Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hindu Parade of Giants Unifies a City

   Lombok’s history of religious tolerance and cultural diversity was exemplified by the massive Ogoh-ogoh parade in Mataram on the eve of the Balinese Hindu new year celebration of Nyepi, known as Silent Day.
People from Lombok’s indigenous Sasak community, which is Muslim, joined representatives of the island’s Chinese and other ethnic populations to support and take part in the Hindu parade of giant hand-made effigies of ogres.
The huge, often gruesome effigies are sculpted to represent the Balinese Hindu concept of Bhuta Kala which addresses the immeasurable characteristics of universal strength and time.
On predominantly Hindu Bali, the effigies are paraded on the eve of Nyepi, which this year was on 23 March, and then destroyed before the island plunges itself into silence and darkness for 24 hours in an effort to convince any surviving evil spirits that no one is at home on Bali.
The 24 hours of Hindu fasting, reflection and meditation is held to purify the soul and body and persuade evil influences to leave Bali in peace for the coming year.
While Ogoh-ogoh in Bali remains an exclusively Hindu ritual, in which youth participation is encouraged by official competitions among villages to create the best effigy, in the Lombok capital of Mataram all Hindu communities and others participate in one Ogoh-ogoh parade.
Muslim Sasaks and Chinese of various religions contribute effigies to the procession and assist with organisation and management of the parade which has become an official annual event of West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) province.
“Ogoh-ogoh this year was very special and the involvement of so many elements of society epitomised our strong culture of religious tolerance,” said 2012 Ogoh-ogoh Mataram chairman Nyoman Artha Kusuma.
In Bali, individual Hindu communities use Ogoh-ogoh to enact stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata whose legends feature creatures such as dragons, spiders and crabs.
In Mataram, people’s creative spirit has seen the creation of effigies of fantastic alien creatures and even such modern-day phenomena as the Harley-Davidson motorbike.
Mataram’s Hindus conduct Ogoh-ogoh as a means of warding off natural disaster such as cyclones, landslides and weather conditions that result in reduced crop yields. Through Ogoh-ogoh they seek God’s blessing to protect their environment from natural misfortune.
“We ask that winds which have the strength to sweep away the homes of fishermen are turned into breezes that carry them to good fishing grounds, and that winds with the power to uproot trees become pleasant breezes that cool the residents of the city,” said Artha Kusuma.
The 2012 Mataram Ogoh-ogoh parade theme of Uniting for Equality and Tolerance of Differences allowed those taking part to embrace and express the Indonesian national objective of Unity through Diversity.
Traditional Balinese music was followed by a typical Sasak beleq (drum)   presentation and other ethnic music styles such as cilokak, tawak-tawak and ale-ale.
Officially in its seventh year, Ogoh-ogoh in Mataram this year attracted thousands of spectators and a group of foreigners who joined the parade bearing an effigy of their own.
In predominantly Hindu Bali, activity is severely curtailed in the 24 hours of Nyepi following Ogoh-ogoh. Transport is halted and people stay within their homes to meditate without the use of electricity and machinery. The island is dark and quiet.
On Lombok, Hindu communities voluntarily observe the seclusion of Nyepi at their own discretion, but the island is otherwise open for business.
As a result more and more tourists from Bali as well as non-Hindu residents of the island travel to Lombok, especially to the north-western islands of Trawangan, Meno and Air and to the Senggigi tourist strip, for the Nyepi break.
The annual Nyepi influx from Bali has become an important tourism boon for Lombok. Some resorts offer special Nyepi packages and most report increased occupancy.



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