Balinese Ceremonies

Balinese Ceremonies


There are numerous ceremonies in Bali, some of which are private, some public. Some are described throughout the book. To attend you must wear Balinese dress: see the article entitled Balinese Dress and Textiles. It is unnecessary for tourists to be formally dressed: a sarong, sash and covered arms are sufficient.


There are five different categories of ceremonies, the panca yadnya. There are rituals for:

The gods (dewa yadnya)

An example would be a temple anniversary, odalan.

The higher spirits (pitra yadnya)

This includes the ancestors before they have been deified, such as cremation or Ngaben.

The consecration of priests and priestesses (rsi yadnya)

Humans (manusa yadnya)

These are rites of passage ceremonies from conception to just before death, such as pre-natal rites, birth ceremonies, the 12 day, 42 day and three months’ old baby ceremonies, tooth-filing, and marriage,

Evil spirits (bhuta yadnya)

Bhuta means element; kala, another word for demon, means time or energy. Demons are personifications of forces derived from the five elements and bring misfortune to man. The purpose of these ceremonies is to placate the demons and bring harmony to the world. One such purification sacrifice, taur kasanga, takes place on the last day of the lunar year at Besakih and elsewhere on the island.

Private ceremonies

All Balinese rituals are preceded by a purification ceremony to banish the evil spirits before the divine powers are addressed. This is done by offerings, holy water and hand gestures.

There follows brief details of some of the private family ceremonies.

During pregnancy

This is performed for the welfare of mother and child to anchor the embryo firmly in the womb.

Immediately after birth

The father collects the baby’s placenta, the ari-ari, which is the most important element of the Kanda Empat (for an explanation see the article entitled Balinese Religion), takes it home, washes it, places it in a coconut with flowers and money, wraps it in a white cloth and buries it outside the door of his home. As you look out, girls’ placentas are buried on the left and boys’ on the right. The grave is covered with a black stone and spiky pandanus leaves to protect it. Finally a symbolic cremation fire is lit on the grave.

12 days

The baby can now be given a name. In some parts a grandparent may visit a clairvoyant priest, balian tenung, or he may be called to carry out a purification ceremony. The priest has the ability to communicate with the ancestors to identify whom the baby is a reincarnation of.

42 days

Mother and child are impure for 42 days after the birth. She cannot enter sacred places like temples and the child must be protected from witches. For the first three months the child is very vulnerable to witches and sorcerers. At the end of the period the mother and child cease to be impure and a small purification ceremony is held.

105 days or 3 months (tigang odalan)

This is the first big ceremony and takes place in the family compound. It is the day that a child attains a normal state and may enter temples. The baby ceases to be a divine creature.

It is the day that the baby first touches the ground – described as a return to the earth. The ceremony takes place in the morning. Up to this point the baby will always have been carried. In some parts of Bali the baby is put into a cage, like those used for roosters, after touching the ground. The priest gives the child its real name. A similar ceremony takes place in the palaces in Java, which may throw light on its origins.

The Kanda Empat have 108 helpers and an exorcism is needed for them, so that they do not harm the child. There is often a Wayang Kulit performance.

210 days or First Oton 

This is the baby’s first Balinese birthday, which takes place one Balinese year (six months) after birth.

The baby has its first haircut, a symbolic release of energies. The hair is cut from the five cardinal directions symbolically to remove impurities and is either buried or thrown in the river. There is a further exorcism ceremony to expel the 108 helpers.

All these rites of passage ceremonies are intended to remove impurities caused by the birth and the sins of previous lives.


A small ceremony is carried out at a girl’s first menstruation. From this age young people come under the influence of Semara and Ratih, the gods of love.


The shape of teeth separates the gods and humans from animals, birds and ogres. The former have flat teeth and the latter have pointed ones.

As mentioned in the article entitled Balinese Symbolism the purpose of a tooth-filing or matatah is to remove impurity by eliminating or reducing the Sad Ripu, the Balinese six deadly sins, lust, greed, anger, intoxication (through drink or passion), sadness, arrogance and jealousy. Raffles in his History of Java noted that the Balinese are “strangers to the vices of drunkenness, libertinism and conjugal infidelity…”

The Sad Ripu are eliminated symbolically by flattening the two upper teeth that most resemble an animal’s teeth, the canines, and the four incisors. The lower teeth are left alone, as desire and passion should not be killed completely. The Balinese believe in balance.

