The Balinese Calendar

by Andrew Stein

I still remember on several of my family trips when breakfast conversation would include my dad’s explanation why that day was a lucky day—maybe the numbers made a palindrome, or summing the numbers in the date equaled someone’s age, or one number was overrepresented like on September 9, 1999. In a slightly more rigorous fashion, the Balinese calendar also includes good days (dewasa luwung) and bad days (dewasa jelek), and certain tasks, no matter how seemingly mundane, can only be done when the day so suits them.

Luckily, for my trip planning purposes, Indonesia standardizes itself around the standard Gregorian calendar; however, Bali also uses the 210-day Pawukon calendar and the Saka lunar calendar. As I’ve heard that understanding these calendar systems can be difficult for Westerners, I took such warnings as a challenge, and I then needed to study them.

Because of it’s association or lack there of with the Gregorian Calendar, the Pawukon calendar feels more like a cycle than a calendar. The simplest correlation I can draw is the 7 day week that we have become so accustomed to. The 7 day week does not fit neatly into a 365 day year, and as a result, if my birthday was on a Friday one year, it would be on a Saturday the next year, unless of course it was a leap year. That all said, I agree it is much easier to conceptualize a 7 day cycle rather than a 210 day cycle that has come to be filled with many internal cycles as well. The 210-day Pawukon calendar can be broken up into weeks, and these weeks have lengths of 1 day, 2 days, 3 days, 4 days, up to 10 days. Even more confusing is that these weeks overlap. In other words, because every day of each of the ten possible weeks has its own name (just like we use Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc), some days can have up to 10 names in the Pawukon calendar.

I will spare all of the details of this calendar system that Balinese expert Fred Eiseman describes in his book “Bali: Sekala and Niskala”, but to get a sense of how this system might get a bit confusing, I will share this one fact that I quote from Eiseman:

Determining the day name of the Dasawara, the ten-day week, is a bit more complex: add the urip [day value] of the Pancawara [5-day week] to that of the Saptawara [7-day week]. Then add 1, and divide the total by 10. The day of the ten-day week is determined by the remainder of this division.

Just the fact that days of the week have values that don’t correspond to the order they fall in a particular week and then all of these operations need to be applied to those values to determine the day of another week is no small task. Luckily, for the 5 and 7 day weeks, the days repeat in a 5 or 7 day pattern respectively.

Back to the real point of all this calendar talk, I want to figure out if the days that I’m in Bali are good days! Generally, the most important days in the Pawukon cycle occur when important days of multiple week systems intersect– sort of like our Friday the 13th. Important days occur when the last days of the 3 and 5 day week cycles overlap, which when we figure out their lowest common dominator, this can be calculated to occur every 15 days. These two days, called Kajeng and Keliwon, are good for prayers and ceremonies, but also days when evil spirits are around. It does not look like the days I am in Bali will overlap with these days, but the day I entered Bali was three, double-two, double-one, which must be a lucky day.