The Balinese Calendar
If you are heading to Bali in search of a land of relaxation where watches, calendars and appointment books are unheard of, you’ll be in for a surprise. While the Balinese are indeed faithful followers of the relaxed island tempo known as “jam karet” or “rubber time,” they are also among the most time conscious people in the world. And no, we don’t mean just the scores of sellers of fake Rolex and Cartier watches who swarm the streets of Kuta. We mean the many Balinese who organize their lives around the traditional Balinese calendar.
In Bali, the calendar determines good days and bad days for virtually every human activity, and many actions are only undertaken after consultation with a ritual calendar specialist or taking a glance at the comprehensive traditional calendar virtually every Balinese family has hanging on their wall. There are auspicious days for planting rice, for holding ceremonies, and for cutting down trees. There are favorable days for digging wells, building fish ponds or house foundations or learning to dance. There are times that are opportune for teaching your buffalo to plow, weaving a fishing net, or getting married. And in traditional Balinese belief, there is a direct relationship between the day of one’s birth and one’s character and potential.
A complex traditional horoscope system can tell you if your child is likely to be lazy or hard working, outgoing or shy, short tempered or patient, and who would be a suitable marriage partner for them. For children born on problematic days, special ritual offerings and ceremonies are prescribed to “kill” the influence of the day.
But following the Balinese calendar is not so easy. For Westerners used to marking the passage of days, weeks, months and years, the Balinese calendar and the traditional way of counting time it represents may come as something of a shock. The Balinese calendar has years, but there are three of them running concurrently: the Pawukon year of 210 years, the Saka year of 355 days, and the Gregorian or Western year of 365 days. Only the last two are numbered, and they are numbered differently: the Gregorian year 2000 is the Saka year 1922. It might sound confusing, but many Balinese deal with it by ignoring it. Most older Balinese and many younger ones in rural villages have only an approximate idea of what year they were born in, instead dating their birth by memorable events of the past: the Japanese occupation of Bali in the 1940s, the explosion of Mount Agung in 1963, or the beginnings of mass tourism in the 1970s and 80s.
Months and weeks as well are counted differently and, again, there are a number of cycles running concurrently. The Pawukon year has no months, just weeks – although there are ten different systems. There is a one day week, a two day week, a three day week, all the way up to a ten day week. Each day of each week has its own name, for a total of 55 day names. What’s more, each of the thirty seven-day weeks has its own name. Is your head spinning yet? There’s more. The Saka calendar is also divided into twelve lunar months, each with its own name.
And, of course, in modern Bali one must also pay attention to the Western calendar as well.