses in his life. But the ritual of utmost importance to the Balineses is the ritual of the funeral rites and cremation.

It is, therefore, extremely obvious that festivals and events are an integral part of Balinese life and a huge part of the mysticism and allure that sets Bali apart from any other land. To help preserve and maintain every aspect of this rich culture, the Provincial Government of Bali holds numerous Annual Festivals.

The Balinese use altogether three types of calendars for one year; one is the typical Western calendar, and the other two are local Balinese calendars, the saka and the wuku calendars.

The wuku calendar is used to find out dates for festivals and has 10 different weeks, each from one to 10 days and all running simultaneously.

The saka calendar is a lunar calendar of Hindu origin, which closely follows the Western calendar in terms of the length of the year. With illustrations for each day indicating what activities that day is auspicious for, Balinese calendars make popular souvenirs.

Some of Bali's major temples celebrate their festivals according to the dictates of the saka calendar. Hence, the actual date of a festival is difficult to determine from the Western calendar since the lunar saka does not have a predetermined number of days.

The wuku calendar, however, does have a set number of days. According to the saka, full moons days from the end of September till the start of October, or from early to mid-April are normally important festive dates, and temples will celebrate important temple festivals then.

Bali's most important festival is the Galungan festival. It is a feast and festival which is held throughout the whole island and an annual event in the wuku year. It is believed that during this ten day period all Balinese gods, including Sanghyang Widi, the supreme deity, will descend to earth for the festivities. Barongs prance from temple to temple and village to village in celebration of the Galungan with the gods.

Galungan to the Balinese, is the most important holiday period as it symbolizes the victory of Dharma, or Virtue, upon Adharma, or all that is Evil. The festivities are made extra special by the fitting of 'penjor' on the right side of the entrance to every house.

A penjor is a tall bamboo pole terrifically decorated with woven young coconut leaves, cakes, fruits and flowers; and also a must for every Balinese household. The Galungan also sees the Balinese decked in their finest clothes and jewels for the day.

The last day of the 10-day festival is the most important day. Known as Kuningan, it is the climax of the ten-day Galungan, and also serves to bringing the holiday period to a close. Kuningan is a day for prayer, and a special ritual ceremony is held for the spirits of the Balinese's ancestors.

Just as the Galugan ends with a day of symbolic prayer, its beginning is marked by Pagerwesi. Pagerwesi literally means 'iron fence', and on Pagerwesi day every year, ceremonies and prayers are held in supplication for iron-strong mental and spiritual defense in welcoming the Galungan holiday.

The saka calendar has a major festival called Nyepi, or the final day of the saka year. It falls on the day after the new moon on the ninth month. Nyepi is a celebrated holiday and the Balinese New Year called icaka New Year. It is a day of total silence throughout the island. Nyepi really is a celebration observed with total silence!

On Nyepi day, there is totally no activity - no traffic at all on the roads, no amusement is held the whole day long. No fires also may be lit in observance of the Nyepi and great purification and sacrificial rites are held on the day prior to Nyepi in order to exorcise evil spirits from every corner of Bali.

Bali and the Balinese also celebrate Saraswati, a day devoted to God's manifestation as the wise and beautiful Goddess of Knowledge, Art and Literature - the Dewi Saraswati. To mark this joyous day, books of knowledge, manuscripts and the Wedas are blessed and special offerings are made together with aspirations for knowledge and wisdom.
Arts Festival

Highly notable is the Annual Arts Festival, which interestingly takes place from every second Saturday of June to the second Saturday of July. This Annual Arts Festival is a celebration of exhibitions and performances of various kinds of artworks and cultural achievements, including the absorbing Kite Festival.

The Bali Aga (The Original Balinese)

The original Balinese or Bali Aga, are a unique ethnic group that still live and practise a way of life that pre-dates modern civilisation. The Bali Aga are thought to be the original inhabitants of Bali who fled imperialistic invaders, eventually finding refuge in the solitude of Bali's remote mountains. Only two villages remain - which until recently, were firmly shut away from the rest of the world, hidden in the hills of East Bali.

