Thu, 30 Mar 2000

'Ogoh-Ogoh' -- from evil symbol to hot business commodity

I Wayan Juniarta

DENPASAR, Bali (JP): Nyepi, the Hindu day of silence, comes next Tuesday, but ogoh-ogoh fever has already hit the majority of Balinese.

Ogoh-ogoh, big dolls shaped as fierce creatures to personify evil spirits, will be the stars in the upcoming parades along major streets throughout Bali a day before Nyepi.

People will flock to the city streets carrying torches to watch their favorite dolls pass by. After the parade is over, people will burn the giant dolls.

The burning of ogoh-ogoh is a symbolic way to expel any bad omens or negative elements in the life of the Balinese and to purify the land before they enter Nyepi, the new year holiday according to the Caka calendar, said Ketut Wiana, a religious leader.

For two weeks, members of a banjar (a village community group), teenagers and children from across the island have been busy making their best ogoh-ogoh.

Nyoman Gde Sugiharta, a cultural expert, observes the process of creating ogoh-ogoh as heavily packed with social and cultural substance.

"It is a great time for all the members of each community in Bali to closely interact with each other," Nyoman said.

Everybody, regardless of their age and social status, feels the shared responsibility of making an ogoh-ogoh with utmost effort.

"On workdays, we rarely meet although we live in the same neighborhood," said Kadek, a Denpasar resident.

Some members provide cans of colorful paint, while others bring wood and cloth. Female members are ready with delicious homemade food and cups of hot coffee.

Children are busy and rejoice with their own ogoh-ogoh projects.

"Because of modernization, this warm and friendly atmosphere is beginning to disappear within the Balinese society," explained Nyoman.

In the past, ogoh-ogoh were made in the form of Kala, a ferocious giant with a frightening face painted in red or black and dressed in a traditional Balinese costume. Now, it has become contemporary pop art or a high-tech product.

Look at the one made by teenagers downtown at Jl. Imam Bonjol. Their ogoh-ogoh are punk rockers decked out with leather jackets, boots and colorful hair, he said.

In a nearby banjar, Steven Spielberg's Tyrannosaurus Rex inspired the villagers to make savage dinosaurs as their banjar's trademark.

During last year's parade, an American-style biker ogoh-ogoh riding a wood replica of a Harley Davidson motorcycle also appeared on Denpasar's streets.

Knowing that ogoh-ogoh is very popular among the Balinese, businessmen have smelled money in it. The value of ogoh-ogoh has begun to shift from the religious to more secular purposes.

A large number of companies are using ogoh-ogoh as walking advertisements. They give money to villagers to make ogoh-ogoh and then put their companies' name and logo on parts of the doll's body.

Some luxury hotels organize ogoh-ogoh parades to entertain their affluent guests.

For those who don't want to spend their time and energy to make ogoh-ogoh, several companies are ready to take your order. Gaseh (Gajah Sesetan) company sets the price of a doll between Rp 1 million and Rp 1.5 million.

Despite the shift of meaning, ogoh-ogoh still play a very significant role in the life of most Balinese who are eager to wait for the big fiesta next Monday night.