Calon Arang is a folk story that has been passed down from generation to generation. This village myth  is believed to be first told in Java and brought to Bali during the migration of the people of the Majapahit Kingdom, along with the Hindu teaching.

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Calon Arang was a widow, she and her beautiful daughter Ratna Manggali lived in Girah, part of the Daha Empire which was ruled by Maharaja Erlangga, a wise and just king. Sadly, no one wanted to marry Ratna, the blooming flower of Girah, as everyone was afraid of her evil mother and her supposed powers. Enraged, Calon Arang read her book of sorcery and went to the cemetery to meditate. In her meditation she summoned the goddess Durga to bless her with supernatural powers.

So every night she went to the temple to do a ritual for the Goddess and from there she would wash her hair with the blood of the dead, removing their intestines to wear as jewelry. Thus equipped she transformed herself into Rangda, and she and her apprentice went dancing and romping around the village to spread disease and pestilence.

King Erlangga realized the threat to his empire and sent some powerful men to deal with Calon Arang, but she defeated all in battle. Finally he asked a powerful and respected priest, Mpu Baradah, to kill the bewitched widow. The priest sent his son to marry Ratna Manggali, the daughter of Calon Arang, as a strategy to steal her book of sorcery, the source of Calon Arang’s knowledge of deadly supernatural powers.

The deed was done and the book was soon in the hands of Mpu Baradah. Having studied the book, the priest took on Calon Arang. His apprentices attacked her with daggers but Calon Arang used her powers to turn their own daggers against them. Finally the priest appeared in the form of Barong and protected his people against Calon Arang’s influence with his power.

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The legend has inspired the performing arts world in Bali, the story is thus told through dance, drama, and puppet shows. It has also inspired some artists to make beautiful works of art, from paintings to carvings, masks and also ogoh-ogoh, gigantic effigies made of weaved bamboo and papier-mâché which are then paraded on the street on the eve of the Caka New Year.

This year, the Caka New Year celebration, known as Nyepi, was held in March. To continue the tradition, Banjar Semawang (a village community) in Sanur  held an Ogoh-ogoh festival involving four other communities in Sanur, which are Blanjong, Tanjung, Bet Ngandang and Batu Jimbar. The event’s theme focused on the frightening story of Calon Arang.  Each banjar made more than one Ogoh-Ogoh inspired by the characters in the folk story. The evening was made even more remarkable as each of the Ogoh-Ogoh was accompanied by a group of gamelan and a group of dancers.

It was awesome to see the varied interpretations of one story. Each group took different fragments of the story and transformed it into a beautiful dance featuring the gigantic – and frightening – Ogoh-ogoh, accompanied by dynamic music from the gamelan orchestra. The festival was interesting from the beginning to the end. Nyoman Mahardika and Ketut Wirata made the first Ogoh-ogoh in 1982, both are artists from Jembrana Regency in the west part of the island. They made these statue to be paraded around the village during the ceremony of evicting evil spirits the night before Nyepi (Bhuta Yajna). The term ogoh-ogoh means ‘shaking’. This is because the group who carries the statue should shake the statue to make it seem alive. The art of ogoh-ogoh spread all over the island after the ogoh-ogoh was included in the Bali Art Festival in the mid 80‘s. The ogoh-ogoh is not part of an ancient tradition inherited from ancestors.

Making Ogoh-ogoh requires commitment, a strong sense of togetherness and cooperation; it is the work of the entire community. Everyone is involved, regardless of age and gender. The spirit to commemorate the New Year and the belief that a new year should start with cleansing sekala (the seen) and niskala (the unseen) has tied the community closer together.

About Author :

Kartika D. Suardana

Iceland Vodka
Bali Island School



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