Bali and the Ogoh Ogohs

“The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter”

That is a quote from ( I believe ) Winston Churchill. It has absolutely nothing to do with my blog, but everything to do with the news I keep reading from back home.

We are in Bali for their New Year. The entire world loves a New Year celebration, and Bali is no exception. In fact they love it so much they make it last for 6 days

The first day is the Melasti festival the purpose of which is to purify their “ world”, but if that isn’t a big enough task for them, they also attempt to purify the entire universe. Quite an undertaking but the Balinese attack it with gusto. It involves ritual praying (a lot I would think) and on a more practical level, the cleaning of the sacred grounds of the temple and the implements of the temple. Sea water is used whenever possible and so on this day thousands of people head for the beach and the temples near to the beach.

We of course are given no warning of any of this and set off for our usual exploratory drive.

We notice that the streets are full of people but it is not until we get close to the local beach that we find ourselves completely encircled by a sea of men in white.

melasti procession 2

We cannot move. The only thing to do is to leave the car where it is and follow the parade

We pass a group of women all carrying offerings on their heads

melasti women and offerings

The Balinese all have great style and elegance and these women have it in spades, plus they put Carmen Miranda to shame.

We are pulled along by the crowd. First they stop at the temple and make their offerings, then they walk to the beach where more offerings are made. It is a surreal scene. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of men and fewer women. My kind of ceremony! We can make little of what is going on but it seems very orderly

metasti beach

Purifying the universe seems to take about an hour, which is a lot less time than I take to clean my house. I am impressed. We know we have no chance of driving our car until the throngs have dispersed, so we wait patiently on the beach. When they leave, the beach is covered in the offerings they have left.

melasti aftermath

They may have purified the universe, but they made a hell of a mess of the beach.

The next celebration is on New Years Eve,and things definitely liven up a bit.

There is no big ball drop. What there is, is the festival with the delightfully descriptive name of the Ogoh Ogoh festival. Just the name conjures up a great time.

It is in fact not unlike the Macy’s parade, on a much smaller scale of course, but with much scarier floats. For weeks before the parade every village is busy making their own statue or float. We have been checking out the local communities to see what Ogoh Ogohs they are making.


Now you can understand why they are called Ogoh Ogohs.

The effigies are usually built by the teenagers who belong to the local Youth Center. Some smaller Ogoh Ogohs are made by younger children but the truly spectacular ones are made by local artists

The statues can be up to 20 feet tall and are supposed to represent the negative aspect of all living things (I have no idea what that means, but it sounds impressive) and usually take the shape of some mythological being or demon. Whatever they are supposed to represent they are usually extremely scary


and quite obscene.

That’s what happens when you leave the task to a group of teenagers.

Many of them have the most enormous pendulous breasts (the Ogoh Ogohs not the schoolchildren), even the male ones. I am not sure why this is, but these poor children must have been scarred by some terrible experience when they were young.


The other body part that is often exaggerated is the tongue (read what you will into that.) They can be several feet long, very lascivious and painted in the most unnatural shades of red and purple.



And of course no teenager is going to ignore the male genitalia, and who can blame them. The male genitals are not represented as often as the breasts, but when they are, they are of the most alarming size. Well alarming to me, but maybe not to Gordon who seems to be enjoying discovering what this Ogoh Ogoh has underneath his sarong


I know you are waiting for a more detailed photograph, but, you will be amazed to learn that I do have some limits as to what I am prepared to post on my blog.

Each one is built on a platform of bamboo so that it can be carried by the group of teenagers or children which helped make it


They practice carrying the Ogoh Ogohs and doing elaborate maneuvers with them.

During the day the huge statues are carried in and lined up ready for the parade.


The parade itself starts after dark.DSCN2392

The streets are packed with people. Officials dressed menacingly in military style camouflage T shirts try to keep control with remarkably little success. The organisation is charmingly lacking in precision which is fun for the first few hours but causes many people to leave before the end. It is a raucous fun filled occasion with music blaring and people cheering , clapping and generally getting in the way of the floats. Complete chaos but everyone is having a great time.

The procession takes place on one of the main roads in front of a panel of judges, and awards are given at the end of the evening.

There is a viewing platform with rows of plastic chairs placed on a rather precarious looking tiered platform. The milling crowds on the sidewalk persuade us to cough up the princely sum of $14 for a plastic chair immediately across from the judges stand . We are rather pleased with ourselves for having nabbed two of the better seats, and getting a prime view. However the informality of the occasion soon has an effect and we find ourselves surrounded by proud parents and relatives of the participants. They have not purchased seats but feel it is their right to stand wherever they can get the best view of their beloved child. This invariably proves to be directly in front of our seats. We ask them to move so that we can see, but our requests are met with derision and disdain. We want to explain to them that we paid good money for our seats and they are interlopers. But maybe we have that round the wrong way.