It is impossible to fulfil one’s duties, one’s karma, with these teeth present, so every Balinese will have his teeth filed, usually at around 16 to 18 years, but it can be at any age, and if the person dies first, the ceremony will be performed on the corpse. It is also beautifies the person. It often takes place at the same time as marriage as the offerings are the same.

It is an important ceremony and very expensive. Much help is needed to prepare the offerings. The family gods and ancestors are invited, the family compound is decorated lavishly, guests are accommodated and fed, musicians and gamelan orchestras are hired, fine Balinese clothes and jewellery are worn and beautiful textiles are used. A high caste Brahman priest, a pedanda, and his attendants may perform the ceremony.

The ceremony takes place on an auspicious day and, as mentioned, it is likely to be combined with other ceremonies. Further, a number of people in the same family are likely to have their teeth filed at the same time. The ceremony takes place in the Bale Dangin, the ceremonial pavilion, in the family compound. The platform acts as a bed and is covered with a mattress, protective ritual cloths, big pillows and a woven bamboo mat on which is drawn Semara and Ratih, male and female figures, the sun and the moon, the sky and the land. Usually two people lie down for the teeth-filing at a time, the eldest first. Maybe 20 would be done at one session. The family crowds around and the gamelan orchestra plays throughout.

The pedanda “kills” the teeth by hitting them with a metal rod and draws symbolic letters on them. The person who does the filing is the Sangging. He chants some mantras and pours holy water over the filees, who lie down and work begins. A small cylinder of sugar cane is put into their mouths and the six upper teeth are filed. The extent of the filing depends on the wishes of the person. It may only be a few symbolic strokes if desired.

The filings are spat into a silver bowl and transferred to a yellow coconut, which is buried in the family temple behind a shrine. As the filing continues the filees check progress with a mirror and when it is over the Sangging brings the teeth back to life again with a mantra. Then there are prayers in the family temple and photographs. There is often a Wayang Kulit performance.

Sometimes there is a mass village-wide tooth-filing. This occurred in Ubud in July 2000. At that time over 100 men and women had their teeth filed in public.


Unmarried motherhood is not an acceptable concept in Balinese culture, although premarital pregnancy is common and probably the norm. Pregnancy usually provokes the wedding. After marriage the woman moves to her husband’s household and performs her religious duties at his family temple. Without a father and his family temple, both child and mother would be rootless and homeless. Balinese social events are also religious. An unmarried mother and child would be unable to enter any temple and would effectively be banished by their community.

Weddings cannot occur during or immediately after the 10 day holiday between Galungan and Kuningan.

There is a preference for marriage to a patrilineal cousin (one’s father’s brother’s son or daughter). See the section Kinship in the article entitled Names, Titles and Castes for an explanation.

Forms of marriage

There are three traditional forms of marriage:

Kidnapping a girl

This is now against the law.

Pre-arranged “kidnapping”

Everyone goes along with it but pretends not to know about it, is common and the least expensive.

Arranged marriage

This is a wedding agreed upon by the families. Right up to the 1950s arranged marriages were common. Conservative communities and social elites favoured it.

Wedding Ceremony

The ceremony takes place in the boy’s family compound and can be as elaborate as the family wish. The girl leaves her family temple and, unless she already is a relation, joins the boy’s family and ancestral group and will thereafter tend his ancestors. There are separate ceremonies to deal with her farewells as she says goodbye to her family ancestors – the mepahit ritual – and joins her husband’s family temple. Her children belong to her new family temple.

The wedding ceremony is fun; the couple wear their best clothes, gold thread and headdresses. Both wear make-up. They look like a prince and princess. Both wear make-up. She will have real gold flowers in her hair and he will have a kris in the back of his sarong. A priest will perform the rituals. Many symbolic actions take place, like rolling an egg over the couple’s bodies and allowing a duck to touch their faces with its bill. Nowadays there is sometimes a Western style reception. There is often a Wayang Kulit performance.

