If you live in, or if you’ve ever visited Bali, you’re sure to have noticed a lot of ceremonies and rituals; from a baby’s first steps, the coming of age tooth filing, marriage and cremations to days dedicated to education, trees, iron and new business openings. Many of these occur around the same time every year like Nyepi, the Balinese new year and day of silence, which always seems to happen sometime in March, but never, it seems, on the same date.
To get some insights into why and when these events are celebrated on particular days, it’s useful to understand that there are three calendars in Bali, one of which is the Gregorian calendar that we’re all familiar with; when Mondays follow Sundays and June is before July and we all know it’s the year 2023. It’s used in most of the world for official and business purposes. The other two calendars in Bali however, are different and they’re called the Saka calendar and the Pawukon calendar.
The Saka calendar is a traditional Hindu calendar that is believed to have originated in India and was adopted in Bali in the 14th century. It’s a lunar calendar based on the cycles of the moon and is used to determine religious festivals, auspicious days for ceremonies and rituals, and other important events, like Nyepi, for example.
It’s based on a 12-month cycle, with each month beginning on the day of a new moon and the months are named after the stars that are visible in the sky during each month. The Saka calendar runs 78-years behind the Gregorian calendar, which means this new year on March 22 is actually going to be welcoming 1945!
The Pawukon calendar however, is very different. It’s a unique calendar system that is unique to Bali. It’s based on a 210-day cycle that’s divided into 10-different weeks, each week consisting of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10 days. It’s used primarily to determine agricultural cycles, such as when to plant rice, and when to schedule traditional Balinese ceremonies and rituals. Each week in the Pawukon calendar is associated with a specific set of traditional Balinese ceremonies and rituals.
Here’s where things get a little more complicated, because the Pawukon calendar is also based on a combination of two cycles: a 7-day cycle and a 30-day cycle. The 7-day cycle is called the Wuku, and there are 30 different Wuku cycles that repeat over the 210-day period. While the 30-day cycle is called the Pancawara, and it’s made up of five different sets of days, each named after an element in Balinese Hindu philosophy: fire (anggara), water (bunga), air (wong), earth (beteng), and ether (kulu).
To calculate the days and weeks in the Pawukon calendar, Balinese priests use a complex system of numerical calculations and traditional astrology. The starting date of the calendar is determined by the alignment of the stars, and the calendar is adjusted periodically to account for the changing positions of celestial bodies.
Each day in the Pawukon calendar has a specific name and meaning based on the combination of the Wuku and Pancawara cycles. For example, the first day of the calendar is called “Sinta,” which is the first day of the Wuku cycle and the first day of the Pancawara cycle named after the element of fire. It’s an important cultural and religious tradition in Bali, and the Pawukon calendar’s unique system of days and weeks reflects the rich and complex history of Balinese Hindu philosophy and astrology.
So now, next time you witness a traditional Balinese ceremony you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and probe a little deeper into the island’s rich culture and learn more about what makes Bali such a special place to be.