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Balinese Expressions: Save the Date!

By: Dr Stan Florek, Category: Science, Date: 15 Nov 2013

An introduction to the Balinese Calendar.

Ita in AM Collection D

Stan Florek © Australian Museum

Balinese Expressions is a blog series containing stories from and about Balinese people and culture. Today's blog post is by Ita - Putu Ayu Yunita Yastini, an intern from Indonesia, here on work experience at the Australian Museum.

People are often puzzled by the numerous and frequent ceremonies in Bali. Many also ask how the Balinese know and remember the dates of these ceremonies. Fortunately, all these dates are scheduled in the Balinese calendar.

The Balinese calendar, admittedly somewhat complex, was derived from the Saka Calendar of the ancient Hindu tradition. The Saka Calendar - one of two most popular calendars in India – is based on a year with twelve lunar cycles and therefore broadly similar to the Gregorian (current Western) calendar. But the Balinese calendar, locally modified, also incorporates the Pawukon system, when a year, believed to be based on a rice growing cycle, has 210 days and 10 different week cycles running simultaneously.

The lengths of the weeks are from one to ten days, all with their very own set of names for each day. It means the same day often has different names, depending on which of the 10 week cycles is used. Most of the celebrations and rituals are held every 35 days or 15 days, on a day when the three-day week and five-day week, or five-day week and seven-day week coincide. The Balinese consult their calendars to schedule rituals, rice-farming, business and even personal plans such as paying debts or cutting hair.

This calendar is essential for the Balinese because most of their life matters are related to religion, and the schedule of religion-based activities is interwoven into the calendar itself. Therefore, in almost every activity, the Balinese will consult their calendar first. Typically a Balinese farmer would consult the calendar to work out the schedule for planting rice and all steps in the growing cycle, including harvesting and tending the field afterwards.

According to the Gregorian calendar, the people in Bali enjoy two birthdays each year, as a year in the Balinese calendar has 210 days. A day of birth defines our place in astrology with 35 distinct signs and tells us about our character. This is important because the person and people around him or her are, in this way, better equipped to handle the good and bad personalities. The astrology discloses various details about the personality, but also suggests how to deal with these character traits in order to minimise what is harmful or crooked and bring out the best in everyone.

With such an important role in guiding peoples’ lives, everyone has an obligation to know the calendar. The Gregorian calendar is used as the official calendar in Indonesia, and it is used in Bali to synchronise national and world-wide events and dates, whereas the Balinese calendar is essential for scheduling all religious, ritual and related personal matters. So be really careful when you are saving a date in Bali, because a single day might indicate several different names and several diverse predictions.

Story by Putu Ayu Yunita Yastini.