Marriage allows the husband to join the banjar. At marriage he becomes an adult. See the article entitled Balinese Organisations for details on the banjar.

Honorary male

As mentioned above, the bride joins her husband’s family temple and leaves her own. If it happens that a couple have only daughters, they will be left with no women in the family. Such a situation cannot be allowed to happen, as it would mean that ceremonies could not be carried out properly. There would be no one to look after the family temple and the cycle of reincarnation would be broken.

To remedy this situation a male may have to be adopted. Another remedy is for the bride to take the role of the male heir in her own family and the husband becomes a nominal female. This is called a nyentana marriage. He inherits the family house and temple. These marriages can be difficult and the husbands can become the subject of derision in the village. It helps if he is a member of the same descent group or dadia as his wife and her parents.


It is possible for a man to have more than one wife, but only a few do nowadays. It is usually only among the higher castes and the wealthy. Men do not usually take more than three wives.


Although women are regarded honourably in the ancient Hindu scriptures, like the Manawa Drama Castro, which implies that when a woman is respected, the gods are delighted, they tend to be second class citizens. They do not have a vote at village banjar meetings, especially on matters of customary law. The village chiefs are invariably men. Many aristocratic women are expected to take care of domestic chores, such as preparing offerings, which prevents them from being able to pursue higher education.


All Balinese have a duty to marry. It is vital to have children, as only they can perform the rituals for the dead and purification of souls, which are indispensable for reincarnation. Childlessness and impotence are grounds for divorce and in myths, ogres in the afterlife punish those without children. Often they are hung upside down from a tree and beaten. Being upside down is particularly degrading for a Balinese, as the head would be in touch with the ground: see the article entitled Balinese Symbolism.


The birth of twins of the opposite sex to a Sudra family is regarded as a form of incest. The village is regarded as spiritually impure for 42 days after their birth. In the old days, until Sukarno abolished the custom in 1962, the whole family had to move to a house specially built for them outside the village. The parents had to pay for purification ceremonies and may have had to go begging. Three days before the 42nd day the gods of the three main village temples were taken to the river or sea for purification. On the 42nd day they were brought back to their temples. The family were brought from their house outside the village to the crossroads. Offerings to the gods and evil spirits were presented. There was music and the Wayang Kulit ceremony is performed. When it was over, the family could return to their home and live normally.

Even today twins born to a commoner result in postponement of major ceremonies. In the days of the Balinese kings the twins were taken as slaves by the king.

This does, not, however apply to twins born of a high-caste mother. Quite the reverse. It is auspicious. They are supposed to bring good luck. In fact they are deemed to have been married in another world and can therefore marry in this world. Cokorda Gede Agung Sukawati of Ubud, born in 1910, was a twin, but he did not marry his sister.

The idea that twins bring bad luck may date from pre-history. In the days of hunter-gatherers a woman could never nurse and carry two children. Statistically every 100 or so births are twins.


Traditionally divorce is living apart. A wife, who returns to her descent group, can bring only her own possessions. Her rights are so limited that most women do not dare leave their husbands. Since ancestry is traced through the father’s side, children are considered to belong more to their father than their mother and she loses any rights in respect of them.

It is regarded so badly amongst aristocratic women that if she returns to her family compound, she will be treated like a servant and has to speak in the highest form of Balinese to her parents, brothers and sisters.


A high-caste woman should not marry a commoner. In the days of the Balinese kings both could be killed. These days the existence of the rule is rather controversial.


Marriage is largely about inheritance and responsibility for the family temple. Customarily daughters do not inherit. Male offspring take over responsibilities and authority, both within the family and the community. Farmlands are normally divided amongst the sons equally. One son, usually the youngest, inherits the family house and temple and is responsible for maintaining the family temple and carrying out the ceremonies associated with it. If there are no sons or the children are all daughters who marry out, then the village, the banjar, acquires the land. Discrimination against women is more noticeable among aristocrats and high caste families as they are more cut off from modern outside life.


Marriage denotes a break in the life cycle. Up to and including marriage, parents are responsible for their children’s purification and ritual protection; once married, the younger generation becomes responsible for their parents’ protection, primarily to carry out the death rites properly.

