The Lunar Calendar

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Lunar calendar is a way of life in Bali. For thousands of years, the Hindu Balinese calendar cycles through their lives and prepare their offerings in conjunction to the phases of the Moon. Every new Moon (Tilem), Balinese pray to Sang Hyang Widhi, the Supreme God, and every full Moon (Purnama) to Sang Hyang Candra, the god of the Moon. A special offering of fragrant flowers and incense are then prepared for the family's temple.

In the West, ever since the 16th century, we celebrate the reign of the Sun as provider of life, hence we shape our years with the solar-based Gregorian Calendar. Meanwhile, in this archipelago of 17,000 islands, the sea and wind dictates the harvesting season and the movement of its people. And the ocean is believed to be controlled by the Moon.

The Balinese lunar calendar, the Saka calendar is composed of 11 months and 29-30 days, which is just a slight different from the formally used Gregorian Calendar. Each new month begins with a new Moon, followed by Full Moon at the peak of the month, before descending behind Earth's shadow.

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In addition to Saka calendar, Balinese use pakuwon calendar, a rice-harvesting calendar with 210 days in a week, where the weeks don’t have a constant number of days.

What’s unique is that, this Balinese life which revolves around the Moon happens for a specific reason: the ceremonies. Balinese hold onto Tri Hita Karana, a belief to maintain harmonious relationship with God, Nature, and each other. Various rituals throughout the year is the glue that keep everything balanced and in order. As a community member, they are to commit to specific role, including making sure that the earthly produce for offerings (such as yellow coconuts, flowers, and fruits) are ripe and ready before the ceremony day comes. To keep their harvest in time with the ceremonies, they use the Moon Saka calendar as the season’s indicator.

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This lunar calendar is also absolutely critical to determine the 'good days' to get married or set cremation dates, otherwise a bad omen is set to await in the coming days. Even now, occasionally you’ll find yourself running from one wedding to another in a matter of hours.

The year closes on a New Moon. On this day from noon till midnight, young Balinese march their ogoh-ogoh, a demonic statue that is becoming even more massive with state-of-the-art lighting every year, in the city, as part of Ngrupuk parade. Made with their own hands for months, the Balinese tend to be very proud of their statues and the march, despite its demonic look, it is very cheerful. Then at major intersections, the ogoh-ogoh is rotated counter-clockwise three times to confuse bad spirits, followed by a traditional performance and a dance. On this night, the street is packed with people watching the drama. And going from one place to another will take three times longer than usual.

The next day, a new year begins, marked with a day of Silence, where all the activities are shut and everyone is to stay at home. This is the day of contemplation for many people, both Balinese or non-Balinese, Hindu or non-Hindu; a day of serenity where we sink in with our thoughts, as the day slows down and takes a rest. Even in the evening, no bright lighting is to be seen. On this day, the Moon is completely behind the Earth's shadow and the evening sky is glittering with numerous constellations, distant galaxies, and the Milky way.

So that is a life in Bali in a year. With the Moon watching over humans and assisting communities with their day-to-day life, it is considered a sacred celestial object that keeps the harmony of all living beings, the Tri Hita Karana.

So do you celebrate the Moon?

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Photography by : Sagar Chitrakar

Illustrations from book : anindhea.com and Giovanni Domenico Cassini

Ilse BosComment