Just about everyone who spends more than a week in Bali will run into a major temple ceremony. Nearly all of these ceremonies are what are called Odalans. So what is Odalan all about?

Text Rio Helmi

Images © Xenia Blair


For the most temples in Bali their anniversary of establishment, odalan is celebrated on the cycles of the 210 day pawukon calendar, although there are some exceptions that are celebrated on the lunar sasih month calendar. There are even other ceremonies that are celebrated once a decade ( e.g. pancawalikrama) and even once a century (e.g. Eka Dasa Rudra in Besakih).

Let’s take a quick look at the average Odalan that each and every temple in Bali, whether it be one of the three village temples that are found in most villages outside of the more ancient Bali Aga or Bali Mula villages or clan/family temples.

The Pawukon calendar is a complete cycle of weeks of different lengths (right up to 10 days) the most important of which are the three day, five day, and 7 day weeks. It is also the calendar on which two of the most important holidays, Galungan and Kuningan fall. Of the main calendars that are consulted in Balinese culture (Pawukon, Lunar (Sasih), Sidereal (Lelintangan) in order of importance) the pawukon orders many practical aspects of community life – markets, etc.

Odalans involve inviting the gods related to a specific temple either by direct residence or by local/regional affiliation to take be “seated” within the temple after first being ritually bathed, and then being made special piodalan offerings upon entering the temple. This is done in a communal fashion, led by the priests of the temple. Elaborate processions to the local holy springs or even to the seas, then back to gates of the temple mark this phase. For bigger temples with a more regional significance, the gods from various outlying temples that are related will also be invited.


part of procession bringing the gods into the temple

After this then there is the phase of maturan where members of the community as individuals or en famille come and pray to the gods in the temple. There are also special performances offered (dance, the reading of ancient legends, etc) by those who are proficient. Then there are final closing ceremonies.

Underlying the whole proceeding, whether it be a small village temple odalan or a much larger one, is a sense of community participation. It is important for all members of the community who are healthy or who are not still in a period of official mourning to attend. So much so that some of the more cynical have a saying “pang kwale ngenah” – just as long as you’re seen.


Cleansing water upon entering  the temple


and blessing water after prayers.

Boys gaurding

Boys hang out together


Above and below: While for young girls the odalan can be almost like a debutante affair


which wouldn’t be complete without the requisite smartphone snaps (below)

Fun shot

But there is definitely more than that. The odalan not only brings a community together but it also serves as an important base for the transfer of culture from generation to generation.

The young are exposed in both conscious and subconscious ways to their culture, arts and traditions. It is not uncommon to see mere infants swaying and making rudimentary agem dance postures and hand gestures to the hypnotizing sound of the gamelan. For many who young girls it is almost like a debutante affair – appearing in a procession for the first time, the younger boys eventually playing in the gamelan. Married women participate in another part of the processions, make offerings and so forth. For older performers it is also a chance to pass on something of the spirit of their arts

Priests perform their duties tirelessly. The ‘sesari’ (money slipped into the offerings) goes to expenses for the ceremony and contributions. Each family puts in a certain amount of time working (ngayah). For performers their performance is also ngayah. In fact the odalan is key in the continuum of Balinese tradition and community life.


Children are immersed in the arts and culture from a very young age

dance on floor

Above: Even performers past their prime are welcome to ‘ngayah’, passing on the spirit of their art. Below: priests and priestess perform their duties selflessly.

old peope


These images were all taken during a recent odalan in Nyuhkuning.