The Balinese year (of 210 days) is rich with celebrations and ceremonies. Galungan is one of the most important of these and celebrates the victory of good over evil.
On the first day of Galungan, our friend, Gusti, took us to two local village temples to observe the ceremonies and rituals taking place.
It was utterly fascinating. I was worried we would be intruding but Gusti assured us we were not only not intruding but welcome. Such a beautiful, Balinese response.
We felt so very privileged to be able to see some of the blessings and rituals being performed and I was particularly thrilled to see this dukun at work.
Dukun are holy men: spiritual healers, custodians of custom, tradition and ancestral knowledge, diviners, mediums and even sorcerers.
This is one of my favourite photos from our entire trip. My dad and Gusti : two fathers, two cultures, two friends.
Even the youngest members of the community participate in these rituals.
That lifelong participation is, in part, what makes Bali such a cohesive society but also what feeds the almost tangible sense of spirituality on this island; a richness that seems to ripple in the atmosphere around you – unseen but palpable.
Village streets are lined with penjor – tapering bamboo poles adorned with elaborate palm leaf decorations – and specially constructed bamboo altars.
Just like the ubiquitous palm-leaf trays of offerings, each penjor is a work of art. And a much faster thing to put together since the arrival on Bali of the stapler! Before staples, each elaborate twist and turn of decoration was secured with little bamboo tooth picks. We were told that there is good-natured competition to prepare the most beautiful penjor although it turns out you can go too far. One penjor on the road to our villa was lit up with electric Christmas lights. According to Gusti that one “didn’t count”.
This is Gusti’s gorgeous wife Narie, his two beautiful boys and his dad holding an offering they were taking to their family rice field.
That evening we sat on the edge of the street in our village (yes, I adopted it wholesale) and waited for the Barong (a lion-like creature from Balinese mythology) to come past.
There were no cars on the road and only the odd scooter every 15 minutes or so. So in between those rare modern intrusions it was easy to pretend we had been transported back in time to a Bali of 100 years ago. All along the little street, in front of their houses, women and kids were dressed in their beautiful holiday finest awaiting the arrival of the Barong with the men of the village. As they waited they prepared offerings, lit incense, chatted.
Occasionally the women sitting across the road from us would nod to us and smile gently.
Then from the dim dark came the distant sound of drums and bells and laughter and slowly the village Barong snaked its way along the street in front of us. it was gone almost in the blink of an eye but that half hour will stay with me forever.
I couldn’t get a decent shot in the darkness but I do want to show you how fearsome the Barong are. I found this beautiful photo on Flickr. Attribution below it.
(Above photo only: Balinese Barong Dancer by Hoks. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
I took the next photo blind, i.e. literally just snapped it into the dark to see if I could capture any of the magic of the moment not only without the harsh effect from the burst of a flash but also so as not to intrude into the simple acts of devotion these women were making.
The resulting shot kind of made me draw breath. I know darkness and a long exposure makes for blur and distortion but this has an especially other-wordly feel. Maybe blur accounts of much of it but there certainly seem to be more figures here than there were women. And so I keep coming back to the fact that Galungan is also when ancestral spirits return to earth.
For me, that evening was one of those moments that sinks deeply into your soul and reminds you, no matter what your fears, to keep travelling…keep striving for the moments.