Have you ever wondered what a completely silent day would feel like? Our March Bali cycling tour is your chance to come and find out.
At the moment as we ride and drive around the Balinese villages, papier-mâché structures can be seen taking shape in the open pavilions of the village gathering places as Nyepi approaches. Ogoh Ogoh are being born. It’s so exciting I could burst!
We are getting ready for Nyepi. Technically this the Balinese New Year, although the calendar New Year was celebrated on Jan 1st and even the Chinese New Year noticed, any excuse to celebrate in Bali really, is never passed up.
Nyepi Day Celebrations
This celebration though, Nyepi day is MASSIVE, unique to Bali, and something you have to see to believe. There is a lot to it, just like all Bali celebrations, they can take place over a full Hindu calendar month (35 days). Nyepi preparation starts weeks out and there are set processes, for example carting all the statues from each temple down to the water for washing. That looks amazing, all the communities form lines and proceed from temple to water, clutching either a stone ornament or offering to lay down. There is also a day for replacing the items again. It’s all very beautiful, however, I’m going to cut to the good stuff. Nyepi Day.
In a way, it’s similar to Halloween. On Nyepi Eve all the demons and evil spirits of the year are coaxed out of hiding with a parade of Ogoh Ogoh (said oggah- oogah, like the start of the song “ogga ogga ogga chattcha”).
Ogoh Ogoh are constructed from wire, paper, polystyrene and bamboo to resemble all the naughtiness in the world, temptation, lies and greed in the form of spirits. At this point in time with a month to go, some are still wire frames, others headless but just about ready for spray painting.
The structures are entirely created by village youth groups, boys aged 10-18. No assistance from adults at all. The boys are required to organise themselves, generate their funding to purchase materials, design, construct and parade their own Ogoh Ogoh, (which explains why some of them are almost finished and some not yet started.)
As artworks alone the Ogoh Ogoh are stunning.
As a way for young boys to express their youth and just be boys, it’s enlightening
As a community project they are simply breathtaking
The first time we experienced Nyepi, we were only excited about the parade, the rest we just had to live with. We chose Denpasar as our location as they have the most communities, therefore the most Ogoh Ogoh. We found a homestay, in a traditional family compound where we had a bedroom, bathroom and air con within walking distance to the main intersection so we could easily get to the parade.
What I didn’t expect was the professional finish of the Ogoh Ogoh, that these sculptures are pure papier-mâché is impossible! Made by kids! HOW!? If I didn’t actually see them air brushing the final touches I seriously wouldn’t have believed them.
We also didn’t fully appreciate how big they would be. Some were well over 10 foot and require a frontline of boys with bamboo poles to lift power lines as the parade continued. A small group of boys, usually younger, would present a small Ogoh Ogoh, usually earlier in the day, bigger Banjar, some even 100 strong, would bring the big guns.
We asked our hostess if we could please donate $10 to her choice of Banjar. She actually got teary with gratitude as her own sons, (10 and 12 years) were parading. We said, ‘Sure, give it to them.’ She was so delighted and the boys posed for some photos.
Finishing touches were still being done even on the day of the parade. Roads were completely blocked off, the entire island of Bali came to watch, lining the streets to get a look and to cheer the boys on. Each group had their own music blasting from a stereo and danced and cavorted like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s how you might imagine an all boys school would look without teachers.
Not all Ogoh Ogoh are created equal, some are not able to withstand the parade jostle and legs and arms or heads tumble to the street. That’s okay, just thrown it onto the cart and keep dancing. If the frame they carry became weak then the troop set to kill. It’s all out jumping, stomping, stamping until the beast was ripped to shreds. The joy on their faces as they destroy it was just amazing.
In our western culture, we spend all our time getting our sons not to break things. It’s wearing on parents energy and finances as everything from the knees of jeans to vases are systematically destroyed. What if we gave our kids one night when they can just be boys, get it out of their system? I’m not someone who is gender specific when it comes to toys and books, clothes and careers, but while we are all human and have so many traits and passions in common, boys and girls, men and women are also different, we have different energy, different hormones and sometimes, just on special occasions, we need to express that. It’s something I didn’t appreciate until I saw it in action, then I was, “wow, we need this at home.”
If you didn’t know the purpose of Ogoh Ogoh you might think jumping up and down on one a bit extreme. Actually, they are just a little early.
As the Ogoh Ogoh are paraded through the streets the naughty spirits think they are real. They come out to play, to dance, to celebrate being naughty. They come from wells and trees and their hiding holes to parade with their papier-mâché brothers.
