The Elegance of the Balinese Penjor

If I thought Bali was beautiful before, I had no idea what was in the works for the ten day Galungan celebration. Every Balinese friend I talked to spoke excitedly about Galungan and the penjor. The words had no meaning for me. So although their excitement was contagious, and even though they attempted to explain, I was clueless. As the day drew closer the energy of the island intensified. Then I got an invitation. Pasek, the manager of several properties including my house, invited me to his village for the temple ceremonies and the first day of Galungan. His village is high in the mountains and if there is a beaten track his home is significantly beyond that. I was deeply honored to be included in the special time for his family. So even though it meant another very long motorbike ride (over an hour one way) and subjecting myself to the roads that snake their way to the top shrinking ever smaller as they ascend, I eagerly accepted.

Pasek in his family temple with a few of the many many offerings

Pasek with his wife, his father, and his three children in the traditional Balinese ceremonial dress.

The experience was profoundly personal and I am grateful to have been so generously welcomed to share in the ancient practices still alive today.

On the ride to Pasek’s village on Mt. Batur, we passed thousands of penjor. I am not exaggerating…thousands! I kept exclaiming to the wind rushing past my ears, “Oh! Wow! Beautiful! Oh! Look at that one! Wow!” etc. etc.  That was yesterday. Today I straddled Ketut’s motorbike and off we went on a penjor photo adventure! He took me through village after village and stopped, waiting patiently while I walked from one glorious creation to the next, shooting, shooting, shooting.  Just by way of a quick explanation, penjor is synonymous with Mt. Agung, the highest and holiest mountain on Bali. Every single one of these gracefully arched, fancifully decorated bamboo poles is different. They are made by the family who owns the property abutting the street. There are offerings attached and there is often a little temple beside the penjor.

Penjors line the village streets

Another village…

And another…

At about 9 feet from the ground, the first work of art manifests. The following are a few examples of once again, thousands of variations on the theme.

The entire penjor is made from items occurring in nature and basic to Balinese life.

The tassels waving in the breezes high above the street are also marvelous and diverse creations.

The poles themselves are completely covered from top to bottom with exquisite woven, fringed, and looped designs that defy verbal explanation.

This one deserved a close-up…

Some of the penjors had a woven strip forming a ramp to the offering. Ketut told me these special weavings signify a family wedding.

These amazing displays remain in place for the 10 days of Galungan, then they are gone and next year, in the 11th month of their 210 day calendar, it happens all over again. The closest thing to it in the U.S. are the street decorations at Christmas. I won’t shove it down your throat, you can draw your own conclusions, but it doesn’t seem quite the same…

I’ve given you a small taste, a sweet one I hope, of the elegance of the penjor.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lottie Nevin
    Aug 30, 2012 @ 06:36:12

    How exciting, and how sorry we are to be missing it 😦

    Wowsers, those decorations are something else – I know it takes the ladies weeks and weeks to make them but of my gosh, they are beautiful. Kind of beats paper chains hands down doesn’t it?!!

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  2. Barb Garland
    Aug 30, 2012 @ 08:59:22

    Too magical for words and you look vitally alive. xoxox

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  3. Diane Struble
    Aug 30, 2012 @ 23:58:59

    The Balinese certainly do things with beauty and grace.

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  4. Kasprick KATHLEEN
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 09:46:34

    Dear Sheri, Your writing helps me feel closer to you and prompts urgings to see the lovely Bali. While I am not the adventurer you are, a real life list-maker and must-doer is my DNA encoding, I am pondering February in Bali. Blessing on your journey.

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