Which it is, in the Balinese calendar. This weekend we put on our party pants (er, sarongs) and joined in the festivities to celebrate the new year.
Friday night, after stocking up the villa for the weekend, we attended a local ogoh-ogoh procession. The banjar (neighborhoods) in each village parade their giant monsters through the streets, along with representatives from the banjar: some dressed as Hindu characters from traditional stories, some carrying torches, some drumming and singing. The men in the banjar carry the bamboo platform that holds the monstrous ogoh on their shoulders, spinning it around three times at each junction, with the intention of scaring and confusing the evil spirits so they leave the island.
The Balinese have been working on these effigies for months, and some are truly frightening. We saw skeletons with drool dripping down their jaws, beasts with thick claws and bared teeth, giants with a crown of snake heads. Most of the ogoh-ogoh are based on traditional Hindu stories, and all are incredibly detailed. Many added extra bells and whistles: flashing lights, spinning shields, even fog machines. They were terrifyingly meticulous.
In many ways, the parade felt like any festival in the States. Each banjar was represented. A group of heavily made up and dressed up young women carried a sign stating which banjar they belonged to, followed by a vast array of men, women and children. Then youth came, carrying torches and wearing matching t-shirts and sarongs. Young boys carried a practice bamboo base, much smaller in scale than the ones bearing an ogoh-ogoh, preparing for the day when they will be in charge of the monster. Next a band came through, banging on drums, clanging cymbals, ringing bells. Finally, the men arrived with the monster, sweating from the heat of the night and the weight of the ogoh-ogoh, moving in unison.
At the end of the parade route, the monsters were deposited into a field, where they remain until they are burned. Food vendors and carnivalesque toys lined the edges of the field, and families gathered late into the night. When we left, it was just like leaving fireworks on the 4th of July. Parts of the main road were closed, and we were redirected down back roads, at one point driving through an alleyway barely as wide as my wingspan, with a steady stream of motorbikes sputtering by in both directions.
Saturday was Nyepi, or the Day of Silence. It is a day of reflection, meditation, and, for some, fasting (which, besides being a spiritual practice for the individual, will also confuse any rogue evil spirits still lingering around, making the island appear deserted). Certain protocol is followed, even by the non-Hindus in Bali. Everyone stays inside, and traditionally, there is no fire, little to no electricity, no work, no travel, and no entertainment. The streets are abandoned, the houses are silent, even the airport is closed.
As bule, or foreigners, we are exempt from very few aspects of Nyepi. We could not leave the villa all day, could not speak loudly enough for voices to carry, could not play loud music, and needed to keep the lights off or low once the sun set. We did not get a visit from the pecalang telling us to quiet down or blow out candles, but many others did.
So what do you do on a day of silence? We kept ourselves occupied with 108 sweaty, sweaty sun salutations, a (mostly) silent swim, some reading and writing and game playing, loads of cooking (it takes so much time to feed 7 people!), and a late-night film. The star gazing was the most incredible part, though. With little to no light pollution, every single inch of the sky was twinkling. It was similar to the kind of sky I’ve only seen in the desert in Egypt.
The 24 hours passed quite quickly, because even Days of Silence are easy-peasy with great friends.