I believe you have seen how picturesque Bali island is? But only through Bali beaches, landscapes, nature spots you won’t see all the beauty of this island. A little knowledge and participation in Bali ceremonies, festivals (cultural or religious) can give more ineffable memories for your holidays in Bali. Like Indian writer, Siddharth Katragadda said, “The greatness of a culture can be found in its festivals”.
The best if you could attend any of Balinese family celebrations like Gedong-gedongan (ceremony in the 8th month of pregnancy), Menek kelih (puberty), teenagers transition to the adult’s world (tooth filling), wedding and etc. But if you will be in Bali island only for short period – I believe it’s not so easy to become close friends with local people and be invited to such sacred family ceremonies.
But in Bali, there are many public celebrations that you can attend. Almost every month you can enter different Bali ceremonies, festivals. For example, well-known monsters parade Ogoh-Ogoh, Nyepi (silent day – Bali’s Lunar New Year), Galungan (Balinese Hindus commemorate the legendary battle of good versus evil), art or villages festivals, temples anniversaries and etc.
During my 1st year of living in Bali I have participated in the above-mentioned (and others) Bali ceremonies, rituals, so this year I’m more interested to attend unique, unusual, less known among travelers Bali ceremonies. Maybe you will be interested to take a part in any of these Bali ceremonies, during your trip to Bali?
Bali ceremonies, festivals, rituals – my bucketlist
Kissing ceremony that helps to find beloved – “Omed-Omedan”
I don’t know whether believe the legend, but around 100 years ago king Puri Oka was sick. Outside his place, the youngsters were playing the game Omed Omed (boys pulled the random boy to the side, girls pulled the random girl to the side too). When pulled boy and girl were close to each other, by accident – they kissed. And this event caused a lot of noise from youngsters. King was angry and get outside to stop this noisy game. But after he gets out he didn’t feel ill anymore. After such “magic” the King announced that this Omed Omed (that literally means “pull-pull”) should be held each year after Nyepi celebration (Balinese New Year).
Nowadays in this ceremony can participate only unmarried Sesetan village youth (17-30 years old). People say, that through this ceremony many couples met and build families. As well such ritual brings good luck and prosperity to those who are taking part in it. Not enough that participants may not know each other and will kiss strangers, village priests throw water over participants to douse the flames of passion. Maybe this ceremony not so special but for sure can give good vibes. More about this Bali festival.
- Place: Banjar Kaja Sesetan in Denpasar, Bali
- The best place to stay near Denpasar would be the Sanur area (I doubt you would really enjoy staying in the capital of Bali, during your holidays). I have stayed in Sanur in these places:
- Sudamala Suites & Villas – I love this place. It’s like a small oasis near the main Sanur area. So many unique details inside. Inspiring, peaceful, spacious surroundings, delicious food, and very friendly staff.
- Puri Santrian – quite a big hotel but has straight access to the beach. You can choose from many different types of rooms. I enjoy their buffet type breakfast with a big assortment, live Gamelan music, green surrounding, and helpful staff.
As well can be an option to stay in Kuta (from ceremony place the distance almost the same to go to Sanur or Kuta). You can check options in Airbnb too: Kuta or Sanur. And if you are new to Airbnb you can get FREE credits for first your booking.
Full moon ceremony to ask God’s grace
“Purnama” the day of the full moon is a special day for Balinese people. Every month on the full moon extra offerings “sesajen” are made in family temples. As well such offerings are taken to the village temple. Depending on the full moon time usually, many temples will have special events for villagers, like dancing, shadow puppet theater wayang, other performances. Such full moon ceremony takes all day long activities from preparation offering, cooking, going to the temples and etc. Every 10th full moon (called “Purnama Kadas”) even more special. Unique rituals you can see not only in the main island temples but as well in smaller ones. For example on this special day, the mother temple, Besakih, holds a special ceremony known as “Betara Turun Kabeh”, inviting the gods and deified ancestors for their blessings. More about this ceremony from fellow travel blogger you can find here.
- Place: island-wide in major temples.
- Note: during such ceremonies, the temples are crowded with prayers.
- The best place to stay in Bali during this ceremony is the Ubud area. Because you can easily reach main temples like Besakih, Tirta Empul, Pura Goa Lawah, and others. You can check an Airbnb listing. I have stayed in Ubud in these places:
- Tjampuhan Ubud & Spa – cozy, beautiful place with a view to a temple and just a couple minute walk from Campuhan Ridge Walk, not far from the center. Breakfast was very delicious.
- Manyi Village Ubud – a place surrounded by rice paddies but further from the Ubud center (they have a shuttle bus). It’s not a big place, quiet, intimate. From the balcony, you can see the sunrise, from bathroom window paddies. Breakfast buffet type with several options.
