In Europe, during the months of December and January, the streets are full of Christmas lights and “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” boards. In Bali, during these months, the streets are full of huge penjors (bamboo poles with offerings to the Gods) and “Selamat Galungan dan Kuningan” boards.
But what are Galungan and Kuningan?
For me, those words could be the sounds of Balinese instruments. Of course, I had no idea what those beautiful words mean and that’s why my Balinese mentor enlighted me. “With simple words, Galungan symbolizes the victory of Dharma over Adharma (good over evil)”, she answered me. But that was not enough. I thought that must be really epic. The good defeats the evil! I wish I could believe this too. And like a child thirsty for tales and myths, I asked her desperately for the whole story.
“…Once upon a time, there was a powerful and fearful king, Mayadenawa. He had supernatural powers and because of that, he was acting mean and arrogant. He was against the Gods and he was destroying the nature and the holy temples.
Many tried to fight him, but because of his power to transform himself into different creatures, he was always surviving. The people were suffering because of his actions and pinned their hopes on Gods’ help. Finally, Indra, the king of the Gods, came from Heaven to confront him. Despite the filthy tricks and the magic of Mayadenawa, Indra won the battle and killed him. Mayadenawa’s defeat was clear, but the people weren’t sure if he was dead or he was faking it for one more time. After 10 days, they realised that they were finally free of his evil existence and that is the day of Kuningan.”
Except for the myth, these celebrations are dedicated to the creator of the universe and to the spirits of the ancestors. On the day of Galungan, it is believed that these spirits visit their families on the Earth and they go back on the day of Kuningan. During this period, the Balinese Hindus participate in many ceremonies and rituals in order to connect with them and also, welcome them with offerings and prays at home or at the temples of their villages.
My friend, Mening, was kind enough to invite me and the other European volunteers in her village in order to introduce us to this Balinese tradition and experience Kuningan with her family.
We were supposed to spend all the day at the temple and this sounds really promising for surprises to a European like me. I wore my new white kebaya and I was ready to participate in a ceremony for the very first time.
As the only bules (foreigners), we were the surprise of that day. The people of the village were very friendly and kind, trying to talk with us and explain the process. I have to mention the adorable grandmothers who, by the way, are my weakness here, and despite the lack of language communication, because of my poor Indonesian vocabulary, we had a wonderful connection full of hugs and big toothless smiles.
The temple was decorated with the colours of Kuningan, white and yellow. Fruits, flowers and sweets were the offerings to the gods and the ancestors. On the background, Beautiful gamelan music played an important role in the ceremony and the traditional Balinese dance from the women was part of every ritual.
We tried to dance for a little and I enjoyed it a lot but the women were laughing at us. Ok, I get it. Our dance could seem very funny to their eyes. I guess, it is like an English try to dance syrtaki.
The day passed with many prays, breaks for food and storytelling but for sure, the highlight for me was the possession of spirits or Gods in -not one but- three women.
I thought that something serious was happening to those girls as they were screaming and floundered in the ground but everyone else was so calm and confident how to deal with it. What I noticed was that all started during the ceremonial dance and the possessions were stopped with the help of the holy water. Mening told me that these incidents happen all the time during the rituals and probably those possessions were positive because as I mentioned, the Gods are present on the Earth those days.
After 10 hours in the temple with too much new information to process, my belly full of Indonesian food and my body ready to collapse, we went back home and I fell asleep, giving my mind time to understand this totally different culture and dreaming of beautiful forest spirits like a true balinese.