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Balinese Festivals and Ceremonies

Galungan. Bali's most important festival is the Galungan festival. It is a feast and festival which is held throughout the whole island and occurs every 210 days. It is believed that during this ten day period all Balinese gods will descend to earth for the festivities. Barongs prance from temple to temple and village to village in celebration of Galungan with the gods. Galungan to the Balinese is the most important holiday period as it symbolizes the victory of Dharma, or virtue, upon Adharma, or all that is evil. The festivities are made extra special by the fitting of 'penjor' (brightly decorated very tall bamboo poles with woven young coconut leaves, cakes, fruits and flowers) on the right side of the entrance to every house which arch over roads looking like the top of a gothic cathedral.

The last day of the 10-day festival is the most important day. Known as Kuningan, it is the climax of the ten-day Galungan, and also serves to bringing the holiday period to a close. Kuningan is a day for prayer, and a special ritual ceremony is held for the spirits of the Balinese's ancestors. The Galungan Festival also sees the Balinese decked in their finest clothes and jewels for the day. It is a wonderful time to visit Bali and an especially beautiful sacred ceremony to photograph.

Melasti, another religiously inclined festival, is a purification festival held the day before Nyepi. On Melasti, villagers will dress in their finest and make their way to the sea or holy springs. They would carry umbrellas, offerings or flowers, and fruit and sacred statues. The statues are affectionately washed with water, and pigs would be sacrificed by holy men as offerings to their gods. This festival must be carried out amid the din of gamelan and drums and lots of merry shouting. All must then fall silent the following day on Nyepi.

Nyepi is a festival that marks the beginning of a new lunar year and usually falls during the spring equinox (late March or early April). On this day, everyone in Bali including tourists must remain silent. No one is allowed to work, travel or partake in any indulgences. Visitors are advised to observe this custom and to stay within their lodgings for the day. It may seem like a day is wasted, but the previous night's festivities would have sapped substantial energy and spirit to make up for the day of stillness. It is believed that evil spirits will leave the island, thinking that the place is uninhabited due to the complete stillness.

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