Sacred Masks,�Melasti and Nyepi, Bali’s New Year

The Bali-Hindu calendar is on a 210 day cycle, which, for the purpose of efficiency, is over-laid� on the Gregorian calendar. The dates when it happens one year will be different the next. In 2018 this major ritual will take place over four days, March 14-17.

The Balinese believe in both high and low spirits, and both are given offerings to acknowledge their existence.� Offerings are also made in order to maintain balance and harmony. The night before Nyepi young adults in the communities, parade giant, demonic images they have created, along with torches and cacophonous percussive Gamelan through the villages in order to chase out malevolent spirits, cleansing the island for the New Years day (Nyepi).

Sacred masks are created by order of the deities, and serve as symbols of protective spirits for the communities that possess them. At certain times the masks are asked to make themselves known, and are ceremonially purified at rivers or the sea. One of these occasions is prior to the celebration of the Balinese New Year, when all Bali-Hindu communities march in procession to the sea for purification. This will occur on March 14, and if you are lucky, you will be able to witness one or more of these stunning processions.

Because they are sacred, the masks may only be handled by a priest or priestess, and are carried in procession on the head. Once they reach the beach where the people from their village regularly perform this ritual, they are transferred to a temporary bamboo alter, facing the celebrants, who will be praying toward the sacred volcano, Gunung Agung. Offerings will be heaped in front of the masks, as they are acknowledged to contain a spirit.

A sacred mask begins its creation when someone in the village goes into trance, and channels the directive by a spirit as to which mask they must have, and in some cases who the carver must be. Only a few carvers on the island are considered capable of this task, and must be considered spiritually pure.

A committee of villagers, including a priest visit the carvers home and engage him to create the mask, also inquiring where to find the suitable wood. When a pule tree produces a knot, it is considered pregnant, and this knot may be removed with prayers and offerings, to carve a sacred mask. No harm is done to the tree. The carver knows where such trees are, lets the village team know, and it is then their task to ask permission from those responsible for the tree to release the knot. If given, a ceremony will be held where the priest asks the spirit of the tree to relinquish the knot. Then the carver may remove it, take it to his compound and wrap it in white cloth while the wood seasons. On an auspicious day, the carving will begin.

The two most important masks in Bali are the Barong Ket, and the mask commonly referred to as Rangda. These two� are the most likely to be seen in ceremonies on Melasti Day. They represent balance and harmony, yin and yang, male and female, left and right, just like the black and white checked cloth the visitor is likely� to see decorating stone carvings, temples, and even performers, all over Bali.

Text by: Judy Slattum. Image by: Ruslan Wiryadi

Judy Slattum is the author of Balinese Masks (Periplus Editions). Made Surya will be holding a three day workshop Understanding Nyepi� March 14, 15, and 16. For further information go to www.balihealers,com

video of ogoh-ogoh :�



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