Each “team” has 5 minutes to show off their moves with their Ogoh Ogoh in front of the judges:

After every 5 of these displays there is a break for a 15 minute cultural dance.

It is a lot of fun, but much like the Oscars, they need a good editor

At the end of the parade the Ogoh Ogohs are taken to the beach and burned. They are all supposed to be made of papier-mâché which has the advantage of being very light, bio degradable and burns easily. But many builders cheat and use styrofoam as a base, a much simpler way of creating a statue. However when styrofoam burns it makes an awful mess and a terrible smell. So instead of burning them they leave them at the side of the road to disintegrate – but as we all know styrofoam is virtually indestructible. After a while the clothes and accessories will rot away leaving an unpleasant mess of styrofoam


There are all sorts of wonderful explanations about the meaning of the Ogoh Ogohs, one of which is that they are meant to purify the natural environment of any spiritual pollutants emitted from the activities of living beings. Presumably styrofoam doesn’t count as a spiritual pollutant.

New Year’s day is the complete antithesis of what we have just experienced, and like everywhere, it is a bit of a let down. But while our New Year’s  Day is spent watching TV and recovering from the excesses of the previous night, theirs  is dedicated to connecting with God through prayer, fasting and meditation .

Oh dear

It is called Nyepi which translates into “Day of Silence”.

Well that doesn’t sound too bad. They can’t expect us to take part, and they certainly can’t expect us to be silent all day.

But they do. And they enforce it.

Everyone, including tourists, must stay in their homes from 6 am on New Year’s morning until 6 am the following morning. It’s a fully policed curfew, which sounds bad.

The reality is worse

The home must be kept completely dark. There can be no food, no entertainment, no music, no television and no internet. I was very worried about the fasting rule – that is not an activity that I ever intend to partake in. We are happy to learn that tourists are allowed to bring food into their rooms, but not cook and they can only have their lights on very low with the shades drawn. You cannot leave the premises and there are special police patrolling everywhere to insure that you don’t.

Gentle readers, and those of you who are not so gentle, I am fully aware of what you are thinking. There is only one thing left that can be enjoyed in a darkened room, although making no noise during the activity can be challenging. It certainly seems like a fun way to pass the time. But fun is not allowed and in fact sex is also specifically mentioned on the list of things you cannot do. Fortunately they do not police this activity, although it might be fun if they did. Those uniforms can be quite appealing. Enforcing this particular rule is left to our hotel, and they seem quite determined to stop any hanky panky.

This is how our bed was made on the morning of Nyepi.


The large bolster in the middle of the bed had never been there before and is presumably supposed to keep us separate during the night. Little do they know that Gordon has a bolster fetish. One look at a bolster and there is no stopping him.

Do I look like a bolster? That is a question that does not require an answer.

A myth has grown up around Nyepi presumably in an attempt to make the day more acceptable to the people. The myth says that after all the boisterous fun of the preceding celebrations, the devils and demons will be attracted to Bali and want to make it their home. So by insuring there is no sound or light anywhere on the island, the evil spirits will be tricked into thinking that this is a deserted island. It’s a great story and sounds reasonable until one wonders what the devils will make of all the police patrolling the streets

But having just gone through the delights of the Ogoh Ogoh celebrations I can quite see why the devils and demons might be attracted to the island. However, what no one ever mentions is that the Ogoh Ogoh Parade is a recent invention. The first parade occurred in the 1980’s so it seems to have little bearing on the Nyepi Myth

So why was the Ogoh Ogoh Festival created ? My theory is that it was as  a direct result of the  introduction of TV,  the walkman, and cell phones.  Once the teenagers had those (and later, the internet) keeping them locked up for 24 hours for the Day of Silence in the house, in the dark, without any entertainment was every parents nightmare. So someone had the bright idea of creating a festival to keep the young occupied and to wear them out on the evening before Nyepi.

Pretty smart. And in the process they gave Bali a really fun day.



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3 Responses to Bali and the Ogoh Ogohs

  1. Colette says:

    Were you the only non-Balinese at the New Year’s Eve celebrations?

    • andrew says:

      Colette, there were other tourists but vastly outnumbered by the locals. This was very definitely a celebration for the Balinese and tourists were allowed but ignored!

  2. David & Frank says:

    Great Blog Andrew Thank you

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