In the lush village of Tegalalang, near the famed rice terraces of Ceking in Bali, a centuries-old ritual unfolds every six months, bringing together the community in a vibrant display of culture and tradition. The Ngerebeg parade, deeply rooted in the village’s history and beliefs, sees children and adolescents participate in a unique ritual of body painting and communal celebration, transcending the barriers of age, caste, and social class.
On a grey and overcast Wednesday morning, despite the early rain, 10-year-old Pande Putu Aditama, known affectionately as Adit, joins his friends at the community hall, eager for the ritual that lies ahead. The Ngerebeg procession, dating back to the 17th century, is a significant event for the villagers, believed to invoke the protection of supernatural beings, the Wong Samar, who reside along the village’s riverbanks.
As part of the ritual, Adit and hundreds of other children have their bodies painted with white pigment, transforming them into representations of these supernatural entities. This transformation is not just physical; it’s a passage into a world steeped in legend and spirituality. The Ngerebeg parade starts from the Duur Bingin Temple, a sacred site adorned with tall penjor, colorful banners, and richly decorated shrines. It is here that the community gathers to pray and share a special communal meal, symbolizing unity and equality among all participants.
Tegalalang’s deep connection with nature and the unseen world of Niskala is evident in this ritual. The villagers hold a profound belief in the sacredness of their land and its guardians, an ethos rooted in Balinese Hinduism’s Sekala Niskala concept. Agung Jerman, a local of Tegalalang, explains the importance of respecting these sacred elements to avoid calamities and maintain harmony within the community.
The parade, beginning around noon, is a spectacle of color and energy, with each participant carrying a decorated bamboo stick or palm branch. The children, especially, revel in the opportunity to paint their bodies in various styles, drawing inspiration from global fashion trends and popular characters like Spider-Man. This freedom to express themselves creatively is a significant draw for the younger generation, who eagerly participate in the procession, sometimes even skipping school with their parents’ and teachers’ understanding.
For children like Adit, the Ngerebeg ritual is more than a cultural obligation; it’s a cherished tradition that fosters a sense of community and belonging. Through this vibrant procession, the young generation of Tegalalang not only honors their heritage but also actively engages in shaping the social and cultural dynamics of their village.