No, I haven’t misspelled the Buddha’s name. And no, I’m not referring to anything related to the renowned multi-outlet restaurant and market franchise called Bali Buda (soon to be renamed to Bali Bunda). Buda, in this case, refers to this coming Wednesday, which falls on the 11th week (Dunggulan) of the 210-day Balinese pawukon calendar, marking the start of celebrations for Galungan and Kuningan.
Actually, over the many days (and weeks) leading up to Galungan, signs pop up here and there, all pointing towards the big day ahead.
Weeks ago, large bunches of towering bamboo poles were already being hauled around the island. Truckloads carrying bamboo lumbered through the streets of Ubud, depositing them around various banjars, lying them both vertically and horizontally, until the head of each household would come by – typically, on bike with a son or friend in tow – to take their pick.
By yesterday, the seller down the road had sold out of all but a few poles. By then, many had been laid down in front of compounds, their topmost tip tied over in a curved shape, attached to a point lower down on the pole; the better to ensure an arc pointing downward.
Most Sundays in Bali can be pretty busy. Families rest at home, some are at work, while others head to the beach or to their native and faraway villages. But on this particular Sunday, the roads seemed quieter than usual – at least the one that leads to my (current) home.
I’m always tempted to lay aside my own work and projects to witness the preparations. There are many, and the attention to detail and creative solutions never cease to amaze me.
As I walked up and down the road, armed with a camera and a jaunty Pete by my side, I realized wherefore the near-silence of the bikes (and cars).
Men and boys were huddled together inside compounds, on the sides of the road, hidden away from view in many cases. Not for cock-fights, nor for other forms of gambling; they weren’t comparing notes about their songbirds nor were they playing chess. This very day they sprung into action, flexing their abundant creative muscles: building penjors – the tall bamboo poles that stand guard in front of every compound, with ribbons, floral decorations and offerings; and that for weeks, jut up into the skies tall and proud, blowing in the breeze and calling in all dead ancestors to revisit living relatives.
On second thought, some motorbikes did zip by occasionally – most ridden by tattooed men in singlets and flipflops, with an already gussied-up penjor trailing behind, on its way home.
As the penjors were hoisted up all around the village, the young men sat back smoking in near-delirium, the children gazed up in delight, and the women smiled and returned to their post to finish up preparing their own contributions – the many dazzling offerings that would grace the poles, the roads, but mostly their family temples.
It’s a sight that must be beheld to be believed. I never tire of witnessing the process, the final results, the glorious signs of nature’s bounty – and and island, its people, ancestors and deities settling into a period of collective prayer, blessing and grace.