Experiencing Cultural Festivals in Bali is a real treat to the senses. The Balinese are spiritual people and celebrate their culture and religion in a very colorful fashion. Think beautiful towers of offerings, parades and music and dance performances. Taking the whole family to any of Bali’s major festivals is a great way to experience the local culture. So let’s explore some of Bali’s most important holidays and don’t forget to add these events to your itinerary:
Melasti is a religious pilgrimage undertaken to drive evil spirits away in preparation for the the Balinese New Year, Nyepi. For the days running up to Nyepi, villages join processions on foot or in a convoy of busses, cars and bikes, depending on their distance from the sea, to deliver offerings and cleanse themselves. The processions are accompanied by loud music by a gamelan group, who are often playing as they ride in the back of a truck!
Photo credit: Kabar Dewata
Melasti often happens very early in the morning, so you will have to get up before sunrise to see the crowds gather on the beaches.
The night before Nyepi is an exciting time in the villages of Bali. This is the night that huge effigies of evil spirits called Ogoh-Ogoh are paraded through the streets to scare away the any malevolent beings that might be hanging around.
Kids and teenagers from all over Bali spend weeks working on their Ogoh-Ogoh and there are competitions in every village for the best ones. After the processions everyone heads home and settles in for the day of silence the next day. You can watch the Ogoh-Ogoh processions wherever you are in Bali – Kuta, Jimbaran, Nusa Dua and Denpasar have especially impressive displays- but be warned travel can be very difficult as roads get closed for the procession.
After the Balinese perform Melasti, they are cleansed for Nyepi, which is the Day of Silence. Nyepi is one of the most sacred holidays in the island. The festival marks the start of a new lunar year. It usually falls on the spring equinox (around late March to early April). This year it will be celebrated on March 9.
Unlike other festivals where lively music and colorful offerings are offered to the gods, Nyepi is celebrated through prayers and contemplation. Everyone – including tourists – is expected to spend Nyepi inside. This means everything, even the airport, shuts for the day. Guests are forbidden to leave their hotels, but are allowed to use the facilities within their hotel or resort. According to local belief, the silence is meant to confuse the evil spirits thinking the island is deserted prompting them to leave.
Omed-omedan or the Festival of Smooches is celebrated the day after Nyepi. The Sesetan village in Banjar Kaja has observed this curious festival for over a hundred years. And the festival is exactly what it sounds like, a day spent kissing!
The festival starts with a prayer. Unmarried men and women ages 17 to 30 years old are rounded up and then segregated according to gender from opposing sides of the street. During the ritual, the men and women are pushed towards each other to kiss. And as the participants get smooched, the crowd start splashing buckets of water all around!
Galungan and Kuningan
Galungan and Kuningan festivals are held 10 days apart every 210 days. In 2016 they fall on February 10th and 20th and September 7th and 17th. These holidays commemorate the triumph of the gods against evil spirits. Legend has it that the spirit of the deceased return to visit their former homes between Galungan and Kuningan festivals. On these days, the spirits of deceased relatives who have died return to visit their former homes.
The living must provide prayers and offerings to appease the dead. In celebration of Galungan locals also create a penjor, a towering offering placed outside every family compound made from bamboo poles wrapped with colorful flowers and dried palm leaves. During Galungan and Kuningan you will see processions and locals heading to temple with offerings. You might even get invited to a temple, to see the colourful prayer time inside a Balinese temple.
Makepung – Negara Bull Races
Bull racing is one of the most highly anticipated non-religious traditions in the island. Water buffalos and cows adorned with colorful hand-made decorations go head to head for a thrilling race! The jockeys steer the bulls to display their riding skills and speed.
This traditional event is held in the town of Jembrana, in Negara regency. The event starts with coastal races in July that lead up to final races in mid-November. Apart from bull racing, there is a bull fashion show and dance performances.
Mekare-kare – The Pandan War
Held in the village of Teganan in Kerangasem, Mekare-kare or the Pandan War is held to honor Lord Indra, the God of war, who is said to protect this village. This is no ordinary battle though, the participants fight each other with sharp fronds of the thorny pandanus plant.
The men of the village, including young boys, take part in this event, in which opponents hit and cut each other with the thorns. Shields are often used, and some of the fighting is symbolic, but it can get pretty rough with the older pairs. The Pandan War will be held on July 22nd in 2016, so plan a day trip if you’ll be in Bali!
Cultural Festivals in Bali are Great for Kids
Balinese festivals are colorful, elaborate occasions that will stick with kids for a long time. To see (and hear) a Balinese procession pass by is an absolute feast for the senses. The Balinese are usually happy to be photographed in their finery and you’ll have amazing memories and photos to take home.