What’s waiting for them at midnight is an ambush. The most violent one an evil spirit can imagine. The parade will come to a stop at an oval and then, when the spirits are unprotected in the open, they are taken out. Fireworks go off, Ogoh Ogoh are destroyed, set fire to, beheaded, stamped to death. The whole community makes as much noise as possible using whatever banging device they have on hand. If you are an evil spirit you are terrified. This is no longer fun, earth is not a good place to be and they retreat from here back to their homes in the spirit world.
The trick has worked. The sacrifice of Ogoh Ogoh has them quivering in fear.
Now for step two.
The day of silence and self-reflection
Nyepi: The Day of Silence
From 6am Nyepi Day to 6am the following day is a day of self-reflection.
The list of prohibited items is staggering. No work, no pleasure (including entertainment), no travel, and for the very strict, no speaking. The bustle of Bali is completely silenced and everyone goes into hiding.
No one is allowed outside, no noise is allowed to be made. No cooking, no TV, no power. Nyepi Day is a day of total silence. Now, when the evil spirits recover from their shock, or new spirits come to choose their playground, they will sail over the rooftops of Bali and see nothing interesting.
Boring. Abandoned. What kind of evil can a spirit reek if there is no one to play tricks on? The spirit will keep flying, go to another place, and settle in and be naughty there, and the people of Bali get to start their year, fresh and clean. Earth is clean for today and you yourself are clean, having only pure thoughts and no distractions.
We had prepared for our day of silence by gathering little batches of delicious treats to see us through our day of isolation. No pleasure, um, no thankyou. The Balinese are never really strict on anything, the rules are always flexible, so for non-Hindu tourists, especially in resorts and hotels, you can have power, you can relax by the pool (even though it’s in the open) just don’t leave the facility, please. If you do venture out a police officer will escort you immediately home. I would ask that you please, please respect the day of Nyepi. Stay hidden, stay quiet, let the evil pass.
I wasn’t expecting that it would be anything much, but this was way more fun than the Ogoh Ogoh parade. As requested we closed the curtains and didn’t open them all day. We didn’t care what time we got up. We watched movies with headphone in. We slept. We lay in the silence, we had deep conversations (you’re technically not supposed to engage in lovemaking… who exactly is going to stop you though, just…don’t advertise what you’re doing with noisiness). It was the most blissed out rejuvenating day ever. A day where you literally can’t do anything.
EVERYTHING is closed. Even if you did go out, what would it be for? Not a single store is open, no restaurant, minimal staff stay at police stations and hospitals. The airport is in total lock down. There is nothing to see and nothing to do but embrace the silence and stillness. It’s just stunning.
In the evening, as the sun was setting and the day cooling off we tiptoed out with our dinner to our veranda table and sat and listened to silence and enjoyed the cool breeze.
Our hostess came across the compound silently and offered us “quail” She had cooked this speciality for us. Wow! I think it was sparrow. I’m very very sure it was sparrow but her generosity was welcomed. She also invited us to go silently to the gate and peek out at the emptiness of the street soaked in setting sunlight. WOW.
In Love With Nyepi
I fell in love instantly and we made a pact to do Nyepi Day no matter where we were. Just shut ourselves in and do nothing for 24 hours. You know what, it didn’t work. Back home with the world moving outside, it just isn’t magical or restful. Bali is the only place on earth you can experience Nyepi. True stillness and silence surrounded by people.
This time around we got our donation in earlier, since we didn’t land three days before the event, we could approach the Banjar in Canguu and give our donation to the youth leaders in person. We got a receipt in return (which is actually their application for funding) and the two boys, well, youths, they were probably 18 were the most humble happy people you can imagine. Strong, sweet and well mannered. I wish I gave them more. My aim next year is to give real donations, proper amounts that enable them to have the night of their lives. It’s short, this life, let’s have some fun!
Following Nyepi comes the day of forgiveness. Which is where we first came to know the sacred spring of Tirta Empul. We loved the experience so much we added it to our Bali by Bike cycling tour, but that’s a whole different story, that’ll save for another day.
This year 2017 Nyepi will be celebrated on March 28th.
We would love to offer you a chance to experience this stunning event in Canguu on March 27th, in particular a parade from the nearby district Mengui, who are famous for their wood carvings (jogglo) and their Ogoh Ogoh are more stunning in detail because of that. Following the Day of Silence we will cycle to Tanah Lot and you can experience the Balinese forgiveness ceremony. Then continue on our Bali by Bike tour around the island over the next 4 days, including Tirta Empul.
Spots are limited to 10 riders, with non-cycling guests welcome.
If you are coming to Bali for Nyepi and would like to know the best location to see the Ogoh Ogoh parade close to your accommodation, feel free to email us, we’d be so happy to help.
By Honey Writer