1. The Ogoh-Ogoh Parades
By five o’clock in the afternoon, locals and tourists in Sanur were already staking out prime parade watching positions at the town’s major intersection. Soon after sunset, large bamboo-and-paper effigies of demons and monsters, called ogoh-ogohs, created by Balinese youth clubs, were to be paraded down the street with lots of gleeful noise and cheerful tumult.
The ogoh-ogoh parades occur on the eve of Balinese New Year, which falls sometime in March or April. It is called Nyepi or Day of Silence when all, locals and expats and tourists alike, stay indoors for 24 hours with no lights allowed, as part of a process to cleanse the island of evil.
The ogoh-ogohs are marvelously creative. Demons and gods fly in the air while doing battle. The evil witch Rangda eyes a tasty maiden to gobble. A snarling demon rides a Harley-Davidson while giving everyone the middle finger. A pasty ghoul lurks at the gates of a Bali villa. The Balinese are unapologetically earthy, so some of these ogoh-ogohs can be rather eye-poppingly graphic.
2. The Mass Communal Kissing Event
As the young man tries to kiss the squirming young maiden, the onlookers hoot and holler their encouragement. The maiden finally surrenders to a kiss, and one of the watchers pours a bucket of water on the couple to cool any lingering passion.
The event is locally known as omed-omedan. The day after Nyepi, thousands of residents of Sesetan Village in Denpasar gather to watch this special event in which dozens of the village’s unmarried young adults pair off and kiss each other in full public display, a tradition handed down through the centuries. The kissing is no coy affair, with lots of persistence and resistance until ultimate success. Onlookers prepared with buckets of water toss the contents with abandon. Everyone gets soaking wet.
3. The Bali Kite Festival
Who doesn’t love flying a kite? Even Charlie Brown does, although his kites always get eaten by a tree.
Balinese take great delight in making and flying kites. Some time during the strong trade wind season of July and August, the annual Bali Kite Festival is held at the open fields of Padanggalak, north of Sanur. The youth of the local community banjars build special kites up to ten meters long. These kites require a truck to transport, often with a gamelan orchestra to provide accompaniment, as well as a team of fifteen or so men to launch and fly. Other kites of bizarre and fanciful construction also soar in the sky in a riot of color and form.
The festival attracts hundreds of competitors from around the island and country, as well as international entrants. Throngs of Balinese and visitors gather to watch in a grand and festive atmosphere.
4. Mass Trance at Pengerebongan Temple, Kesiman, Denpasar
A devotee in white temple dress reels through the temple gates, bellowing and roaring. He pauses with keris blade in hand and then stabs himself in the chest but remains unharmed. Dozens of other devotees also fall into a trance, the men stabbing themselves or bathing themselves in flames, the women flailing and screaming and fainting. Like a holy contagion, the trance spreads to the peripheries of the temple grounds, onlookers falling under the spell of the gods. Amongst the commotion, priests calmly stroll around, sprinkling holy water to break the trances.
Forget the Barong Dance advertised on tourist brochures. Yes, those dancers go into a trance, but that is basically for show. If you want real and raw, then go to Pengerebongan Temple, in Kesiman Denpasar, the holy festival of Kungingan, which falls every 210 days.
5. The Fire Wars at Jasri Village, East Bali
Every other year on the eve of Nyepi, at the village of Jasri at Karangasem regency, all lights are extinguished after sunset, and a full and complete dark falls. The young males of the village have prepared torches of dry coconut leaves. As priests and devotees return from a cleansing ceremony at the beach, the youth light the torches and symbolically toss a few at the procession. This, though, is only the beginning. The youth break up into two gangs, light the rest of the torches, and race toward each other with battle cries, tossing the torches like burning spears, flames piercing the night. Dense smoke and explosion of sparks rise from the battlefield. The crackle and hiss of the burning coconut leaves gives this ritual its local name of ter-teran. Some of the young warriors do get burnt, but they don’t feel the pain, and no anger is provoked. It’s all for the holy cause of cleansing the village of evil.
Written by Max Richardson.