Sunday, March 10, 2013

Balinese New Year Monsters

Just to give you an idea of the size....

Gigantic monsters have appeared around the island of Bali. These monsters, called ogoh-ogoh, have been constructed by the men of each community as part of the celebration of Nyepi, the Balinese New Year, which begins tomorrow. Rachel and I took a drive around our town and captured a few pictures to share with you. 

These enormous figures are indeed ugly. At the same time, some of them are fascinating from the standpoint of the complexity of their construction.

Probably the most intricately-constructed ogoh-ogoh
I have seen in my area today.
Take this trio, for instance. I don't know the story behind this particular ogoh-ogoh, but if you look closely, you will see that the "bird", called a garuda, is attached to the monster by just a small area where the garuda touches the monster's fist. I didn't notice this until I examined the picture, but the monster itself isn't standing on anything. It is attached to the woman merely by a hand gripping her shoulder. The rest of his considerably-sized body is flying through the air. The woman herself is attached to the platform by a fairly small area of her skirt. She also has the appearance of flying through the air. 

Later tonight, accompanied by the gongs and bells of the gamelan orchestra, this ogoh-ogoh, along with hundreds of others around the island, will be paraded through the streets on the shoulders of dozens of young men. The young men will shake and bounce the ogoh-ogoh, and make lots of noise. All those accompanying the parade will also make noise. FIrecrackers and other noisemakers will be used. Whole families will line the streets watching the parade, enjoying a festive atmosphere. 

Three of seven ogoh-ogoh waiting for the parade later tonight.

In the homes of Balinese Hindus, at some point, the women will light bundles of leaves and grasses and use them to "sweep" the evil spirits out of their home and into the streets. There the noise and the monsters are supposed to scare them away from the island. 

For the less devout Balinese Hindus, I suppose this festival has about the same significance as Halloween does to many Americans. It is just part of tradition and culture. The young men work hard to make an impressive ogoh-ogoh for their community because prizes are given for the best one.

Some ogoh-ogoh take on a more modern flavor.
For the devout Balinese Hindus, the ogoh-ogoh parade, and the accompanying noise and frenzy, has the important function of helping to restore balance to this island by driving out the evil spirits.

Tomorrow, all throughout the island of Bali, everyone has to stay indoors and keep quiet. No stores are open. No cars or motorbikes will be on the street. The airport will be closed, so the skies above the island will be empty. Traditionally, on the day of quiet, no one is allowed to use electricity or other types of light. Technically, cooking over an open fire is not permitted. Voices must be kept quiet. 

These restrictions apply to everyone present on the island, whether Hindu or not. Even tourists who have not planned their holiday to be away from Bali at this time must stay inside the grounds of their hotel. Usually, the major hotels will have been given special permission to conduct activities on the hotel grounds for their guests.

Over the twenty years I have lived in Bali, I have seen some communities become much less strict about the quiet day. Even so, the level of noise and activity screeches to a virtual halt.

So what are the Balinese supposed to do during the quiet day? What is its significance? I have heard several explanations. 

I'm not sure of the story
behind this four-headed guy.
One explanation is that after the evil spirits have been driven out of the island , everyone is to stay inside and remain quiet in order to fool the evil spirits into thinking the island is uninhabited. They would not be interested in an uninhabited island. Of course, they find their way back during the course of the year, and the process needs to be repeated yearly.

A second explanation is that people are supposed to use the quiet day to reflect on their lives, actions, and character during the past year. What needs to be changed and given new direction in the year ahead?

As a believer in Jesus, I have no need of gigantic monsters to scare away evil spirits in order to get a fresh start with a clean slate. However, taking some time during the quiet day to reflect on my life in the past year is not a bad thing. Purposefully looking into the year ahead as I follow Jesus into all He has for me would be a wonderful way to spend at least a part of the day of quiet that starts at midnight. 

For that matter...why wait for the enforced day of quiet that goes along with Nyepi? This kind of reflection is a good discipline all throughout the year.

Is there any time of year that you take to reflect on where your life has been and where it is going? Why not share in a comment below.


  1. Again, thanks for the cultural enlightenment. It is strange that they make monsters to scare monsters away. That logic wouldn't work on my daughters, who would be more scared of a created monster than one they can't see.

    1. Yeah, I know what you mean. I guess what is important is that, in their way of thinking, the monsters they can't see ARE scared of the monsters that are created. The people themselves look at the ogoh-ogoh parade as something festive.


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