- Ubud Wana Resort – city type hotel, not too big, with spacious rooms, couple swimming pools, not far from Ubud Monkey forest. Stuff very flexible and helpful. Breakfast buffet type with several options.
- Sanggingan Villa and Permana Cottages – Ubud – both places are not too far from Ubud center. Rooms are spacious but the interior of Bali in 80’s (some rooms only with fan, some rooms needs improvement). Very simple served breakfast.
Self-stabbing ritual that brings people closer to God – “Ngerebong”
This ritual, more than 100 years old, for sure not for everyone. I have seen some trance rituals on Java island, so I’m a bit curious to see it in Bali too. Balinese believe that stabbing themselves in the neck and chest with a dagger called “keris” without drawing a drop of blood (can you imagine that it’s possible?) helps to achieve harmony between humans, nature, and God. The ritual not only brings villagers closer to God, it also helps give them a sense of community. All preparation, ceremonies, and ritual itself take all day long. Find out more about this Balinese ritual or take a look at this video.
- Place: Petilan Pengerebongan temple, Kesiman, Denpasar, Bali
- Time: Every 210 days (on the eight-day after Kuningan)
- The best place to stay near Denpasar would be the Sanur area (to stay in the capital of the island, not the best choice). I have stayed in a couple of hotels in Sanur – you can check above my experience there.
Kid’s transition to the adult’s world sacred ceremony – “Usaba Dangsil”
When I saw girl’s pictures from Bungaya village (one of the oldest villages in Bali) during the Usaba Dangsil ceremony – I understood that it is something that I haven’t seen yet in Bali. It’s not only about different local people’s ritual clothing but as well about activities they do for this ceremony. Boys and girls (hundreds of them) have to follow many rituals, which shows that they became grownups. Beside all rituals are built 7 giant pillars (which symbolize welfare and protection) and with all villagers help transported to a certain place. This unique main ritual held only every 12-14 years! The last time it was in August 2016. You can read more about this ceremony here and watch a short video from the event in 2016.
- Place: Bungaya village in Karangasem, Bali
- Time: Every 12-14 years, every full and dark moon from 10 am you can see special performances.
- Note: if you want to visit this event, you should follow some rules.
- Best hotels in Bali, Karangasem area you can find here or check Airbnb places. I have stayed in Rama Candidasa Resort & Spa. Honestly, it is one of my favorite places to stay in Bali – the hotel is in front of the sea (even if it’s not possible to swim there), interior nicely mixed between Balinese and modern style, spacious and green surrounding, breakfast is buffet type with big assortment and staff very helpful.
Sacred ceremony to neutralize 288 evil spirits – “Ngerebeg”
Locals believe that at least 288 different kind of demons lives along Tegelalang’s river. To neutralize these spirits Balinese from Tegalalang village every 6 months organize a parade that is in conjunction with Duur Bingin temple anniversary. It requires villagers to dress up like a demon. This traditional ceremony, sacred Grebeg ritual, in Tegalalang village known from the 13th century.
There is no gender restriction but mainly in such a parade participate hundreds of 3-15 years old boys (as well as teenagers). As well they prepare 288 meal offerings at any major religious festival to appease these spirits. This ritual purifies the village through the noisy parade of scary-looking kids (reminds a bit Ogoh Ogoh before Nyepy day). People believe that supernatural beings will be pacified so they won’t disturb temple ceremonies. In the morning kids deliver offerings and in the evening – they participate in a parade. I think it’s quite fun to watch this parade, see kids’ creativity. More about this Bali ceremony here.
- Place: Duur Bingin temple, Tegalalang village, Gyanair, Bali
- Best Bali hotels to stay in around Tegalalang. Or you can stay in Ubud. My experiences staying in Ubud you can check above.
Blood offering ritual to the Gods to appease the spirits – “Mekare-kare”
In ancient Balinese village Tenganan (where people still follow prie-Hindu culture and traditions) once a year, men participate in a theatrical fight “Mekare kare” (as well known as “Perang Pandan”, “Pandan war” or “Megeret Pandan”). The aim of such battle is to draw blood, to spill a few drops on the bare earth to appease the spirits and keep them at peace. Other people say that this ceremony nowadays is about to impress the village’s unmarried women. In any case, this ritual quite interesting because man’s fights with sharp pandanus leaves, bamboo shield and accompanied by native gamelan music “Selonding” (playing only in this village). Each fight lasts only a couple of minutes. Even if you won’t see a battle, during this event you will enjoy this Balinese ceremony because women will be dressed in traditional, only for this village common clothes, you will see traditional performances and hear Selonding music. It’s a time when you can be a witness to the most beautiful village. More about this ritual you can read here and watch the video.
