Balinese New Year

Indonesia is the fourth most populous country just behind the U.S. There are over 18,000 islands in the archipelago yet, the majority of the population is concentrated on a handful of islands including: Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Borneo, New Guinea and Bali (little fun fact for all you geography nerds out there!).

Bali represents less than 2% of the population and is 98% Hindu positioned, (somewhat unfortunately), in the middle of a country that is more than 90% Muslim. It can be a tough road at times. The implications for being significantly outnumbered translate into less representation in government and frequent religious intolerance. However, most Balinese rarely complain. Balinese Hinduism is woven throughout the culture — the signs are everywhere. From the “temples” that are erected in all houses and buildings, to the daily offerings that are made everywhere you look (and step!). The fundamental concept of Hinduism is the assumption of order to the cosmos known as Dharma and the objective is to achieve balance between good and evil (adharma) to achieve “moksa” — their version of heaven. To achieve this state, the Balinese practice many rituals to ward off the evil spirits and open themselves to the good spirits. And, most Balinese spend a tremendous amount of time on religious ceremonies and rituals all year.

The point of all that is to give you a little background. This week marks one of the largest holidays of the Balinese calendar — New Years. We will be observing it for the next two days with celebrations rivaling Times Square or Bourbon Street. And although the holiday takes place over only a few days, the preparations take months. The celebration includes parades of floats and feasts in each village followed by a day of silence and reflection. The “floats” paraded through the streets are called “Ogoh Ogohs” which are giant effigies of creatures taken from Hindu mythology made from wood and papier-mache. After being paraded through the villages they are burned to symbolize cleansing and purification from evil. Each village spends several months building it’s own unique Ogoh-Ogoh and astonishingly, without exception, this is accomplished in every neighborhood. I kept asking Indra if there is a slacker village that shows up late for the parade with a half finished Ogoh-Ogoh — he just looked at me and laughed (like he often does). I guess when it comes to warding off evil spirits there are no slackers in Bali.

To commemorate the holiday, the kids created their own Ogoh-Ogohs with each of their classes and presented them at an assembly. Allie’s class (4th grade) created a beautiful example (with the help of a local artisan). Fletcher’s class (2nd grade) used a little more imagination and adhered to the “Green” theme. Theirs was made out of trash and they named it “garbage devil.” Unfortunately, it didn’t fare very well during the parade (its head fell off!) but, it didn’t dampen the kids excitement.

Tomorrow we’ll go to the parade of the Ogoh-Ogohs of our village. We can’t wait to see the amazing creations and then attend the bonfire that follows. It should be fun and exciting for all of us. We’ll keep you posted…

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