The new year is celebrated with pomp almost everywhere in the world. And being home to a unique culture, Bali has its own way to ring in the new year. Leave your trumpets and fireworks at home, for the Balinese are flooding the streets of their island with evil monsters.
The first day of the new caka year on the Balinese calendar, called Nyepi, is marked with complete silence. On this day, activities that involve pleasure, fire, and work are prohibited – even the airport is closed for 24 hours. In the streets, the odd stray dogs may wander past, but that’s about it. With that being said, celebrations take place across the island the evening before, with people flocking the streets of their villages to take part in the hype.
Known as Ngrupuk Parade, the new year’s eve festivity takes places literally in every village in Bali; and this includes Kuta and Seminyak (which are also villages in case you didn’t know). Each village has a number of smaller units called Banjar; and each Banjar will design and build their coolest, most evil looking giant puppet or Ogoh-Ogoh to join in the street parade.
But if you expect to see a giant Dr. Hannibal Lecter or Freddy Krueger then you’ll be disappointed, for you’re in the wrong party. The Ogoh-Ogohs are inspired by Balinese Hindu mythological demonic beings, and are intricately made from coloured paper, mirrors, suede, tinsel, bamboo, and many other materials. Hand painted and meticulously designed, these sculptures are more than just parade floats. They are alive.
The name Ogoh Ogoh is derived from the Balinese “ogah-ogah”, meaning “to shake”, and it represents the Bhuta-Kala or evil spirits, vices that need to kept away from humans. Many locals from the Banjar community will carry their Ogoh-Ogoh on the convoy, shaking it to make it look likes it’s moving and dancing. Of course, different Ogoh-Ogohs have different function, so when made to move they produce different actions.
The parade leads into an intersection, causing the convoy to circle around, which pushes the on-lookers outwards and tighter together. Then more men appear behind the float. They are playing instruments as they run and circle their village’s demon creation. All this movement and sound symbolizes a duel between the demon and the village. But the commotion doesn’t end anytime soon, for dozens of Banjars take part in our one parade. Some of the Ogoh Ogohs will then be burnt after being paraded as a symbol of purification.
There’s no clear evidence, but many argue that Ogoh-Ogohs have been used since the age of the ancient Balinese kingdom Dalem Bangkiang, when it was used as an integral part in a cremation ceremony. Others believe that Ogoh-Ogohs were first inspired by a ritual from the village of Selat in the Karangasem regency, where it was used as a medium to repel the evil spirits.
The most impressive Ogoh-Ogohs are paraded at the Puputan Square in Denpasar. Here, the Ogoh-Ogohs are not only great in artistic shape and size, but are also complete with colorful lighting and some are even motorized to create more dramatic effects. A troop of Balinese dances accompanied by live traditional music usually trails behind the float as a story teller narrates the tales of the demon on a microphone.
Nyepi day normally takes place around March or April, depending on the Balinese Calendar.