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  • Writer's pictureBeccy Fox

Past Thoughts from Bali part 2: Celebrating New Year

I love the way the Balinese celebrate their new year. In one way, not unlike a traditional New Year in England. New Year's Eve full of people, noise and fireworks. New Year's Day: silence, hangover. However, this was actually quite unlike anything I have experienced before. New Year's Day in Bali is called Nyepi. On the day before Nyepi huge statues called Ogoh Ogoh are paraded through the village accompanied by hundreds of people and loud music.

I was lucky enough to experience this in my friend's village in the North of the island. As we drove North through the mountains that afternoon we saw dozens of Ogoh Ogoh on the side of the road waiting for their parade. Some over 4 metres tall, all amazing works of art. We neared our destination and I heard what sounded like bombs exploding. This was the sound of bamboo cannons being let off by children across the road.

The point of this is not only to maim unsuspecting road users, but also to rouse the demons and drive them off the island. People make as much noise as possible, banging saucepans around their homes, to exorcise the bad spirits. The Ogoh Ogoh are paraded through the villages accompanied by as much noise as possible as part of this ritual.

The Ogoh Ogoh were marched up and down the street after dark. I had a ring side seat, sat like Lady Muck on a blue plastic chair on the side of the road, enjoying a glass of local rose wine. The procession was accompanied by gamelan: traditional Balinese music.

Then the Ogoh Ogoh were taken down to the beach. There were five of them, all placed in a line looking out to sea. The Ogoh Ogoh were set on fire, fireworks were let off. This all made me think of Guy Fawkes night back home, although the Balinese Ogoh Ogoh beat an English Guy hands down. The plumes of smoke drifted off to sea. Good bye to the demons.

The next day was incredible. Nyepi. The day of silence. No traffic, no music, the airport was closed. Even the mosques respect this day and their minarets were silent. Apparently, this day of silence tricks any remaining demons into thinking that the island is deserted and they move on. In reality there was quite a lot of noise. The chickens, pigs and birds seemed to be louder than usual, taking advantage of a day when they have no other noise to compete with. At night time only candlelight was allowed. There were special security patrols to ensure safety but also to make sure there were not too many lights shining. The stars were million-fold. Again the local wildlife took advantage of the situation, we were serenaded by cicadas, frogs and bats. It was a magical twenty four hours.

As with so many things in this extraordinary place, Nyepi and the ceremonies and rituals that accompanied this day took my breath away. It made me ponder, could we all do with a day like this, wherever we are living?

First posted March 2008


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