As soon as someone dies the hollow slit drum, the kulkul, is beaten to summon help from the banjar, which comprises men from the neighbourhood. They come to the deceased’s house and wash the body.

The body has to be purified with holy water to wash away totally the pollution of death. The soul of the deceased hovers above the body bewildered. Wounds are covered with tamarind paste, so that they heal in the afterlife. Ornaments are placed on the corpse. Coloured string is tied around the wrists. Mirrors are put on the eyes to give clear sight and beauty. The corpse is then wrapped in a white shroud inscribed with symbols and letters.

The body has now been prepared for burial or cremation. Bodies are frequently prepared and buried within hours of death. If they are not buried the same say, the family will stay up all night to guard the body against bad spirits. This is a time when gamblers play cards all night.


It is not known when cremation was introduced to Bali. A Balinese cremation is very different from a Western one. It is the grandest and the most important of all Balinese ceremonies. The most important ceremony as its success, that is to say the correct carrying out of the ceremony, determines whether or not the deceased will be reincarnated.

Cremations are exceedingly expensive, so it is not uncommon for families to share the expense. Sometimes collective cremations are organized, like the one in Ubud in July 2000, when all 72 bodies in the village graveyard were cremated in one day or in December 2001 when 830 remains from 37 villages joined in the cremation of Ida Tjokorda Mengwi, a descendant from the 13th generation of the King of Mengwi, who reigned in the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries. Unless the family is rich or a priest or a member of a royal family is the deceased, they are first buried to allow the family time to save up.

It should not be put off too long as uncremated spirits are restless and can cause the family and the village trouble. Burial places the soul under the protection of Durga, goddess of death, who reigns over cemeteries until cremation. Uncremated dead require frequent pacification by means of offerings placed on their graves, where they dwell, unfreed from their corpse. Galungan (see below) is one such time that the dead need pacification.

As mentioned priests and members of a royal family are not allowed to be buried, as they are too elevated to be laid in impure ground, so instead they lie in state until preparations can be made for a cremation.

The ceremony takes place on an auspicious day. The family compound will be roofed in coconut leaves and temporary shrines erected. Many women will visit and make the various types of offerings required for the large number of ceremonies involved. They culminate in the cremation itself.

Chickens and ducks will be sacrificed. For a medium sized cremation two or three dozen women are required to make the offerings. It takes several weeks and they will be fed throughout. This adds to the cost. High caste priests, pedandas, carry out several of the preliminary ceremonies and officiate at the cremation.

Women make the offerings. Men from the banjar make the sarcophagus. It is in the shape of an animal. Status determines what kind. A bull is made for priests and high caste men and a cow for women. The bull is Siwa’s mount. Siwa is the God of death and destruction. High lords have a winged lion and lesser lords a deer. Sudras have a mythological animal, which has the head of an elephant with tusks and the tail of a fish. Sudras may also be permitted to have a bull or cow if a member of the family has carried out a valuable service for a high caste ruler or patron.

Having said this, it is not as rigid as it used to be and it is becoming a matter of choice which kind of sarcophagus is used. Either way there are always four feet to symbolise the four invisible brothers or sisters – see the article entitled Balinese Religion for details of the Kanda Empat.

The men also build the cremation tower, the bade, which symbolises the universe. At the base is the world-turtle, Bedawang Nala, surrounded by snakes; in the middle, the world of man is shown by leafy forests and mountains, where the corpse is placed and at the top, there are meru roofs, like those of a pagoda, always an uneven number.

The meru roofs represent the tier of heaven to which the deceased aspires. Royal families have eleven tiers, an ordinary lord seven or nine, lesser gentry three or five and Sudras one. At the top a king may have a sculptured lingga and a priest may have a padmasana (for these see the article entitled Balinese Temples and Holy Men). Below the top section is the shelf for the body (if it has not been buried) or an effigy of the body (if it has been buried). If the body has been buried, it is dug up, wrapped in a white cloth and waits in the cemetery. A big Bhoma face to scare away evil spirits is carved on the back of the tower.

The tower can be 60 or 70 feet high. The height indicates status. Nowadays telegraph poles have to be lowered to let the tower pass. Men who are of lesser rank than the deceased carry the tower.