Located just west of Candi Dasa lie the villages of Tenganan and Trunyan, isolated across the vast Lake Kintamani. The villages, home to the Bali Aga, are shut off by a solid wall surrounding the entire village. The wall is only broken by means of four gates, each facing north, south, east and west. Within these walls lies a massive Banyan tree surrounded by a low wall of uncut stones, making up a small enclosure for a very sacred temple. Tenganan has only recently opened up to outsiders although strict rules still apply, especially concerning marriage to outsiders. Tenganan has wonderful fabrics, including the renowned double weave ikat cloth.

The villagers of Tenganan are tall and slender with very pale complexions and refined manners. The men folk still wear their hair long and have a communistic system which does not recognize individual ownership of property. Every house in Tenganan looks exactly alike, with a flight of steps leading to a small gate opening into a courtyard with sleeping quarters, kitchen, and a long house for storage. A small empty shrine, signifies a place where spirits may rest when they visit their descendants.

Tenganan owns huge tracts of fertile and well cultivated lands capable of satisfying the needs of the village; and also making Tenganan one of the richest in Bali.

A people known for their filed and blackened teeth, the Bali Aga are said to bring the spirits of their ancestors down to Earth for protection through sacrifices. The Bali Aga leave the bodies of their dead in the jungle to be carried away by the spirits, and they are believed to have possibly eaten parts of their headmen's bodies to absorb magic powers. Family clans are ruled by a council of elders who are also religious priests. The Bali Aga revere the forces of nature and the spirits of their ancestors, with whom they continue to live as a great family of both the living and the dead.
Bali Aga Rites

The Tenganans practice an ancient rite known as mekare kare, the ritual blood sacrifice. This is not as gory as it sounds, but an event where all villagers get involved in an annual ritual combat, using thorny pandan leaves to draw blood.

Each combatant hits his opponent with the aim of drawing blood. The ritual fight will be held every time there is a temple ceremony is Tenganan, which tends to fall in the fifth month of the Balinese calendar.

The fighting and the blood are real, and all participants come well prepared, carrying weapons of a rotan-woven shield and a bundle of thorny pandan leaves, used to scratch the opponent's skin until it bleeds.

Before the fight begins, participants drink rice wine or tuak, fermented local palm, to symbolise brotherhood and sportsmanship. But when the selonding music fills the air, a volley of fierce jeers, insults, cheers and shouts are thrown to instill fear. And the fighting begins.

The fighting is judged by a mediator, most probably a prominent figure of the village, and usually lasts for a fierce 5 to 10 minutes. The first person to draw blood with the thorny weapon is victor, and the person he draws blood from is the vanquished. Both victor and vanquished are broken up by the mediator as soon as blood is drawn.

As the injured are treated with traditional liquid medicines, and all fighters recover their strength, the whole village prepares food and drink for an elaborate feast which must follow the Balinese sacrifice of human blood.

Balinese culture has also got a population control mechanism in their child naming practices, and this is not only confined to the Bali Aga, but encompasses every Balinese. Every first born is named Wayan, second born Made, third Nyoman, and the fourth Ketut. Anymore children will see a repeat of the names following the order. But this practice definitely is a big hint and subtle reminder to stop at a maximum of four!
Balinese Religion

Nearly everything in Bali carries a religious significance from creating stone and wood carvings, cremation ceremonies, trance dances and gamelan music, are intended to please and appease the gods.

As most pleasing and appeasing rituals take place in a temple, temples are, undisputedly, the most important structure in Balinese culture, providing a pleasant resting place for the gods during their stay on the island.

Every house on the island has its own shrine, a resting place for ancestral spirits. Even the paddy fields have a shrine for Dewi Sri, the Rice Goddess. Each village has three temples, the Pura Puseh, dedicated to the villagers' ancestors, the Pura Desa, used for official celebrations, and the Pura Dalem or the temple of death, specially dedicated to the deities of death and of cremation.
Cremation Ceremonies

The Ngaben or Cremation Ceremony is a very important part of Balinese culture. The ceremony is performed to send the dead from death to the next life. When death descends on a Balinese, the village kul kul will sound, hanging in the village temple tower to announce the departure of the deceased.

The body will then be placed at the Bale Delod, and the deceased treated as if sleeping. No tears are shed as the Balinese believe that the deceased will return shortly to be reincarnated into the family.

