Its not easy being a demon spirit on Bali, especially around Nyepi time! Well, that’s the feeling I get anyway when I see the amount of effort that the Balinese go to on this very special day in order to repel evil spirits from their homes, towns, and the island in general.On the day before Nyepi (Balinese New Year) known as Tawur Kesanga, household members spend the day preparing food, sprinkling rice over roads and walkways and making as much noise as possible. Pots, cups, wooden blocks, anything that can add to the cacophony of noise drowning out the island is banged by family members in order to chase the bad spirits out of the house and into the open air in the hopes of banishing them from the area. Having seen plenty of paintings of these devilish creatures, they always seem to be depicted with large, so it’s no wonder to me that they flee the homes to escape the noise!

Nyepi preparations

Nyepi music

As the sun sets over this beautiful island we make our way down to Ubud, where 4 main roads dissect each other in the middle of the town. Apparently demons meet at crossroads here on Bali and the local Balinese will be putting on shows, dancing, singing, playing traditional Balinese music and in general, making merry.

Although I was a little disappointed not to get to meet the infamous Robert Johnson at these crossroads, my disappointment didn’t last long. The intersection was packed full of demons of all shapes and sizes flashing their fangs, long crazy hair and big butts at anyone that was interested in looking. A local boy I spoke to reassured me that despite their lifelike appearances, these Ogoh-Ogoh or replications of spirits taken from Bali folklore were all man-made and therefore harmless.

ooga oogaI found a tree to climb, and from my lofty vantage point enjoyed watching and cheering as the Balinese marched their Ogoh-Ogoh’s down the streets while screaming and banging their drums in a metaphorical effort to banish them from the island. It is truly one of the most beautiful, and original carnivals I have ever witnessed in all my travels across the globe. At the end of the evening, the Ogoh-Ogoh’s are piled together in all their splendor and glory and set alight. No translation of purpose required here I don’t think…

Unlike the Western world that insist on bringing in each new year with a riotous party and huge hangover, the Balinese bring in the new year with a day of silence. The airport is shut down, no traffic is allowed on the roads and everyone, including the tourists, need to stay indoors for the entire day. Local legends state that many evil spirits are flying above the island and the Balinese want to give them the impression that the island is uninhabited, and therefore of absolutely no interest to them. Realistically, and from my experience as a non-Balinese tourist, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to spend a new years day, albeit during March, in peace and quiet. I have rarely had the opportunity to see in a new year without a hangover and have found the experience to be one of introspection, contemplation and relaxation.

Today is Ngembak Geni, the first day of the Balinese New Year, and as I sit on the porch of my beautiful rented villa I observe another magical Hindu tradition. Local families and friends are all visiting each others houses to ask for forgiveness for any transgression from the previous year, and to wish everyone prosperity and happiness for the coming year.

There are many great lessons for a western tourist such as myself to be taken from this fantastic tradition, but I think my favorite one is that a day of enforced relaxation and introspection can be the most rejuvenating and invigorating experience of the year.

Many thanks to Nana Artana for the Photos