It’s nearing midnight; Bali island is unlit and hushed – under the peculiar oxymoron of enforced peace. To say Nyepi is a day of rest and relaxation is to call Bali paradise. Statements that depend on where you are. Kintamani crater, Bedugul, areas of Bangli purportedly do as they please regardless of Saka new year (it’s now 1936, by the way).
As the exception, devotees will fast, meditate, and refrain from any kind of status updates. Otherwise, Nyepi could be compared to the fasting month in Java. While we fall a little short of the mark and compromise here and there, the day is still very significant.
Prior to ‘opposite day’ comes ‘exaggeration’. Nyepi eve (ngeropokan) there are more than the average number of ghouls around the island – as each Banjar ‘town hall’ has created great Styrofoam demons of their own (the most popular being ballerina, bikini body, blood thirsty Celuluk). Each village manifests an evil of its choice – intended for destruction, thus cleansing the island for new year.
Loud preceding silence ensures you are truly appreciative of the latter. These two acts can be interpreted a number of ways. The only version I know is the one I’ve elicited over the last three years attending Bali’s largest show at the intersection of Catur Muka, Puputan Square, Denpasar.
Once the ostracism of the island’s demons to clear the island of distractions, town halls then started receiving support money from sponsors – even political parties – to up the stakes on a potential tourist attraction. Audiences remain homogeneous, though.
So what has the introduction of money to the parade – as well as the island of Bali – achieved, and how does this parade exemplify the big picture? Well it’s uncanny just how accurately it does.
The great monsters, sometimes costing tens of thousands of US dollars, will no longer be burned. Rightfully, their creators have become proud.
There’s too much money involved now, so they’re given shelter around the island, instead – where else but in town halls.
To top it off, locals recently added a new ghoul to the pantheon: crude models of gigantic tourists. Bathing suits baring it all, nursing big green bottles and smoking glowing cigarettes, pissing on the crowd – these spitting images are not going anywhere.
You can’t have your ogoh-ogoh and burn them, too!
The old symbolic purpose of the parade has been derailed by money and consequent materialism.
Inadvertently with the times, the dynamic, new – and functional – meaning of the parade is that money is a necessary evil – and tourists are here to stay.
As in the West, each generation here seems bolder to separate the symbol and the symbolized. Perhaps due to exposure to other, more materialistic world views. For the Balinese, this could be compared to seeing Santa’s beard fall off and still feigning belief every Christmas morning for years. While many can handle the duplicity required to keep their weighty socio-religious wheels turning, contemporariness threatens so much more than just this beautiful tradition.
The dangerous idea that nothing is sacral.