Weeks before the Balinese New Year, scary giant puppets begin to show up all over. Each village creates its own demon in preparation for the Ngrupuk Parade the night before the Day of Silence (Nyepi). These giant puppets are made primarily from paper pulp then painted and embellished as needed.
Youths and children are organized to built the biggest, scariest puppet to represent the village. These demonic puppets, called ogoh-ogoh, represent the pollutant or disruptions of nature and life, including evil spirits. These frightening puppets, often inspired by evil mythical creatures, will be essential in the purifying procession in the evening before the New Year’s celebration.
Balinese Hindu do a lot of cleansing and preparation to welcome the new year. One of these rituals is the Melasti Ceremony, which is one of the biggest purification rituals in the culture. During this ceremony, Balinese Hindu will put on white clothing and embark on a pilgrimage to various water resources, such as the sea, to be cleansed with water via sacred rituals.
Bringing forth offerings and sacred objects, Balinese Hindu march together in a massive walking procession, which culminates at the beach.
Walking processions are led by the priests and elders, as the beats of the traditional gamelan music commands and accompanies the steps.
Various localities and villages have their own specific ways to conduct different processions. But most of the events that precede Balinese New Year have to do with cleansing and purification – letting go of sins, immoral ambitions – to welcome a brand new start.
Temple processions are also in place. In this island, nicknamed ‘the land of a thousand temples’, the day before New Year’s is arguably the busiest; locals swarm the houses of worship to pray for a better year ahead.
Symbolism is at the heart of many cultures, even more so for Balinese Hindu, who often come to worship fully adorned, loaded with the best offerings, all with deep philosophical and symbolic meanings. From the umbrella-like tedung to mythical creatures and the men’s headpieces, all things come together to represent the utmost respect and adoration for the gods.
As the day wears on, further preparations for the epic Ngrupuk Parade occurs in different spots. It won’t be long before youths from each village carry their creations along the neighborhood, trying to impress the audience lining up the streets to see which demon scares them the most this year.
Even though many of these scary puppets are inspired by mythological creatures from Hinduism, ogoh-ogoh is actually a recent tradition added to the sequence of New Year’s celebration in Bali. The first ogoh-ogoh parade was performed in the 1980s in Denpasar, Bali.
The parade continues on into the night, as og0h-ogoh are carried across the main streets and villages, often shifting directions rapidly to confuse and ward off evil spirits that may be lurking in the corners. As the dark of the night looms in, flares and torches are lit up, adding to the mystical vibe of the whole ceremony.
Traditional gamelan music keeps on playing through the night, echoing rhythmic thumps that give life to the parade. Like everyone else involved in this ceremony, gamelan players have been purified and prayed for by the local elders.
It’s time to say goodbye to the horrifying ogoh-ogoh, along with your sinful ambitions, bad intentions, and evil influences, as the symbolic evils are set on fire, marking the culmination of the parade.
The day of silence means exactly that. Everyone stays indoors and restrains from all activities, aside from praying and meditation. Businesses, aside from accommodations or some logistics, are closed entirely. Radio and television broadcasting from anywhere in the world will not be accessible on the whole island, especially in local households. No lights or fire allowed, so it’s pitch-black during the night. But it doesn’t matter, no one is allowed outside anyway. In 2018, some localities even started blocking the internet connection and turning off electricity.
The quiet atmosphere allows anyone, locals and tourists alike, to take some time off the hustle of modern life and truly reflect and meditate upon higher things in life. Many Balinese Hindu even practice fasting throughout the day.
The day after Nyepi is also a good day to receive blessings and purification from the elders, as well as making amends and forgive one other.
After the day of silence. many people show their gratitude for the blessings they’ve received the previous day by sharing and giving to those in need.
Different localities in Bali have different ways to celebrate and welcome the new year. One tradition that attracts the most attention is the omed-omedan festival hosted by the local banjar (Balinese unit for a neighborhood area) of Sesetan, Denpasar.
This festival includes various traditional performances from music to dances and entertainment by the local youths.
Year after year, domestic and foreign tourists swarm the neighborhood to see fascinating performances and taste various local treats in food stalls lining up the street and leading up to a main stage.
Interesting as all those things are, the main takeaway of omed-omedan is actually the part when the local youths kiss one another, thus the popular name ‘kissing festival’. Young men and young women will be stationed on opposing sides — one by one, pairs will meet halfway and give each other a friendly kiss or hug.
Water, as a symbol of purification, is also at the heart of the festival. During the whole procession, the festival committee will splash water from buckets or hoses, which will be met with joyful cheers from attendees, especially the kids.
This festival may sound odd or random, but omed-omedan carries an earnest zest of connecting with one another as fellow human beings, keeping order and harmony, as well as just a way to have fun with neighbors, families, even strangers.