After four nights at RIMBA and Ayana, it was time to head north to Ubud for the last leg of my stay in Bali. I was giddy to get there not just because Ubud is the artistic and cultural center of the island, but because it’s where we’d be witnessing a cultural celebration unlike any I’d seen before: Nyepi.
In short, Nyepi is Bali’s Hindu new year celebration. It goes something like this: On Nyepi eve among massive crowds of revelers, locals—many of them kids—parade 20-foot-tall grotesque goblins, called “ogoh ogoh,” into their villages’ center (in Ubud it was a giant soccer field) to attract evil spirits. (Meanwhile, bands playing Indonesian gamelan music at top decibels lend a chaotic and sinister feel to the festivities.) The ogoh ogoh are then judged (the winners receive bragging rights only) and, ultimately, set on fire. The following day, Nyepi, marks the start of the new year and is observed in total silence and under heavy restrictions: no electricity, phones, or entertainment; no travel, even on foot (tourists are confined to their hotels, and the island’s airport shuts down!); and no cooking or eating. Thus, on Nyepi day, the evil spirits attracted by the ogoh ogoh the previous day are said to be unable to find anyone to terrorize. Confused and bored, they move on from Bali for another year.
Makes our booze-soaked, ball-dropping, Auld Lang Syne-singing tradition feel a touch lame, no?
On our drive up to Ubud, the road was lined with villages preparing ogoh ogoh for their respective marches into town, with each village marching in at a designated time. Closer to Ubud, we stopped in one village square to see a whole bunch of the ugly ogoh ogoh on display…
After some window shopping in Ubud and a cold Bintang at a nearby bar, it was showtime. The parade route was packed with a crazy mix of people—locals and tourists from every corner of the globe. The ogoh ogoh were guided onto the field, but in some cases not before getting tangled in power lines or nearly blocked by tree branches.
Onto the field they go!
As if all this weren’t enough, as a bonus, I experienced Nyepi in the village of Nagi in Ubud, where locals have their own tradition—that is to say, bare-chested young males setting heaping piles of dry coconut shells and fronds on fire, then throwing the smoldering debris at one another in a flashy, fiery display of toughness (or perhaps psychosis).
A huge crowd assembled to watch—and, ostensibly, to text pictures of the ancient tradition to their friends.
When it was Nagi’s turn to send its ogoh ogoh into town, kids were gathered and given torches to light the way. Pretty sure this would never fly in the United States, but hey—when in Rome…
Off they go, into the night, leaving an impression this wide-eyed reveler won’t ever forget.
Have you ever witnessed a foreign culture’s major celebration? Tell me about it in the Comments section!