There are plenty of holy days in Bali, and they are really more busy days than holidays.

words and photos Rio Helmi


The modern world arranges all its events around the Gregorian calendar, a solar calendar adjusted every four years with an extra day to make up for a six hour annual short fall, and of course as an excuse to hold the Olympics. Christmas and New Year, the calendar and dates for which were originally institutionalized by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, are now universal. However the Balinese, being the complex people that they are, would never content themselves with one single calendar, or even just two.

The Balinese calendars are a set of individually free standing sidereal (yep, stars and constellations), solar, lunar, and set ‘week’ (pawukon) calendars. Even a Balinese ‘week’ couldn’t just be a simple old 7 day thing: there’s everything from a one day week to a ten day week, though the most important weeks are the three day, five day and seven day weeks.

Months are a lunar affair (as well a ‘mon-th’ should be), but en revanche the Balinese use an intercalary system similar to the Jewish, Chinese, Tibetan etc system. ‘Intercalary’ is a fancy word for sticking in an extra month every 3 or so years to make up for the shortfall in the solar year. As twelve lunar don’t add up to 365 days, one can readily imagine that there needs to be some adjustment to bring the months closer to the seasons which are governed by our orbit around the sun (or used to be before we got so busy pumping filth into the air and everything else).

And then on top of these calendars the Balinese have adopted the Gregorian calendar, mostly for business, public activities like school and to stay in line with the Indonesian national calendar of events.

DSCF9168a sampler from a typical modern Balinese calendar depicting this week’s activities.

Every village has at least three community temples, each one founded on a separate, appropriately auspicious day on one of the calendars (either the lunar or pawukon calendar) and the anniversaries of these temples must be celebrated with ceremonies. So it’s hardly surprising that one is always running into ceremonies when scooting around the island. Then there are birthdays, auspicious days, weddings, funerals etc.

Given that Ubud ‘village’ (kelurahan) consists of 13 hamlets (banjars) and 6 traditional villages (desa pakraman) each having their own set of customs, it’s really quite a busy place for ‘holidays’. For example ongoing today, and ending tomorrow afternoon, there is a major temple ceremony in the Pura Desa in Taman Kaja. The gods from various temples around Ubud ‘attend’ each other’s temple ceremonies (odalan) so there’s a great deal of processions going on.

DSCF8971Taman Kaja’s procession at the beginning of their temple ceremony (odalan)

And if you would like to take into consideration the greater Ubud district (kecamatan) then it gets even busier still. Then over all in Bali there are certain days where the entire island is affected, a ‘pan-island’ holiday calendar if you will. For example tomorrow night, the night before the 7th dark moon of the lunar month,  is the night dedicated to Siwa (Shiva) known as siwaratri. Tomorrow night (Friday 8th of January) the devoted stay up all night in vigil either in temples or other important religious places for the community. So the people who have been taking part in the ceremonies in Taman Kaja will be doing a marathon!

Then on the 16th falls one of the six “Tumpek” days, this one called Tumpek Uduh is dedicated to agriculture. The whole island (at least everyone who has the faintest connection to farming should) celebrates it. In Ubud proper, the kulkul (wooden bell) tower just up from the palace is a focal point where offerings and prayers are made.

Then of course next month on the 10th Galungan is coming up, the most important holiday of the pawukon calendar, and ten days after is Kuningan. There are several important ritual days before and after those days too. In March we’ll be shutting down everything for the day of silence Nyepi on the 9th – and then there’s April, May… You get the idea.

You might think of these as holidays but given the amount of preparatory work that goes into each ceremony, the time spent actually performing the ceremonies, the Balinese are in reality super busy. So if your Balinese colleagues come to a meeting looking exhausted after their “holiday” you’ll know why.