On the main day guests and men from the banjar arrive at the house. If the body is in the house, it will have been prepared, with a Brahman priest in attendance, and will be placed in the cremation tower and tied to the shelf and covered by a white cloth.

There are three main phases. In the case of a large royal cremation, these would take place on separate days. The first is the Purification, which is dedicated to washing the body and decorating it with various things, like mirrors on the eyelids, flowers in the nostrils, wax in the ears, a ruby in the mouth and iron on the arms. The high priest will sprinkle holy water on it. The second day is the Obeisance, when friends and family view the body. The third day is the final Annihilation.

If the deceased is a king, a Naga or dragon may be carried in a procession and placed to the west side of the remains. The Naga is a symbol of life. Two high priests will shoot arrows at it, which are intended to release the deceased’s soul from the world.

The procession to the cemetery will then start. The empty sarcophagus, tied to bamboo poles, will be carried by the banjar men, who intentionally turn it round roughly to confuse the deceased’s spirit, so that it will not return home. At crossroads it is turned round three times in an anti-clockwise direction. A member of the family rides on the sarcophagus. Then there will be a long procession with a very long white cloth attached to the tower at one end. This allows those in the procession to have contact with the tower, which brings up the rear.

At the cemetery the sarcophagus is opened and the body – or the effigy – put inside and covered with offerings and pieces of cloth. The pedanda will pour in lots of holy water. Then the sarcophagus will be closed and firewood underneath set ablaze. Grief should not be displayed, as mourning would be an impediment to the soul’s passage to the next world. The soul of the deceased may become doubtful about moving on.

After the body is burnt, the family collect the ashes and bits of bone. They wrap some in a white cloth and put the rest in a yellow coconut. The pedanda will ring his bell and recite mantras to help the soul’s release.

Family members will pray and throw the ashes in the sea or a river, which leads to the sea. In Ubud, River Campuan is used. Thereby the body’s elements will be purified and returned to the universe.

The grandness of a cremation does not guarantee a good afterlife. It is karma, good deeds, that does that.

Suttee, the practice dating from at least the 1400s, whereby wives of Balinese rajas sacrificed themselves by jumping into the flames, sometimes stabbing themselves at the same time, was outlawed by the Dutch in 1895. Apparently secret ones occurred until well into the 1920s. Balinese women still sacrifice their hair at their husband’s or indeed a close relative’s cremation.

The Bali Aga people – see the article entitled Balinese History – Pre-history to the Europeans for their origins – carry out death rites differently. The Trunyan people expose the corpse to the elements and the Tenganan people bury their dead.


A number of hours, days or weeks later, a second ceremony, sometimes called the second “cremation”, takes place to complete the matter. It is called Nyekah and it releases the soul, which still has some links to the body, from earth to heaven.

Many of the activities are similar. There are no bones, but there is an effigy of the spirit of the deceased, offerings, a tower (this time in white and gold), a procession to the sea or river and a disposal of ashes and everything else into the water. The final ritual allows the soul to join God and become a divine ancestor, taking its place and being worshipped in the family temple, and protecting its family’s destiny on earth.

At this point the cremated dead are no longer individuals. They are good-natured ancestor gods.

Public ceremonies

Anniversaries: Odalans 

All temples, public and private, have an odalan, usually every Balinese year of 210 days, which is the anniversary of their founding and dedication.

Two of the three main village temples have odalans every Balinese year. Pura Desa has one every lunar year of 355 days. This means that the Balinese are devoting one day in twenty to the village temple rituals alone. At least a week of preparation is required for each ceremony, often much more. So village temples take up at least one day in every seven.

The work is shared, but it is still quite considerable, especially when other public and private ceremonies are taken into account.

New Year’s Eve, Ngerupuk

For weeks before New Year’s Eve a great din is made, banging tins and letting off firecrackers to frighten away the evil spirits from Bali. The purpose is to cast them out totally. It is an exorcism to purify the villages and towns. Large-scale cockfights are held.

