Balinese Calendars

Balinese Calendars


The heavens were more important to early humans than they are today. The heavens provided measurable certainty and could be used to measure time. The earth spun on its axis once a day; the moon spun round the earth once a month; and the earth revolved round the sun once a year.

There are three calendars operating simultaneously in Bali:

Gregorian calendar

Julius Caesar reformed the calendar, moving from a lunar to a solar year. The solar year, however, extends over 365 days, five hours and 48 and 3/4 minutes. The Julian calendar, named after him, solved the problem by assuming that the earth revolved around the sun in 365 and a quarter days. Accordingly the first, second and third years were 365 days and the fourth year, the leap year, was 366 days. The problem was that each year the calendar lost just over 11 minutes and millennium lost about seven days.

The international Gregorian calendar is named after Pope Gregory. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII solved the problem with the Julian calendar by eliminating 10 days from 5 to 14 October and the future years 1600 and 2000 would be leap years but 1700, 1800 and 1900 would not be. It took some centuries for the rest of the world to follow suit.

Saka calendar

The Hindu-Balinese lunar calendar developed in South India in 78 AD.

Pawukon calendar

The Javanese-Balinese calendar which consists of 210 days.

Gregorian calendar

The Gregorian calendar is a relatively recent introduction to Indonesia. It came with the Dutch and is used for civil and business affairs.

There are a number of civic events and holidays, which include:

21 April: Kartini Day

Kartini Day celebrates Kartini, the Indonesian heroine of women’s emancipation. She was born in the village of Mayong in the municipality of Jepara in Central Java in 1879. Her father, Raden Mas Adipati Arlo Soroningrat, was a mayor. He had 12 children from several wives.

She was lucky to receive a Dutch education. This was normally reserved for Dutch and children of royal families. But she had to stop at 12 years because of the old Javanese tradition of pinjit, which meant she had to stay at home and wait for marriage. During her days at home she wrote to her many friends abroad. She was a rebel against the strong tradition of sex discrimination.

At 24 years she obeyed her father and married the mayor of Rembang, Raden Adipati Joyodiningrat, who was 50 and already had three wives and dozens of children. She had a scholarship to study in Europe, but her hopes to study abroad were dashed. Instead she established a special school for local girls.

Kartini Day is a school holiday.

17 August: Independence Day

This celebrates the day in 1945 when President Sukarno proclaimed independence from the Dutch. It took another five years of war actually to achieve it.

20 September

The day in 1906, when the royal family of Denpasar committed puputan or mass suicide, bringing to an end the Denpasar nobility. It is commemorated in the Pupuan Badung Square every year when a fair is held.

10 November

The day in 1946 when the Balinese hero, Lieutenant Colonel I Gusti Ngurah Rai and his 96 Balinese troops battled against the Dutch for independence and were all wiped out. It is Heros’ Day. He was proclaimed a National Hero in 1975. The airport, where his statue stands, is named after him.

22 December: Indonesia’s Women’s Day

This is observed in remembrance of the first Indonesian Women’s Congress on 22 December 1928.

Balinese calendars

Balinese calendars give an indication of the way the Balinese actually see time. In the West we see time as a linear progression. The World has a beginning and is destined to have an ending. The Balinese, however, see time as circular, like birth and reincarnation. Balinese music is circular too.

Balinese calendars track social and natural cycles. The Saka calendar calculates lunar periods. The Pawukon calendar records the growth of a Balinese rice plant, 210 days, from germination to flowering. The Pawukon or permutational calendar is by far the most important for the Balinese.

Saka calendar

The Saka calendar arrived with the Javanese Majapahit kingdom in the 14th century. It is still used in parts of India and has 12 lunar months; each month is called a Sasih and has a name in Sanskrit. Every Sasih has 30 lunar days. Each Sasih ends on the day of the new moon, called Tilem. The next Sasih begins the following day. Full moon, Purnama, occurs in the middle of the month.

The Saka year commences in March or early April. The last day of the lunar year is the day of the new moon of the ninth month (tilem kasanga). New Year’s Day is called Nyepi and is important to all Balinese. It is the only island-wide event and one of the few ceremonies timed according to the Saka rather than the Pawukon calendar. The Saka system is about 78/79 years behind the Gregorian year. Nyepi in March 2001 was Saka year 1923.

Every so often the calendar must be correlated with the solar year by adding an intercalary month. A number of temples use the Saka calendar to fix their temple ceremonies, but most use the Pawukon calendar.

Pawukon calendar


The Pawukon calendar, whose origin is in East Java, came with the Majapahit kingdom in the 14th century, and consists of 30 seven-day weeks, each of which has a name, and six 35-day months. The Balinese year, called an uku, is therefore 210 days but the years are not numbered or named like Gregorian or Saka years, which are.

The calendar is not used to measure time. Its purpose is to pinpoint certain days.

10 different weeks

There are simultaneously and concurrently ten different kinds of weeks ranging from the one day week to the ten day week. They follow one another in a fixed order. So, every day has ten different names, one according to each of the ten cycles. Many Balinese events are scheduled according to the particular day of a particular week.

The three-day week determines the markets in Bali. The market shifts from one village to another on a three-day cycle. For example, in Ubud, market day is the day called Pasah and in Payangan it is the day called Kajeng.

The eight day week provides a clue as to the identity of a person in his or her past life according to the birth day, for example, a birthday on the first day of the eight day week, Sri, means the baby is probably a reincarnation of a woman from the mother’s side.

The Balinese calendar encompasses smaller cycles within larger ones, wheels within wheels. There is an intriguing analogy with Balinese music. Balinese music is composed on the same basis. There are interlocking cyclical patterns. Further, small instruments play short patterns. The larger instruments play at larger intervals and define the beginning and end of melodies.

