May 7, 2020
Waisak (also known globally as Vesak Day) is a national holiday observed in both Bali and throughout Indonesia to honour and celebrate Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Vesak, the Day of the Full Moon in the month of May, is the holiest day in the Buddhist lunar calendar. In 1999, the UN recognized Vesak Day internationally to acknowledge the contribution that Buddhism, one of the oldest religions in the world, has made for over 2500 years. Buddhism is one of the 6 officially recognized religions in Indonesia and the second oldest major or world religion in Indonesia after Hinduism. Indian merchants arriving in Bali around 200 BCE likely introduced Buddhism and Hinduism to the island, and Buddhism actually predates Hinduism here. Given this history, do not be surprised to find that elements of Buddhism and Balinese Hinduism find themselves “borrowed” by and integrated into each other’s ceremonies and practices.
Siddhartha Gautama, also commonly known as Buddha (enlightened one), lived in present-day India and Nepal between the sixth and fourth century BCE. His teachings focused on compassion, peace and goodwill. Waisak/ Vesak Day celebrates the Buddha’s birth, the day he attained enlightenment (Nirvana), and death (Paranirvana).
Temples are adorned with decorations and flowers on Waisak. Community groups organize acts of charity, such as releasing caged animals or donating food and gifts to the poor. In addition to paying homage to the Buddha during the celebrations, Balinese devout followers are also expected to bring happiness to the people around them.
Buddhist temples or “Vihara” worth visiting on Waisak include the Vihara Dharmayana in Kuta, which dates as far back as 1876 and was once visited by Tibet’s 14th Dalai Lama. Near Seminyak, the Vihara Buddha Dharma is the easiest to reach and welcoming to all. The Vihara Buddha Guna near Nusa Dua is located in a worship complex known as Puja Mandala, dedicated to five different religions, reflecting the essence of religious tolerance in Bali. Visiting these vihara, you may notice that some of them are heavily influenced by Chinese versions of Buddhism, and some are indeed patronized by members of Indonesia’s Chinese community, another example of tolerance and integration.
Tumpek Kandang – The Celebration of Animals
May 9th, 2020
With a strong farming tradition, the Balinese hold in high regard all that helps them with agricultural life including livestock such as pigs, chickens and cows. In Bali, Tumpek Kandang is a day to honour these animals. To show gratitude on this day, the Balinese present offerings to Sang Hyang Rare Angon, the God of cattle and livestock, in hopes of preventing disease and for the eternal safety and health of the animals. The Balinese view these celebrations as a way to appreciate work performed by these animals as well as the provision of food.
Tumpek Kandang is derived from the word “kandang” meaning cage or animal pen. The Balinese celebrate Tumpek Kandang every 210 days, on the Saturday of the 22nd week of the Pawukon calendar.
Cows and buffalos that help with ploughing fields, as well as chickens that are raised for poultry and eggs are each provided with their own special offerings. Cows are washed, dressed and special cone-shaped caps made of coconut leaves are placed around their horns. Pigs are typically decorated with a white cloth wrapped around their bellies. Animals are fed special foods, sprinkled with holy water and rice, and prayers are carried out.
At the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud a ceremony takes place for the safety and health of the monkeys and other animals, as the monkeys play a vital role in the social and economic life of the Padangtegal village. After the ritual procession, the monkeys are given special foods not normally provided, such as grapes, eggs, carrots and other fruits.
In the modern context, Tumpek Kandang is not only about farm animals but also linked with the preservation of wildlife. Celebrations are held at zoos and wildlife preserves, where staff perform ceremonies in honour of the animals. Tumpek Kandang reminds people to respect nature and be grateful for the blessings that it provides.
May 24/25, 2020
Idul Fitri (commonly referred to in Indonesia as Lebaran) is the Indonesian form of the Arabic term Eid al-Fitr, and is one of the major national holidays in the country; the celebration that comes at the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. The Arabic meaning of Idul Fitri is “becoming holy again”.
The Common Era calendar dates of the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, Ramadan, vary slightly each year, as the Muslim calendar (Hijriah) is based on a lunar cycle of 29/ 30 days.. The exact dates are determined in one of two main ways depending on different Islamic traditions: one method is based on the sighting of the new moon, while the other is based on astronomical calculations, and the results may differ by a day. An official announcement by the government is made on the eve of Ramadan and Idul Fitri so that public holidays can be standardized throughout the country.
The Idul Fitri public holiday officially lasts for two days, although the government usually declares a few days before or after as “collective leave”. It is customary for most Indonesians, especially Muslims living in big cities, to travel long distances to their hometowns and villages and gather with family during the holidays near the end of the holy month.
The Idul Fitri holiday period is characterized by attending communal prayers at the mosque or in large public squares, giving charitably, asking for forgiveness from people you have wronged, and feasting together when the fasting month is complete. On the morning or afternoon of Hari Raya Idul Fitri, Indonesian Muslims celebrate with a large feast with family members. This feast consists of various dishes that have been carefully prepared by members of the family.
Note: In consideration of the current Covid-19 outbreak, the Indonesian government has moved the four-day Idul Fitri collective leave from May 26-29 to Dec. 28-31, in line with other year-end holidays.