What Day is Today?

April 5, 2017 Apr 5, 2017   Ubud
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Saka calendar      
Saka calendar      
Saka calendar      
Galungan is the great ten-day holiday which inevitably lasts a month, taking place each thirty weeks. Colin McPhee, A House in Bali

Today is galungan. On this day the Balinese make offerings (hmm, like every day), they decorate shrines, and they visit temples and pray together.

To the visitor what's noticeable is the penjors, of course. These are long (10m) bamboo poles decorated with coconuts, fruits, seeds, tubers, etc. The symbolism of the penjor itself is unclear, with some claiming it represents a specific mountain and a river and others who say asking for an explanation is perhaps besides the point.

Which brings me to the Balinese calendars which you'll notice is plural because there are two, the saka, based on the lunar cycle, and the pawukon, based on rice-growing cycles.

The saka calendar, like our boring old Gregorian calendar, has 12 months of about 30 days. It is aligned with the lunar cycle. The day for Nyepi, the day of silence, is based on this calendar.

In contrast, the pawukon calendar is so complex that you can't help wonder why. It is a 210-day calendar with 10 concurrent week systems of 1, 2, 3, ... and so on up to 10 days. In other words, there is a week that is one day long, a week that is two days, a week that is three days, etc., all on top of each other. The first day of the year is when they all align: it resets all week systems to their first day.

To distinguish them each week has a Sanskrit-derived name, and each of the days of each of the ten different weeks has a unique name. So this means every day has ten different weekday names, one for each of the ten weeks that are going on simultaneously. Whew! Fortunately not all weeks are of equal importance to the Balinese, who tend to pay attention only to the three-, five-, and seven-day weeks.

The intersection of the week cycles tells whether any given day is auspicious, inauspicious, or somewhere in between for a particular activity.

They don't tell you what time it is, they tell you what kind of time it is. Clifford Geertz

Like I said, it is impressive in its complexity and I am sure there is a good reason for it. For more see Wikipedia and balix.com.

So what day is today? All I know is that it's my last day in lush, welcoming, enchanting Bali. I'll remember Bali as a land of friendly people, ubiquitous free WiFi, and colourful fragrant offerings to the gods and demons. They put on a mean parade, too.

I spent my last afternoon and evening at Emily and Bill's home, out on the patio overlooking vivid-green fields of rice. Tomorrow I get on a plane and begin my trek home to Canada.