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Back to Home Page Features April 11, 2002

MELASTI RITUAL: Members of a clan pray at Padanggalak beach,  some ten kilometers east of Denpasar, in the final stage of the Melasti ritual. Thousands of Balinese Hindu followers on Wednesday  carried their clan and temple Pretima (sacred effigy) and marched to various beaches in the resort island to conduct the annual ritual,  which aims at repurifying both the effigies and the people who hold  them sacred. Melasti also aims at preparing Hindu followers to    observe the four brata (prohibitions) of the Hindu Saka New Year Celebration of Nyepi, which will fall on Saturday, April 13. (JP/I Wayan Juniartha)

Watch out, it's scary demons everywhere

I Wayan Juniartha, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

Balinese youth have a very unique way of reminding everybody that Nyepi, the Hindu Day of Silence, is near: by trying to scare everybody off.

Take for instance the youth of Bengkel, a small suburban hamlet in Denpasar. They have erected a three-meter tall, ugly looking doll of the traditional long-haired witch character Rangda in front of their community hall, which happens to be conveniently located next to a busy intersection. 

In broad daylight the doll surely will not be able to frighten anybody, not even a small child. But, what if you happen to pass that road after midnight, when the street is deserted and the chilling darkness surrounds you, and all of sudden your car's front lamps gradually reveal a huge hairy figure, with long fingernails, four sets of dreadful fangs looking down at you with a menacing grin on its face? You will certainly hold your breath for a moment in fright. 

"Well, let me assure you we harbor no intention of frightening passing motorists. But if the doll is, somehow, delivering that kind of effect, than it means that we have done a pretty good job of making it so realistic," a local youth said solemnly. 

Yes, they have done a good job of it, so have numerous other youth organizations across Denpasar. That is the reason why in the past couple of days the city's streets seem to have been taken over by hundreds of monstrous creatures. The chariot-riding, purple (yes, purple!) giant at Sesetan Street, three screaming ogres at Balun and two fighting Rangda on busy Kartini Street are a few other examples of that fine job. 

"We have to place it (the doll) in an open area, like next to the street because of the doll's huge size. Another obvious reason is, we want to show off our work for all the people to see," he said. 

Initially, the giant dolls, popularly known as ogoh-ogoh, were created as the symbol of demonic spirits. In the Ngerupuk ritual, a sort of exorcism ritual taking place the night before Nyepi, the ogoh-ogoh are paraded around the village area to ward off any evil spirits. 

In the parade, the ogoh-ogoh is accompanied by hundreds of screaming people carrying torches, striking gongs or manipulating any sound-producing implements available in an apparent attempt to scare away the demons. At the end of the ritual, the ogoh-ogoh is usually taken to the village's main intersection and set on fire. 

A day after the Ngerupuk ritual, Bali will become a deserted island when everybody observes the no fire, no travel, no work, and no leisure regulations of Nyepi. This year, Nyepi, the day of total silence and contemplation, will fall on April 13. 

The tradition of creating ogoh-ogoh became popular in the middle of the 1980s. Now, it has became somewhat of a routine event,    with each youth group spending millions of rupiah making ogoh-ogoh. The necessary money is raised by asking the members of the local banjar (hamlet) for donations. 

The doll is usually made of wood or bamboo, which is later covered with papier-mache, used paper and styrofoam, before it is painted with striking colors. In the early days, the artists drew their inspiration from Balinese folklore and Hindu mythology, where demonic characters with intimidating physical appearances were easy to find. The giant Bhuta or Raksasa, the witch Rangda and the dragon Naga were the most common forms of ogoh-ogoh at that time. 

These days, they are also exploiting demonic characters from different cultural ponds. The all black, hooded and faceless angel of death, with a big scythe is one of the first foreign demonic characters adopted by the Balinese youth. Then came the all black, hooded and faceless figure brandishing a giant syringe, the Demon of Narcotics, or the giant trolls or witches with hoods and brooms. 

"It's no longer a matter of creating a symbol of demonic spirits. Ogoh-ogoh has now became a medium through which Balinese youth channel their collective artistic urges and through which they unconsciously reveal the dynamic change of their surrounding cultural and social landscape. They are not duplicating the 'old' demons of the ancient scriptures, instead they are portraying the 'new' temptations of this modern world," local cultural observer Sugi B. Lanus explains. 

Well, that explains the Satanic Shinchan ogoh-ogoh in the Lebah hamlet. The ogoh-ogoh is obviously inspired by the popular Japanese comic book and cartoon character Crayon Shinchan, a source of incessant heated debate between parents, who dislike Shinchan for his socially "unacceptable" attitude, and his fans, who are thrilled by his unpredictable naivete. 

In some respects, this new development will surely make the upcoming Ngerupuk ritual, which will fall on the night of April 12, more colorful and entertaining. And, honestly, I am looking forward to seeing the Ogoh-ogoh of the Teletubbies characters reportedly created by the youths at the village of Sibang. 

Those cute and colorful Tinky, Winky, Dipsy, Laa-laa, and Po characters undoubtedly will heal my trauma caused by bumping into the scary Rangda. So, happy Nyepi

Things you can and cannot do during Nyepi

On April 13, Balinese Hindus will observe the Hindu Day of Silence, or Nyepi Day, by following the four brata (prohibitions) of not lighting fires, not working, not traveling and not partaking in any leisure activities. 

The streets will be empty, public services will be halted and shops and entertainment venues will be closed down. 

Groups of Pecalang (traditional guards), adult males wearing black or red shirts with checkered black and white sarongs and carrying kris, will patrol the streets in their respective areas to enforce the prohibitions. These guards usually take their duties seriously. The Pecalang in villages near resort areas, such as Kuta, Sanur and Nusa Dua, are generally stricter than in any other area in Bali. 

Visitors and non-Hindu residents are expected to show respect by also observing the four prohibitions. Foreign tourists staying in hotels are advised to check with the hotel management on any particular arrangements prepared by the hotel for Nyepi Day. Swimming, sunbathing or jogging on the beach are strictly out of question. 

If there is an emergency, ask for the assistance of the local Pecalang

* The Ngurah Rai International Airport (0361-751011/751020) will close at 6 a.m. on April 13 and will resume operations the next day at 6 a.m. No flights, domestic or international, will be available during that period. The airport authorities will provide services only to transit flights and any flights that must land due to an emergency. 

* The Padangbay Seaport (0364-41515), some 70 kilometers east of Denpasar will close at 6 a.m. on April 13, and will resume its operations the next day at 6 a.m. 

* The Gilimanuk Seaport (0365-61259), some 130 kilometers west of Denpasar, will be closed from 6 a.m. on April 13 to 6 a.m. the following day. The port authority will begin halting operations at midnight. Any passengers who come to the port after this time will still be able to cross to Java aboard a ship that will be on stand-by until 5 a.m. on April 13. 

* The Benoa Harbor (0361-720225/721122) will stop issuing port clearances for inbound and outbound ships from 6 a.m. on April 13 until 6 a.m. the next day. Crews of those ships anchored in the harbor will not be allowed to engage in any activities, including turning on lamps. 

* The Bali Central Hospital in Sanglah (0361-227911) will operate as usual. Ambulance services will be available for medical emergencies, but will be escorted by hospital security guards dressed in Pecalang's attire.

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