The Priest will then consult the Dewasa for the day of the ngaben ceremony. On the appointed day, the body of the deceased is placed inside a coffin, which is then placed inside a wadah, or sarcophagus shaped in the form of a buffalo. It is actually a temple structure made of paper and light wood.

The funeral procession then leaves for the cremation site, carrying the wadah. The most important part of the ngaben is the burning of the wadah, with fire taken from a holy source, thus sending the deceased to the afterlife,to prepare for a future reincarnation.

Bali Museums Guide

Everything you need to know about Bali's Museums

Most of Bali's museums and galleries are centred in Ubud, but culture and history rich Bali is peppered with museums and galleries - all individually interesting! These museums and galleries offer paintings, wood carvings, textiles and all kinds of souvenirs for viewing and also purchase.

The Museum Puri Lukisan in centre of Ubud, the Neka Museum in Campuhan, Seniwati Gallery and Agung Rai Museum in Pengosekan are a must, to see the difference between creative art and more commercial products.
Central Bali
Museum Puri Lukisan, Ubud

Founded by Rudolf Bonnet and Cokorda Gde Agung Sukawati, Ubud's Museum Puri Lukisan houses a permanent collection of Balinese painting from the turn of the century; displaying fine examples off all schools of Balinese art. This museum has a collection of 150 painting and 62 pieces of sculptures. The first fine arts museum in Bali, it has a valuable aim of culturing Bali's very aesthetic art and culture for its next generation.
Museum Neka, Ubud

The superb Neka Museum, in Campuan, is another excellent museum, with marvelous collections of traditional Balinese paintings by local artists and foreign artists who lived in Bali; and items of modern Balinese art. The museum stores art from the Kamasan style of the 16th century to modern 20th century paintings. The whole collection is displayed chronologically, to provide an overview of Bali's history of fine arts.

The Neka Gallery on Jalan Raya , and the Agung Rai Gallery in Peliatan are some of Bali's largest and most important.
Museum Nyoman, Ubud

This three storey museum in Mas village follows the conception of Tri Angga, that is, the three parts of human body; head, body, and legs. The museum's art collection is a mix of works of painters from the olden days of the ancient Klungkung Kingdom to this very day.
Museum Agung Rai, Ubud

Sprawling all over six hectares, the Museum Agung Rai was built based on the concept of a "living museum". It displays paintings and holds stage presentations for various art forms; and is a place for karawitan. It comes complete with an arts library and book gallery, hotel, restaurant, cafe, and coffee shop. One of the museums main specialty is its terrific views of Ubud, with rice fields and trenches integrated into part of the museum.
Seniwati Gallery of Art by Women

This gallery was established in 1991 by Mary Northmore, the very personable wife of famous painter Abdul Azis; with the aim of helping Balinese women to be accepted as artists; and also to expose the long hidden and unrecognised brilliance of women artists in Bali. The gallery also serves to motivate, train and encourage young talented Balinese girls achieve their full potential in the world of arts.
Southern Bali
Museum Negeri Propinsi Bali, Denpasar

This museum in Denpasar was founded by the Yayasan Bali Museum in December 8, 1932. It has interesting exhibits of traditional tools, crafts, masks and costumes from all over Bali; and displays archaeological items and a collection of ethnographical exhibits.
Museum Le Mayeur, Sanur

This memorial museum immortalizes the memory and enduring love of a pair of lovers - Le Mayeur and Ni Polok. All displays and exhibits are from the collection of Le Mayeur's paintings.
Museum Manusa Yadnya, Taman Ayun

Just as its name implies, the Museum Manusa Yadnya details items regarding the process of a human's life from the womb to the tomb.
Northern Bali
Museum Gedong Kirtya, Singaraja

This wonderful museum in Singaraja is a display of thousands of ancient Balinese letters in chronological order; the kakawin, or old Balinese poetry; and the geguritan which written on the palm leaf. All these and more are stored in the original building that was built in 1928 and still standing tall today.
Western Bali
Museum Subak, Tabanan

Tabanan is a region popularly known as Bali's 'rice warehouse'. Hence, it is no surprise to learn that Tabanan is home to the Subak Museum, which houses a vast collection of, what else, but agricultural items. An interesting display to take note of is Bali's typical watering system, called Subak, the museum's namesake.
Museum Gedong Area, Gianyar