- Place: Tenganan Pegringsingan and Tenganan Dauh Tukad villages in Karangasem, Bali
- Best Bali accommodation in Karangasem area you can find here. I have stayed in Rama Candidasa Resort & Spa. Honestly, it is one of my favorite places to stay in Bali – the hotel is in front of the sea (even if it’s not possible to swim there), interior nicely mixed between Balinese and modern style, spacious and green surrounding, breakfast is buffet type with big assortment and staff very helpful.
Harvest celebration – “Makepung” water buffalo’s races
Agrarian scenes are part of Balinese daily life. And to uphold agriculture traditions each year in some parts of the island is an organized unique festival – buffaloes race. It‘s a colorful agriculture spectacle-race (known from ~1930) which symbolizes the mutual help of farmers carrying their harvest using a carriage that pulls by two buffaloes. Balinese participate in such a race for honor, pride, and trophy. Race tradition originally came from Madura island in Indonesia. Such an event was so inspiring that in 1984 was created special traditional dance “Makepung”. This dance is performed by 7 to 9 males, females and depicts riders, the buffaloes themselves. One of the unique features of the dance is that it is accompanied by the Jegog bamboo orchestra, which is also typical of the regency. Find out more about this race and you can check this video.
- Place: Kaliakah village, Perancak (close to Negara) in Jembrana, Bali
- Best hotels in Bali Jembrana area you can see here or Negara here. But maybe you can find something suitable on Airbnb?
Temple ceremonies – temple “birthday”
Every temple and shrine in Bali (there are more than ~4539 temples) has an annual ceremony called “Odalan”. The word “Odalan” is believed to have come from the root word “Wedal” which means “birth”. This is usually the day when the temple buildings are blessed for the first time or the day where Balinese Hindus commence to bring offerings and pray in the temple. Temple festival may come once in 210 days following the “Wuku” Balinese calendar (twice in a Gregorian calendar), thus a semi-annual celebration, or maybe an annual ceremony, if villagers follow the lunar calendar. Bali ceremonies for temples are very colorful, people are making special decorations, offerings as well you can see exclusive performances.
Since every village has at least three major temples (and often many more than that), there is always some kind of community religious activity going on. So I believe you could join any such event during your holidays in Bali.
Notice that during temple ceremony, not allow:
Enter such festival if you have an open wound, bring food inside, if you are mentally or physically ill, being in a state of mourning (for the Balinese this lasts 42 days or one month + 7 days of Balinese calendar), and having given birth within the past 42 days.
- Time: every 210 days. Temple ceremony usually lasts for 1-3 days, but larger ones (which occur every 5, 10, 30 or 100 years) can last for 7-11 days or longer.
- Place: all around the island
- Best place to stay in Bali. I suggest checking and Airbnb too. If you never registered before, you can get FREE credits for your first stay.
As well maybe you can be interested to see cockfights? Legal fights you can see usually during temple ceremonies almost all around the island but many people organize it illegally too. I have seen such fights in the Karangasem area, it’s quite common there but it’s hard to know from before when it will be held.
Furthermore, I participated in a Balinese sacred purification ritual which aimed to purify a human body and soul in order to prevent havoc, bad luck, and sickness (also achieve self-purification). If you would be interested to experience it too, before going to any water temple talk with local people who will explain the meaning, sequence and etc. The main thing – do it not for entertainment but with understanding why you do it and how to do it right.
I believe you don’t want to become an annoying tourist. Some tips for visiting Bali ceremonies, festivals, rituals (especially religious):
- Always wear sarong and sash (you can bring your own or rent in the temple).
- Don’t wear a bikini, too transparent clothes.
- Never sit higher than the priest, on the offerings.
- Don’t walk in front of people when they are praying or further than the prayers are.
- Women are not allowed to enter temples during menstruations.
- Don’t use flash or point camera at the priest’s face.
- Be polite if making pictures of people – don’t disturb them if they are preparing for a ceremony, praying. Would be nice if you ask their permission to take photos of them.
Moreover, you should know that during the main religious, national celebrations can be a bit difficult to travel in Bali or another Indonesian island like people will have holidays. You can check the Indonesian holiday calendar of yearly events to plan your trip at the right time.
It’s only Bali celebrations that I want to visit this year (those that I didn’t mention here I already visited or will leave for next year too). Indonesia has more than 17 000 islands, each of them has different own celebrations. So you can imagine that in Indonesia you can feel like in never-ending celebration place.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
- Which Bali ceremonies, festivals, or rituals you would like to attend?
- In which of these or other Bali ceremonies you already participated?
- Do you have any similar to Bali ceremonies celebrations in your country?
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