On New Year’s Eve the Balinese carry out a ritual called Tawur, the aim of which is to give something back to nature. If you take, you should return, otherwise the balance is lost. The ritual also takes place at a village, district, regency and provincial level. In Ubud it takes place at the crossroads. Crossroads are places considered tenget, highly charged in a supernatural way. The ceremony also takes place where there are Hindu communities in other parts of Indonesia, such as Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Sumatra and Jakarta.

In the evening there are great processions around the villages of huge statues in grotesque shapes accompanied by loud gamelan music. They are symbols of demonic spirits, called Ogoh-Ogoh. They are made from wood and bamboo, covered with papier-mâché and Styrofoam. They are then painted with garish colours. Some reach three meters in height. The tradition became popular in the 1980s.

The youths of the villages work to raise money to make and create them. They can be very inventive and frightening. There are usually some dragon-like figures and other mythical creatures. In the early days the artists took inspiration from Balinese folklore but latterly Hollywood characters have been a source of inspiration. Some even have Mohawk hairstyles. There is always the black, hooded, faceless angel of death

A ceremony to cleanse the Ogoh-Ogoh is held before the parade takes place and after the parade they are usually burned at the village crossroads, but recently some have been kept and sold.

New Year’s Day: Nyepi 

New Year’s Day usually takes place in March or April. It is calculated according to the Saka calendar.

On New Year’s Day total silence prevails. In 2000 the airport was closed for the first time. This was repeated in 2001 and 2002. The ports shut down. Shops close. Cars are forbidden. Nobody leaves his or her compound. It is forbidden to turn on electricity, cook or light fires. Balinese radio ceases. The Balinese people fast for 24 hours. There are four basic restrictions, the four brata: no fire, no working, no travelling, and no leisure activities.

The idea is that Bali looks deserted and the evil spirits will leave the island. Men from the banjar, the traditional village guards, the pecalang, wearing black or red shirts with chequered black and white poleng sarongs, patrol the streets to ensure compliance and levy fines on transgressors.

On a personal level the silence, serenity and emptiness should lead to a revitalization of inner creative energy and enlightenment.


Often described as the Balinese Christmas, this is the most important day of the 210 day Balinese year, the start of the period during which the deified ancestors descend to the family temple and are entertained and presented with offerings and prayers. Actually, strictly, they come down five days before Galungan. Those still in the cemetery will be given offerings as well. The villages are beautifully decorated with penjors. The roads are particularly beautiful, especially when the penjors are fresh. Each village has its own style of penjor. Business stops. Schools close.

For the three days before, preparations are at their most intensive and disruptive spirits abound. It is a time to guard against arguments. On the first of these days bananas are bought or picked so that they will be ripe for Galungan. Tapé, a mildly alcoholic fermented rice pudding, is also prepared. The next day is spent making the cakes. The day before Galungan is called Pemampahan, which means to slaughter the animals, namely pigs. The meat is finely minced and either wrapped around thick skewers and barbecued as saté or mixed into a fiery assortment called lawar. It is also the last day to erect the penjors.

On the day itself, always a Wednesday, in the eleventh week of the 210 day Balinese calendar, prayers are said, offerings made and families visited. There are barongs on the street, with crashing cymbals and gongs. It will dance outside each house for a few coins to banish the evil spirits. Families continue to visit each other the next day. The holiday ends ten days later on the day called Kuningan.

Galungan also commemorates an historic battle, which symbolises good over evil. In 8 AD a bad giant king called Sang Mayadenawa forbade the Bali Aga Balinese people from carrying out their religious ceremonies. With the help of many Aryas from East Bali, a fierce battle took place and the king was killed. Peace was restored.

The Galungan kind of offerings are only made three times a year: Galungan, Kuningan and for family temple ceremonies.


Kuningan is also a day of prayers and visiting. Special offerings are made of yellow rice, rice made yellow by turmeric. The word for yellow is kuning. This marks the day the ancestors return to heaven. Actually, strictly they returned five days earlier.

It commemorates the spirits of the heroes who were killed during the battle against Sang Mayadenawa.

In Klungkung in the temple Paksa Bali, a Perang Dewa ceremony takes place – a symbolic fight between deified ancestors. It is very sensational. Many of the participants go into trance.