The events for which the Pawukon calendar is used are those that are especially Balinese, like Galungan, Kuningan and temple anniversaries, odalans. (New Year’s Day on the 210-day cycle is not celebrated.)

Goris in Holidays and Holy Days, 1960, lists 32 holy days in every Balinese year, which is on average one in every seven, not including several days’ minimum preparation. These days apply to all Balinese and do not take into account family ceremonies, like weddings, baby ceremonies.

Coincidence days

Other events are scheduled according to the coincidence of particular days failing on particular weeks, rather like our Friday 13th.

The five-, six- and seven-day weeks are the most important and when a day falls on all three cycles it is significant. Only once in 210 days does a day fall on all three cycles (5x6x7). That day is Galungan. Another significant day falls on the five- and seven-week cycles, once every 35 days. Another on the six- and seven-week cycles, once every 42 days. And also on the five- and six-week cycles, once every 30 days. Every day can therefore be plotted and its religious significance assessed.

An important day is when the third day of the three-day week, Kajeng, falls on the same day as the fifth day of the five-day week, Keliwon. This day is called Kajeng-Keliwon and occurs every 15 days. Many temple ceremonies are held on this day. It is also a day to make special offerings to the bad spirits. Offerings are more elaborate on that day.

Sometimes babies are born owing debts to beings in the spirit world and special offerings have to be made to repay the debt. The particular type of offerings to be made by the parents can be determined by reference to the day the child was born on the five-day week and the seven-day week. There are therefore 35 possible combinations. An expert determines the position by reference to a special 35-day calendar.

Other special coincidence days are the Tumpeks. If, say a birthday, an oton, fell on a number of special days, it would be regarded as a very sacred day, for example, if it fell on Kajeng-Kliwon, Tumpek Wayang, full moon, and a total eclipse.

The Tumpeks

The Tumpeks occur when the sixth day of the seven-day week falls on fifth day of the five-day week, Keliwon. There are therefore six of them in each Balinese year of 210 days. The common characteristic of Tumpek ceremonies is that they show respect for objects. Man-made objects, when completed, are brought to life through special ceremonies. This applies to houses, temples, masks, puppets, musical instruments and weapons. Thereafter they must be treated with respect and given offerings.

They are:

Tumpek Landep

This is a special day for lethal weapons of steel, like krises, guns and cars. All receive offerings. The purpose is to reactivate their radiation and turn it to the good of man. Cars, busses and motorcycles receive elaborate palm leaf offerings tied to their front grills and side mirrors – prior to that they are washed, blessed with offerings, prayers, food, incense and holy water.

Tumpek Wariga

A special day for certain important trees, such as coconut trees, which are covered in Balinese clothes that day. They are requested to be fruitful.


The third one coincides with Kajeng-Keliwon, and is Kuningan. For details about Kuningan, see the article entitled Balinese Ceremonies.

Tumpek Krulut

This is special for musical instruments, masksand dance costumes.

Tumpek Andang

This is a special day for animals. They receive a bath and special pieces of cloth and offerings on that day, perhaps even a dog biscuit.

Tumpek Wayang

This is also Kajeng-Keliwon, special for Wayang Kulit shadow puppets, which are taken out and given offerings by their dalang, the puppeteer. For details on Wayang Kulit, see the article entitled Wayang Kulit: shadow puppet performances. It also happens to be very unlucky to be born on that day.

The Moon

Long before calendars were invented, people watched the moon. An eclipse of the moon was a momentous event. Judaism, Christianity and Islam selected the new moon or the full moon for holy days. So did the Balinese: full moon is known as Purnama and the new moon is known as Tilem.


These memory aids for the Pawukon calendar are either made of wood or cloth. They make interesting souvenirs. The design is standard, but the shape, colour and layout may vary.

There are seven named horizontal rows, which represent the days, and 30 vertical columns, which represent the weeks. Each week has a name, which is written at the top in the appropriate column. To read the days, you read down the columns from left to right. So, every day in the year has a unique combination of day name and week name.

The Balinese know the week names. Most Balinese will know the Balinese day and week they were born but not necessarily their Gregorian birthday. They will also know the Balinese day and week of important ceremonies, such as Galungan, which is Buda Gunggulan, the fourth day of week 11.

You will recall the five-day week. Its most important day is the fifth day, Keliwon. That is shown on the tika by its own symbol every five days. The three-day week’s most important day, the third day, Kajeng, is also shown. When these coincide the day is Kajeng-Keliwon, as mentioned above, when special offerings are made to the malevolent spirits. The tika makes the day clear.

There are other coincidence days, which are important, when special offerings are placed in family temples, shrines and outside front gates. You will see this if you stay long enough in Bali.

There are numerous symbols on the tika. These give guidance on auspicious and inauspicious days on which it is good or not good to perform ceremonies and other matters.

Most Balinese do not know all these symbols, so they go to a priest or balian (shaman) for advice on appropriate days to carry out important activities.

The tika below shows a complete Balinese year of 210 days, an uku. Each of the 30 weeks is listed on the left. The days of the seven-day week are listed along the top. The tika also shows the other nine weeks. The three-day week is superimposed, in this case shown by the numbers 1, 2 and 3. Day 1 is Pasah, day 2 is Beteng and day 3 is Kajeng. So, the first day is Redite (our Sunday) of the seven-day week and Pasah of the three-day week. Instead of numbers, dots, lines and crosses are used. There are symbols for each of the various weeks.

Printed calendars

Printed Balinese calendars are masterpieces of information. They show the uku, the day in each of the ten-week cycles, including the one day one, the day and month in the lunar-solar calendar, the day, year and month in the Gregorian and Islamic calendars, the day, month, year and year-name in the Chinese calendar and all important holidays within these calendars, as well as Christian holidays.

Balinese Calendars