Joining the colorfull ngerebeg festival in Tegalalang village...
It was early in the morning when a boy named Putu Pratama joined his friends at the community hall of Bale Banjar Tegal in Tegalalang Village, which is in the Gianyar district around 10 kilometers north of Ubud. He looked really excited as a man painted his body blue, because on that day Putu Pratama was among thousands of children and teenagers who had their faces and bodies painted to join an ancient traditional parade called Ngerebeg, a unique odalan festival. Odalan is a small anniversary celebration that is held once every six months.
The young participants take their makeup seriously, just like when Americans celebrate Halloween – at least, that’s what I witnessed on March 16, 2016 when the peak of the odalan festival at the Duur Bingin Temple took place. Leaving Putu with his friends I then followed the man to the temple that was standing graciously with Penjor (decorated bamboo poles) and colorful banners lined up along its outer walls. The temple’s shrines were also wrapped with colorful cloths and adorned with glittering, shield-like mirrors.
The most awaited part of the ritual is actually the street parade involving the local boys and male teenagers from several villages in the Tegalalang area, who are all members of the Duur Bingin Temple’s congregation. Their faces and upper torsos were painted in bright colors to resemble the supernatural beings and demons in the Balinese tradition. But before the parade started, let me tell you the story about how the Ngerebeg Festival was first born...
Calling The Spirits
This ritual was created in the feudal times when a local ruler named Dalem Made Tjokorda Ketut Segar pledged to organize Ngerebeg to protect the village from natural disasters. To fulfill his promise, the ruler together with the villagers called upon supernatural beings to assist them in guarding the village. These spirits are called Wong Samar, which literally means invisible people who reside on the village’s riverbanks.
“Ngerebeg” is defined as to ward off or to provide a new place. For the locals, this ritual is a symbol to acknowledge the existence of Wong Samar and to show the villagers’ willingness to live together with them for the sake of the village’s safety. This belief is based on the Balinese Hindu’s philosophy of Sekala- Niskala, an understanding that the universe consists of visible and invisible creatures. And until now, the villagers believe that there are at least 288 Wong Samar living along the rivers in the Tegalalang Village. This explains why they always prepare 288 offerings for those spirits during their major religious festivals.
A Colorful Parade
The Ngerebeg ritual started with a gathering at the Duur Bingin Temple for a communal prayer, followed by the parade. It was around 12 p.m. that day when the praying session was done and all the participants started the street parade, where they marched the 10 kilometers around the village.
Each participant held a bamboo stick or a palm branch decorated with coconut leaves as a symbol of weapons – these sticks produced noise when stroked. The participants also cried out the phrase “Pengayah Duur Bingin” (servant of Duur Bingin) accompanied by tunes from the Beleganjur orchestra in the background – both the singing and the music added a sacred ambiance to the ritual. Along the route were thousands of villagers lining up on the side of the road to enthusiastically watch the parade and to supply water to the participants.
It was really interesting to see all those colors during the parade – the participants were wearing face paint and costumes that represented their imagination on the supernatural beings that are believed to live in Niskala (the unseen world). They were much inspired from many references. However, for the children like Putu Pratama and his friends, any deep philosophical treatise was far from their minds. What drew them to Ngerebeg was the freedom to paint their bodies in any way they liked, which is a pretty rare opportunity, and to join in a festive parade with their peers.
This ritual was also to show the participants’ creativity in design, as they showcased contemporary fashion that drew inspiration from various parts of the world as well as popular figures. And as if the whole parade was not fun enough, the festival ended in the most joyous way as the participants raced each other to the village’s spring where they bathed and washed away their body paint.
Contributor : Agung Parameswara
Magazine issue > Craft&Culture