Saraswati Day takes place on the last day of the Pawukon calendar and is devoted to the goddess of learning, Saraswati, the wife of Brahma, the god of creation. She lives on the tip of the human tongue, and in written letters inscribed in poems on lontars and on the petals of lotus blossoms.

Her day is a public holiday in Bali. Offerings are made to books, which may be covered with an ornate piece of cloth. There are no classes but there are special ceremonies in the schools. Students pray at the shrines in the school. No letters may be crossed out or any writing deleted on that day.

According to a religious text, Purwagama, our ancestors used to live like animals. Brahma sent Saraswati to change them into humans. She created poetry by attaching letters to the inner and outer worlds. By this means humans were brought into existence, giving them an inner self. Letters are a key to the inner and outer worlds. See the symbolism of letters in the article entitled Balinese Symbolism.

Banyu Pinaruh

The day after Saraswati Day the Balinese clean themselves with water that has been blessed. Many people go to the beach in the morning to pray and bathe themselves with sea water (melukat). In the evening they eat a smoked duck feast.

Coma Ribek or Somaribek

The following day the Balinese pray to Dewi Sri, the rice Goddess, for wealth. No money is supposed to pass hands on this day.

Siwa Ratri

The same evening the Balinese fast and stay awake and meditate for 36 hours. On this day Siwa carried out his most important meditation. Those who do the same will be blessed and rewarded.


The following day offerings are made to Pramesti Guru for his blessing. This is to achieve balance in the world and its creatures.

Major ceremonies

There are many, but two stand out in importance:

Panca Wali Krama

This is a large purification ceremony, which takes place once a decade. The Balinese call it a year that ends in a zero.

Eka Dasa Rudra

This is the greatest of all Balinese festivals, an enormous purification ceremony, which takes place once a century. The Balinese call it a year that ends in two zeros. The last one took place on 28 March 1979, Saka year 1900. The aim is to strengthen the spiritual life of those taking part, leading to harmony, justice and prosperity.

It is not clear when the ceremony had been performed in previous centuries. It seems to have been performed during the reign of Dalem Waturenggong towards the middle of the 16th century, when the kingdom of Gelgel was at its height, under the direction of Nirartha, the priest.

Eka Dasa Rudra means the eleven Rudras. Rudra is a god associated with wildness and danger, the Vedic antecedent of Siwa, with whom he later became linked. Eleven expresses the idea that he is everywhere in all directions.

It was planned to have the ceremony in 1963, but that was Saka year 1984, which did not end in two zeros. Texts do allow it to be held on special occasions, if there is severe disharmony, like earthquakes, eruptions, plagues and wars. It was felt by some that such a time existed. The festival began on 10 October 1962 and continued until 20 April 1962. The focal point of the whole ceremony, the great sacrifice, taur eka dasa rudra, was due on 8 March 1963, the last day of the Saka year.

During the ceremony the Balinese were asked not to cremate their dead and not even to announce publicly, by beating the slit-drum kulkul that a death had occurred. Bodies were carried quietly to the graveyard and buried. Post-cremation rites that purify the soul of a body already cremated were, however, allowed.

The offerings were mind-boggling – more than 50 buffaloes, scores of other animals, thousands of ducks and chickens, tens of thousands of bananas, eggs and coconuts, tons of rice.

In February, during the preparations, Mount Agung began to erupt: see the article entitled Balinese History – the 20th century.

Level of ceremony

Ceremonies may be carried out in three different levels:

Utama or elaborate.
Madia or average.
Mista or simple. sanggar cucuk.

These are sometimes sub-divided. They are all equally valid. The level, number, size and complexity of the offerings depend on the status of the people involved, their wealth and the occasion.

Bhuta yadnya rituals with the generic name of caru begin with the offering of one fowl (eka sata) of multi-coloured plumage places at the foot of a little bamboo shrine. The next level is five fowl (panca sata) and five shrines, the colour of each fowl’s plumage corresponding to its direction. Larger bhuta yadnya ceremonies, called taur, require sacrifices of four-footed animals as well as fowls, a greater number of other offerings, the tall elaborate sanggar tawang shrine and the presence of a high priest.

There are several graded divisions of taur sacrifices, increasing in size from taur agung to taur gentuh to Panca Wali Krama and finally Eka Dasa Rudra.