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Galungan and Kuningan: Celebrating loved ones lost and the triumph of good over evil

Updated: Dec 26, 2022



We’re so excited for our next visit to Bali this coming August 6-17, 2023, which we’ve chosen specifically to coincide with one of the most important religious festivals on the island, called Galungan. This 10-day festival showcases Balinese culture at its best, complete with food, ritual, dancing, colorful costumes, and perhaps best of all – reverence for family, friendship, and community.

Celebrated every 210 days according to the Balinese calendar, Galungan – and its ending celebration of Kuningan – symbolizes the victory of “dharma” over “adharma,” or the triumph of good over evil. Its origins are found in the mythology of the infamous king Mayadenawa, who tried to impose a deity-less religion on the Balinese people, closing their temples and forcing them to renounce their Hindu beliefs. However, a powerful Hindu priest was able to secure the help of Indra, the Balinese god of war, and defeat the insolent Mayadenawa, thus considered the first Galungan.


Bali, one of the 17,500 islands that comprise Indonesia, is deeply rooted in Hinduism and is the only Hindu-majority province in the country, with more than 80 percent of the population adhering to Balinese Hinduism. Hinduism itself is largely concerned with the concept of dharma, which is the organizational system that governs the universe as a whole, as well as the relationships between various parts of the universe and the actions that transpire within those parts. Hence, a Hindu feels that their actions – or “karma” – should be in harmony with their dharma (meaning “duty” or “order”).


It is believed that during Galungan’s 10 days, all the gods come down to earth and join the festivities. The Balinese also believe the spirits of their ancestors and deceased relatives return to visit their earthly homes, hence the numerous enchanting rituals, auspicious ceremonies and elaborate offerings that are meant to welcome these spirits home.


Perhaps the most visually delightful part of Galungan are the decorative, sky-high “penjors” that arch over the roads and grace the entrance of every home, compound, and temple. These tall, curved bamboo poles reach to the heavens, welcoming the spirits home and serving as enchanting reminders of the festival’s ancient past. Penjors are said to resemble both the tail of the “barong,” a symbol of the goodness, and the peak of the sacred mountain, Mount Agung, the highest point in Bali. Decorations range from simple to exquisite, using yellow coconut leaves and various other symbolic materials such as pala bungkah (sweet potato and cassava), pala gantung (cucumbers, oranges, bananas), palawija (rice and corn), traditional cakes, and coins.



One of the ceremonies we’re particularly excited to witness is the “Ngelawang,” a ritual used to expel evil and any negative spirits. The ngelawang is performed in every village by the barong -- a divine protector who takes the form of a mythical, gilded lion-like beast. The barong is invited into homes as it makes its way through the village, as its presence is meant to restore the balance between good and evil in the house. On a social level, ngelawang strengthens the sense of neighborhood and community, as the procession moves through the village accompanied by a gamelan, the traditional ensemble music of the Balinese made up predominantly of percussive instruments.


The festival culminates with its pinnacle event, Kuningan, marking the return of the gods and ancestors to their own realm. It is believed that on this day, the Hindu deity of Sang Hyang Widi, the “supreme god,” descends to earth to give blessings for all people. The day after Kuningan, people spend time with family and loved ones, mostly in their hometown.

As one of the most important recurring religious festivals on the island, Galungan is a unique opportunity to observe some of the most fascinating parts of Bali culture. What’s more, you can’t help but be inspired by the celebration, which symbolizes the strength and moral rectitude to which the Balinese aspire while reminding themselves of their deep and ancient roots on the island.


We hope you’ll join us this August 6-17, 2023! jeff@swingmanphoto.com






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