Nyepi, Ogoh-Ogoh and the Drone

From the magical and mythical to the horrific, New Year’s Eve in Bali is a monster mash. For weeks, men of all ages have worked feverishly in community buildings, parks, and garages. First a framework appears. It morphs into a three dimensional entity that grows limbs and a head and very possibly, pendulous breasts. With artistic flair, the specter is painted, dressed, and readied for it’s debut. These are the monsters, the ogoh-ogoh, that are paraded through the streets on the night before Nyepi, to the wild accompaniment of gamelan and tumultuous cheers.

It’s a night like none other in the world, wild, ghoulish, cacophonous, and I love it! I wondered about that as I sat at a table in Sjaki-Tari-Us around 4:30. I’d gone early to secure a ringside seat with a great view of the football field, the venue that hosts the monsters’ ball.

I had promised my friends that I’d do my best to save seats for them since it’s their first Nyepi. I hadn’t been there five minutes when an aggressive gent in a blue plaid shirt laid claim to one of the empty chairs. “My friend is coming,” I said, smiling in a you’ll-get-your-hands-off-that-chair-if-you-know-what’s-good-for-you kind of way. The chair stayed, the man went away.

P1050963I slipped into a day-dreamy haze as the loudspeaker pumped reggae music through the soft hum of voices. The bright colors, the warmth, the familiarity of this town that has become my home, settled around me with a sweetness that brought a lump to my throat.

As I wallowed in the gratitude of those feelings, a different sound needled into my consciousness.

What was it, electrical wires buzzing? It had that high-pitched whine that pierces through everything else and puts your teeth on edge. It sounded foreign, it didn’t belong. Then I saw it hovering over the football field like an alien spaceship, lights flashing, propellers whirring. My friends had arrived. “What in the…what’s that?” I had spotted it first.


They craned their necks to see what I was looking at. “It’s a drone!” Nancy said. We watched it hover, then dart to another part of the field, hover, then dart again. “It’s taking pictures.”

For a nanosecond I felt dizzy. The harsh invasion of space technology colliding with the ancient practice of Nyepi sent shock waves through my system.  An image of Balinese women, carrying buckets of sand, or concrete blocks on their heads, came to mind. Even though that stretches my definition of reality, it’s easier to accept here than a buzzing, flashing, hovering UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle).

I pulled my eyes away from the intruder and back to the teaming crowds. Then it hit me. That’s why I love it here. Bali is a study in contrasts. It has tranquil rice fields and chaotic traffic, reverent prayer and raucous cockfights, Kuta Beach and Kintamani. But tonight, on the eve of Nyepi, it has ogoh-ogoh’s and a drone.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Letizia
    Mar 30, 2014 @ 12:25:54

    What beautiful ‘monsters’! Happy Balinese New Year!



  2. sageblessings
    Mar 30, 2014 @ 23:11:59

    Thanks for a great post. So fun to share the experience and the images with you…..and thanks for saving me a seat. I loved the analogy of Neypi and drone to all of Bali. it’s perfect and also what makes it all so fascinating.



  3. Diane Struble
    Mar 31, 2014 @ 01:52:09

    I love their festival figures – actually ceremonial figures as you send great pictures of them for many events. Thanks for the stunning pictures as always. However, I must say that the cockfights are one of the reasons why I probably would never love Bali.



  4. writingforselfdiscovery
    Mar 31, 2014 @ 02:19:11

    If you look under the veneer of any country there are things not to love. Fortunately, the cockfights are not advertised. Foreigners, if they happen to stumble upon one, are not encouraged to stay.



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