Festivals in Bali
Nyepi and Balinese New Year, March
Balinese New Year celebrations span six days, and at the centre of the festivities is Nyepi. But rather than being a raucous event, Nyepi is in fact the Balinese "Day of Silence", a public holiday involving silence, self-reflection, fasting, and meditation. The island comes to a standstill, with most activities forbidden, including work, entertainment, and travel. The streets are empty, and there's very little activity or noise. Tourists are not exempt, with beaches off limits and shops and businesses closed.
Nyepi takes place on the third day, and there are plenty of livelier events going on during the other days. On the evening before Nyepi, Ogoh-Ogoh parades take place, during which the men and boys of each village head through the streets — accompanied by sounds including gamelan music, claxons, and drums — carrying huge effigies of scary creatures, which are then ritually burned to symbolise the eradication of evil. The day after Nyepi, Ngembak Geni, sees the resumption of daily life, and more celebrations and rituals take place.
Saraswati Day, March and October
Saraswati Day, which takes place every 210 days according to the Balinese calendar, celebrates Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom, and learning. The day before the celebration, people clean and dust their books in preparation, then on Saraswati Day itself, wherever people are, whether at work, at home, or in the temple, they make offerings to Saraswati. These offerings are usually placed inside books to demonstrate the importance of learning. Because all books are considered as being offered to the goddess on Saraswati Day, people avoid reading or writing in them during on the day. Then in the evening, it's common to head to a temple to read religious books to honour Saraswati. The celebration of Pagerwasi, which takes place three days after Saraswati Day, is held to protect knowledge from evil (Pagerwasi means “iron fence”).
The 10-day festival of Galungan celebrates the victory of good (dharma) over evil (adharma). Balinese Hindus believe the gods come down to earth to join in the celebrations, and the spirits of the deceased will return to their homes, so leave offerings for them — look out for penjor: tall poles decorated with fruit, leaves, and flowers, that are put up outside homes around the island.
During Galungan, Balinese visit temples and travel to see extended family. There’s also a Ngelawang ceremony in every village to banish evil spirits. Galungan climaxes with Kuningan, the day on which supreme deity Sang Hyang Widhi arrives to bless everyone, before all the gods and ancestors return to their own realm. This is followed by Manis Kuningan, a day devoted to fun and celebration. Galungan takes place every 210 days.