Bhuta Yajna and Nyepi 2013


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As Bali continues to reveal itself, layer by layer, like a large red onion, this year I learned so much more about the Bhuta Yajna Rituals which are performed on the day before Nyepi (the Balinese new Year).

Legend has it that on this day, Yama, the lord of evil, opens his gates and all evil deities descend upon the island. Much preparation and ceremony is undertaken to dilute this sudden onslaught of demonic presence.  Some say the ceremonies are meant to scare away the evil deities, while others claim the proceedings will awaken them so they can be placated with offerings.  Whatever the reason, the result is a fantastical display of  teamwork involving monsters, gongs, cymbals, and fireworks.

Traditionally this was a Cleansing Ritual, evil spirits being summonsed through prayer, noise and smoke. In the 1980’s the young people in the Banjar’s pushed for and were given permission to express themselves through the creation of large papier-mache statues that they parade around the street and partake in mock battles, much like a large chaotic rugby game.

Members of each banjar spend weeks designing and creating what they perceive to be the “evil du jour.”  Past years have seen effigies of George Bush and Amrozi, the Bali Bomber.  Last years favorite theme was giant ex-pat men, complete with beer and ladies of the evening.

The rabies breakout inspired the creation of dogs nipping at the heels of these Western monsters. These are, of course, the more contemporary creations, but most are still the traditional demons of Rangda, and other mythological creatures.

This year we found ourselves initially at the football field in the centre of Ubud where thousands of foreigners outnumbered the participants by at least 10 to one, so we decided to head off to Bedulu some 10km away where proceedings are more traditional. And sure enough the range of creativity displayed was  as spectacular as ever ranging from a large Ganesh-like elephant figure riding an extremely angry looking Rat God, through to a highly unflattering witch-like “Bule” (foreign) woman in short revealing skirt (yes all the details were included !).

Large groups of young men dressed in sarongs and t-shirts guard their creations with sullen faces and anticipatory glances, as on this night the evil spirits will inhabit the body of the ogoh ogoh. As the procession begins, the banjar teams raise their effigies high into the sky, and perform a fighting dance that is simultaneously graceful and insidious. The monsters appear to come to life as they spin and glide around each other.  At cross streets they are spun three times counterclockwise to confuse the spirits.

In the past, during election years, ogoh ogoh have been banned, as it is common for arak to flow freely at this event.  Emotions can run high during an ogoh ogoh procession, and conflicting political views have been known to ignite violent behavior.  In Bedulu the atmosphere was tense but friendly.

However, at the end of the night when we tried to locate the spot where the effigies are burned, and the evil is put to rest, we were politely informed that this was not something that outsiders are allowed to witness….

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By ancestortrilogy Posted in Culture

The Day of Silence – preparations for Nyepi


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The drive to the office this morning took a little longer than normal as thousands of Balinese flooded on to the streets making final preparations for Nyepi.

Bali time is normally a pretty flexible concept , but as the deadline for completing the construction of the 30,000+ Ogoh-Ogoh statues around the Island draws near, some obvious signs of sleeplessness were evident :

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Headless statues were being attended to by groups of raucous teenagers, with an application to detail that would put the western Y Generation to shame.

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On the beach at Petitenget the other night we stumbled across one of the more obscure rituals which involves 2 very life like Giants performing a story from the ancient scriptures surrounded by hundreds of chanting devotees all dressed in white. We stood and watched for over an hour and could still not work out how these puppets had been made so realistic – almost convincing ourselves that they were in fact genuine giants.

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Rituals abound, but cameras are not welcome at some of the more gruesome ones so I borrowed this stock footage picture to give my readers a feel for the vibe here.

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On my way home tonight every village was shut down to traffic as the whole population gathered to pray – only us motorcyclists could get through often driving through rice paddies to avoid the jam.

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This is last year’s prize winner in Denpasar.

Tonight we will be in Ubud, the cultural centre of Bali, to witness over 100 Ogoh Ogoh’s being paraded through the streets, many of which have been under construction for months, only to be ritually burned and dumped in a large pit.

Tomorrow is the Day of Silence – no one is allowed out in the streets, no traffic, all flights are stopped and total silence reigns the island, strictly enforced by the elegantly dressed Temple Police.

Happy Nyepi to all friends around the world – I will report back on Wednesday hopefully with some spectacular footage of tonight’s events !

Om Swast Swast Swasti Om