Located in the Bedulu Village, this museum's collection is dedicated to archaeological items reflecting the history of Bali's cultural development.
Eastern Bali
Museum Seni Lukis Klasik, Klungkung

This museum is owned by the talented Nyoman Gunarsa, and is used as an outlet by the man himself to exhibit his masterpieces, completing the museum's collection, which documents the classical paintings of Bali. The Museum Seni Lukis Klasik is located in the village of Banda village.
Museum Manusia Purba, Gilimanuk

The Museum Manusia Purba, at the western end of Bali, was established in 1990s. It all began with an archaeological expedition of Dukuh Cekik in 1962, by R.P. Soejoeno from the Bali Archaeological Service. The expedition estimated that approximately 2,000 years ago, the stone age man dwelled on the site of the museum.

Bali Dance & Shadow Puppet Guide

Art is everywhere in Bali. From the intricate flower decorations in a Barong dancer's headdress, to elaborately carved temple facades and beautiful oil paintings. Bali's performing arts are also an integral part of Balinese culture.

Music and dance play a huge part in significant rituals and religious ceremonies. Known as " the Island of the Gods" hardly a day goes by without a ceremony or festival taking place. Traditional dances with full gamelan orchestras are performed for tourists daily in addition to the day to day religious ceremonies. Definitely worth seeing.
Barong Dance

The Barong is triumphant display of graceful movement and vibrant colour. The dance is basically a contest between the opposing forces of Rangda - chaos and destruction, and Barong - order. (Basically good and evil.)

Suwung and Kesiman, in the suburbs of Denpasar.
Batubulan: Daily from 9:00 or 9:30 a.m.
Banjar Abasan, Singapadu: Daily from 9:30 a.m.
Puri Saren in Ubud: Fridays from 6:30 p.m.
Legong Dance

The Legong is a very difficult dance requiring great dexterity and is generally performed by young girls. The dance is choreographed to the finest detail, to a set pattern with no improvisation allowed.

Peliatan Stage, Friday from 6:30 p.m.
Pura Dalem & Puri Peliatan, Saturday from 6:30 p.m.
Pura Peliatan in Ubud, Sunday from 7:30 p.m.
Puri Saren, Ubud, Monday from 7:30 p.m.
Banjar Tegal, Kuta, Saturday and Tuesday from 8:00 p.m.
Kecak Dance

The kecak is a ritual dance which was created in the early 1930's for the movie "Island of the Demons" by the German painter and intellectual Walter Spies. The dance combines the chorus of the "Sanghyang" trance dance with a dance story from the epic "Ramayana."

It is extremely impressive with its circular chorus of sometimes over 100 bare-chested male singers.

Arts Center, Denpasar, daily from 6:30 p.m.
Banjar Buni, Kuta, Sunday from 8 p.m.
Banjar Tegal, Ubud, Sunday from 6:00 p.m.
Fire Dance

This dance is an exorcism dance form against spirit possession, where barefooted girls in trance dance among glowing coals.

Bona Kangin, Gianyar, Friday. Monday and Wednesday from 6:30
Bonasari, Gianyar, Friday, Monday and Wednesday from 7:00 p.m.
Batubulan, daily from 6:30 p.m.
Ramayana Dance

This highly entertaining dance form plays out the epic legends of the Ramayana. There are occasional performances in Banjar Buni, Kuta.
Shadow Puppets - Wayang Kulits

Wayang Kulit, is an Indonesian shadow puppet play, which uses intricately made and beautifully painted, gilded leather puppets. Although only the puppets' shadows are seen by the audience, the performances are fascinating. The stories told by shadows are often from the spirit world and are full of symbolism and mysticism.

A single, highly skilled puppeteer controls hundreds of puppets; plays out the roles of different characters with a different voice for each character; and leads the traditional musicians.

Wayang kulit plays can play for several hours or be several days long.

Popular performances are at Banjar Buni, Kuta, every Monday and Thursday 8:00 p.m.
Oka Kartini, Tebesaya, Peliatan, Ubud, on Saturdays from 8:00 p.m.