Beautiful rituals and festivals are woven tightly into Balinese culture. As a predominantly Hindu nation, the island is littered with stunning temples and perfectly manicured gardens. You'll also see beautiful offerings – known as canang sari – everywhere you go. Bali’s annual events calendar is jam-packed with religious holidays and cultural festivals. If you’re lucky to visit the island during one of these events, it's a wonderful opportunity to gain an even deeper insight into the beauty and richness of the Balinese way of life. Here are some of the most popular festivals and events in Bali.
1. Canang sari
Okay, so canang sari isn't a festival, but it bears equal importance in Balinese Hindu culture. Canang sari is a daily ritual where locals leave beautiful offerings of flowers, fruits, rice, incense and other items to express their devotion and gratitude to the gods, and to pray for balance and peace on earth. You'll see canang sari in every corner of the island from the entrance of homes and shops to beaches, temples and markets. The dainty items used to assemble the offerings are anything but random – each item plays a role, either representing a specific element or energy, or honoring certain Hindu deities.
Nyepi, or Day of Silence, is a religious festival that takes place every year on the 12th New Moon of the Balinese Hindu Saka calendar to celebrate the new year. There are festivities every day leading up to Nyepi Day, but the liveliest celebrations happen on Nyepi eve for the Ogoh Ogoh Parade. During the parade, locals carry ogoh ogohs – huge, scary-looking, statues made from bamboo and paper – which symbolize demons and bad spirits. They walk through the streets to an almost deafening sound of gamelan music before burning the ogoh ogohs in a purification ritual. In doing so, they tell the bad spirits and negative energy from the previous year's wrongdoings to leave the island. And we're pretty sure they get the message loud and clear! After the parade, family and friends gather to eat delicious food and celebrate into the night.
The main event, Nyepi Day, is a public holiday. The whole island comes to a standstill for 24 hours – all flights halt for 24 hours, traffic completely stops (except emergency vehicles), the beaches close, lights are turned off, and shops and restaurants shut their doors. The streets are totally empty and quiet, and if you've been to Bali before, you'll know this is very rare! This period of darkness and silence is an opportunity to connect with the gods, pray and meditate.
For travelers in Bali during Nyepi, it's important to respect the rules. You'll be limited to eating and moving around within your hotel complex. Sure, you might have to relax and do nothing but lounge by the pool for a day, but you'll also get to join in all the festivities leading up to Nyepi. Needless to say, it's one of the most unique and memorable times to visit.
Omed-omedan, or The Kissing Ritual, is another unique festival that's specifically for unmarried people aged 17 to 30. It's usually celebrated in Banjar Kaja the day after Nyepi. To kick things off, the crowd gathers at the temple to pray together. They then divide into two groups – men and women – and advance toward each other in a friendly tug-of-war style scuffle where they end up hugging and kissing each while onlookers throw buckets of water over them. Not your typical festival, right? The omed-omedan tradition, meaning “tug of war" or "to pull”, is at least 100 years old and is believed to represent the pull of good energy and the release of bad energy. It's also believed to prevent disaster. Word on the street is that it's also a pretty good way for young singletons to find a match!
Galungan is a Balinese Hindu holiday celebrated every 210 days to commemorate the victory of Dharma over Adharma, or good over evil. It lasts for around 10 days with different rituals and festivities each day. The Balinese believe it’s a time when the veil between the physical and spirit worlds is thinner so ancestral spirits of the deceased can visit the living. The final day is when the spirits return, and to welcome them back, offerings are left in homes and the streets are lined with penjors – huge bamboo poles adorned with leaves, fruits and flowers. People wear their finest traditional clothes, visit temples and get together with loved ones to eat delicious food spreads, including pigs and chickens which are ceremonially slaughtered.
5. The Bali Arts Festival
The Bali Arts Festival is a month-long festival (usually from mid-June to mid-July) to celebrate the very best of Balinese and Indonesian culture. Artists travel from near and far to showcase everything creative from traditional music and contemporary dance to fine art, handicrafts and more. Held in and around the Bali Arts Centre in Denpasar with beautifully decorated pavilions and outdoor stages, parades and food stalls, the Bali Arts Festival promises to be a cultural treat.
Lyang-Lyang is an annual kite tradition that takes place from July to October in southern Bali. But the festival isn’t purely for the fun of feeling a kite gliding through the air – this is Bali, and everything has a rich meaning! The kites symbolize polar energies and the importance of living in harmony and balance with the earth. Flying kites is also a way to send messages to the gods and ask for abundant harvests. It's amazing when you look up to the sky and see hundreds of kites of all shapes and sizes, from animal shapes to elaborate figures of Hindu deities.
7. Indonesian Independence Day
Held on 17 August each year, this day celebrates Indonesia's independence from the Dutch in 1945. It's a public holiday in Indonesia so expect to see legions of marching school children in parades, flags, kites and fireworks. Don’t expect to travel around Bali quickly on Independence Day or the days leading up to it.
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