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A Cycle of Holy Days and Anniversaries

In addition to the Western calendar, Bali follows both a 12-month lunar calendar and a 210-day ritual cycle. Together these two parallel calendrical systems determine the complex and busy schedule of holy days and anniversaries observed throughout the island. Every day also has associated with it numerous auspicious and malevolent forces which must be considered when selecting dates for everything from construction to cremation.

Moon and months

The lunar calendar, similar to that used in parts of India, is based upon phases of the moon. Each 30-day lunar month (sasih) begins on the day after a new moon (tilem), with the full moon (purnama) occurring in the middle. Every nine weeks a day is lost.

Twelve lunar sasih months comprise a normal year, with an intercalary 13th month added every 30 months to keep it synchronized with the longer solar year. The years are numbered from the founding of the Indian Saka Dynasty in a.d. 78, so that the year 1900 in Bali began in 1979.

The 210-day pawukon cycle, on the other hand, is indigenous to Bali and Java; its repetitions are not numbered or recorded as years. It may have had its roots in the growing period for rice, but the following Oedipal myth is associated with it as well:

A woman discovers that her husband is in fact her own son, who ran away as a child. Vain with power, he challenges the gods but is defeated - 27 children by his mother and aunt are sacrificed. The 30 weeks (wuku) of the calendar are named after these characters.

The 210 days of the pawukon are divided into many shorter cycles which run concurrently. The most important of these are the 3(Pasah, Beteng/Tegeh, Kajeng), 5- (Umanis, Paing, Pon, Wage, Kliwon) and 7- day 11 weeks," whose conjunctions determine most holy days. Each day has its own deity, constellation and omen that indicate good or bad times for a variety of activities.

The pawukon is also sub-divided into 35day "months" (bulan) determined by a complete cycle of 5- and 7-day weeks. Each date in the pawukon calendar is referred to according to the combination of days in the various weeks, for example: Kajeng Kliwon Menail, Anggarkasih Dukut, Buda Cemeng Mir. The passage of six bulan, a full Pawukon year, marks a birthday (otonan) or anniversary (rahinan, odalan).

Sasih holy days

Purnama and tilem in the sasih calendar are for praying and making offerings, a time when rituals and sacred dances are held in many temples. Temple anniversaries (odalan) often take place on the full moon. Siwalatri, the "Night of Siwa," falls on the eve of the new moon of the seventh sasih, January). On this night many Balinese meditate, sing classical poetry and keep all-night vigils in temples of the dead.

The days immediately before the start of the lunar new year are especially full of activity. Processions of offerings and loud gong music accompany the icons of every temple to the seacoast for a ritual cleansing (malasti). On the eve of the new year, demon-appeasing sacrifices are held everywhere. That night, a great commotion is made to chase demons away, sometimes accompanied by torch processions of huge bamboo and paper monsters (ogoh-ogoh).

The next day is Nyepi, literally "to be silent," when Bali appears completely deserted. No fires are lit, visiting and entertainment are not permitted, people stay at home to meditate. This continues until the following morning, when normal activity resumes.

Pawukon holy days

Kajeng Kliwon is the only significant conjunction of the 3- and 5-day weeks. Offerings are placed at house entrances to bar demonic forces. Ceremonies and sacred dances are held at temples, many of which celebrate an odalan anniversary. On Anggarkasih, when Tuesday coincides with Kliwon, household offerings are made to safeguard its members, and many temple odalans take place.

Many holy days fall on Buda or Wednesday. Buda Umanis is a very auspicious day for ceremonies. Buda Cemeng is a day for praying and meditating to the deities of wealth and fertility. Buda Kliwon is a particularly holy day (such as Pagerwesi and Galungan), when Prayers and offerings are made to ensure the blessings of the gods.

Pagerwesi falls on Wednesday of the week Sinta and means "Iron Fence," a time when humanity must stand firm to protect the world and its creatures. Rituals begin two days before and prayers are said for the continued well being of the universe.

Galungan and Kuningan

The days between Galungan (Wednesday of the week Dunggulan) and Kuningan (Saturday of the week Kuningan) are full of celebrations. This 11-day holy period is based on an ancient harvest festival, and it is still forbidden to begin planting at this time for 35 days.

Each day before Galungan is marked by a special activity- ripening fruits, making offerings, and slaughtering animals. Temples are cleaned and decorated for the upcoming visit of the ancestral spirits. On Galungan eve, penjor bamboo poles are set up in front of every house and temple, arcing over roads with flowers, fruits and palm leaf ornaments hanging from them, symbols of fertility.

Nearby altars for offerings are decorated with lamak scrolls of delicate palm-leaf cutouts as welcome mats for the ancestors. On Galungan day, prayers are intoned, people visit, and feasts are held. Barongs dance from house to. house and receive donations in return for their blessings. On Kuningan day, new offerings and decorations are put out and household tools are honored.

The last day of the pawukon cycle is dedicated to Saraswati. goddess of learning and knowledge.


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