Every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
On the Indonesian island of Bali, today is one of the most important holidays of the year. Galungan commemorates the triumph of good (Dharma) over evil (Adharma). It is based on the myth of the demon king “Mayadenawa.” Mayadenawa was very cruel, and the Balinese people suffered and were terrorized by him. Mayadenawa ran the empire as an absolute dictator, and no one could interfere with his will.
He became very arrogant because of his power and even prohibited the Balinese to pray to their Gods as he claimed to be their god. In secret, at great peril, they prayed nevertheless, and for their virtue, a divine champion came to defeat the demon, and they were saved.
In a nation that holds ancestors and familial lines in highest esteem, this is the most important ancestor holiday, and marks the beginning of a ceremony held every 210 days, and celebrated by all Balinese, not only those who are Hindu.
During the Galungan period, the deified dead ancestors descend to their family homes. They must be suitably welcomed and entertained, so most Balinese will return to their ancestral home today, even if they now live or work in another part of the island. They will offer delectable foods, specially prepared by both the men and the women of the island.
On this day, a tall bamboo-pole, or ‘penjor,’ is decorated with coconut leaves and flowers, fruit, and cakes, all symbolizing prosperity. Every house entrance-way displays these festive symbols. Prayers and offerings are given to the ancestors and to the Gods in the family temple. Families will also visit the village temple with offerings, and will visit and bring gifts to neighbors who have recently been helpful in some way.
Although the main rites of Galungan are today, the festivities span about ten days, with most Balinese having begun their ceremonies yesterday, preparing offerings and cooking special foods. After today’s rites for the ancestors, the remainder of the holidays will be for merry-making, visiting with friends, and picnicking, often up in the mountains.
Whether they are still on this side of the veil or not, why not take some time today to honor your own beloved ancestors? Maybe your grandmother had a famous pound cake, or your uncle was revered for his barbecue sauce.
Most of all, though, let us join with the spirit of the brave and beautiful Balinese, who refused to turn away from their faith. Their devotion to their Gods triumphed over fear and persecution, and brought healing to their homeland.