March is special in Bali. The 17th of March is the first day of Saka New Year 1940. Saka Year is from the Balinese Lunar Calendar System which consists of 12 months and 30 days of each month, and the Balinese Hindu celebrates the first day of the year by exercising Catur Brata Penyepian, which involves not engaging in work, not lighting a fire or any kind of lights, not going anywhere and not looking for any kind of entertainment. Hence, during Nyepi, with great tolerance from others, the island grinds to a halt for a day. With no one on the streets, no lights, no sound, the island is recharging it self.
The excitement of welcoming the new year started few weeks before. A series of ceremonies begins a week before the new year, in fact a month before, the youth have already started building Ogoh-ogoh for the end year parade that aims to cleanse the neighbourhood from negative energy. This is part of the Balinese Hindu belief that everything must be purified to welcome the new year. The series begins with Melasti, cleansing ceremony for temples’ sacred attributes; a long march from community temple to the sea where the attributes cleansed. And then, the day before Nyepi (this year it falls on the 16th of March), a ceremony called Mecaru is set in motion to give sacrifice to the hungry and wild souls that live in the underworld. This is conducted in Jagadnatha Temple – the temple to worship Mother Earth, and other particular temples.
Just before dusk, every family conducts a cleansing ceremony in their compound. The event, which involves more than one person, seeks to clean the house from negative spirits. The holy water, gathered from the temple in the morning, is sprayed all over the house, followed closely behind is a family member carrying a fire torch and broom, and the last is the noise maker, a person who makes noise from beating any kind of item that can make a loud noise. This small parade should go to every part of the house.
At dusk the youth gathers in the community centre and prepares for the Ogoh-ogoh parade. The Ogoh-Ogoh Parade has become part of the Saka New Year celebration since the early 80’s, especially in 1983 when the government announced Nyepi as national holiday and Ogoh-ogoh took part in the Bali Art Festival. On the eve of Nyepi, when ATMs have shut off and all 24 hours shops have locked its door and the street lights put out, people flock to the streets longing to watch the Ogoh-Ogoh Parade. There are some spots in the south part of the island that is famous for grand parades, which are Semawang in Sanur, Intern in Sanur, Legian, Kuta, Simpang Enam in Denpasar, and of course the centre where the biggest competition takes place, which is Alun-Alun Puputan Badung.
Every year the parade gets more interesting. It seems like there is always something new; new inventions, new choreographies, and new music arrangements. Before, let say 10 years ago, Ogoh-ogoh parades are usually accompanied only by Bleganjur (the simplest set of Gamelan orchestra), but these last five years, Ogoh-Ogoh parades are not only about monster statues and Bleganjur, it is completed with a back story narrated through captivating choreographed dance. In 2016, the parades in Semawang in Sanur were captivating. There was a group who combined traditional Balinese dance with fire dances creating a cutting edge contemporary performance, there was also a group who carried a great blend of theatrical dance and puppetry, and so on. It was spectacular. The parades now definitely involve many new talents who spare their valuable time to serve their community, to make their community proud and to extend the tradition. The dance and other performances that you might see in the parade are something that you won’t see on a regular stage.
So don’t miss it! Get out on to the streets and enjoy the parade. Let’s begin our journey for the Saka Year 1939 with a clean mind, soul, body and environment!