It’s Tuesday lunchtime and I’m sitting at my friends’ restaurant, The Three Monkeys, a wonderful addition to the gastronomic choices in Sanur, listening to some mellow jazz background music and thinking how different the world of Bali, Indonesia looks compared with the same time a week ago.
What’s changed you may ask? I’ll tell you what’s changed. It’s not raining... hallelujah!
After months of deluges and crazy-bad storms Nyepi has worked its wonderful magic once again. Heralded by huge brightly painted bamboo statues (ogoh-ogohs) and celebrated with meditation and silence, Nyepi marks the beginning of the Balinese New Year. Over the preceding weeks almost every Balinese man and boy is involved in designing, planning and building the huge ogoh-ogohs that represent mythological demons and modern-day interpretations of evil.
An ogoh-ogoh is constructed in every banjar (local community unit) of every city and village in South Bali. At sunset on Nyepi eve, known as Tawur Kesanga or Pengerupukan, prayers are conducted and special offerings called mecaru are made. Then groups of men carry the ogoh-ogohs on their shoulders through the local streets accompanied by processions banging percussion instruments and carrying flame torches. Practices differ from village to village, but often the effigies are burnt after which everyone flocks to the local community hall for a big feast.
Explanations vary, but the version I like best is as follows. The offerings tempt the evil spirits out of hiding, but the terrifying ogoh-ogohs, accompanied by the deafening noise and lighted torches, petrify them, making them bolt from Bali back to the world they came from. But... just in case the ogoh-ogohs don’t do their job... on Nyepi, the following day, when no one’s allowed to leave their compound, make a noise, turn on a light or make a fire to cook with, and even the International airport is closed, it’s so tranquil that any self-respecting evil spirit still lurking around will also flee to find somewhere more exciting to stay.
One more thing... according to the Balinese... Nyepi marks the end of the rainy season.
Well, that’s certainly been true this year. Since Nyepi day, last Friday, in the early evening we see a crescent moon positioned between Venus and Jupiter shining in the midst of a mass of stars that look close enough to touch, and during the day there are blue, blue skies.
No more soggy shoes and wet trouser bottoms. No more flooded streets and mud splattered legs. The umbrellas are down, the sun’s shining, the tourists are out, and the smiles are back.
In the words of Johnny Nash... “I can see clearly now the rain has gone...”
J M Leitch is author of The Zul Enigma, a futuristic thriller looking back at a cataclysmic event that occurred on 21 December 2012, end of the Mayan calendar.