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Three or four days before the New Year (Nyepi), the paraphernalia and pratima images of deified ancestors from thousands of temples all over Bali are carried in long, joyous processions to the beach or to a nearby holy spring where they are sanctified with water. By late afternoon, thousands of Balinese have reached the store, raising a din of clashing gamelan.

White-turbaned priest tinkle prayer bells as the palanquins holding the icons are rushed, swirling, into the marigold-strewn surf. After the symbolic washing, men in deep trances lop off the heads of young pigs and are wrestled away, swinging at their captors with bloody swords. This is no show; it is an awesome display of a living religion.

One day before Nyepi, purification ceremonies conducted by priests are held at all the main crossroads in Bali's villages and towns. Offerings of brem and the flesh of domestic animals are placed there to tempt the lurking bhufa and kala into the open. Toward evening on the same day, the last day of the old year, the whole island starts making as much noise as is humanly possible, cleansing the land of malevolent spirits.

Children, especially little boys, set off continuous explosions, lighting small amounts of kerosene in big bamboo tubes. They blow whistles, set firecrackers, and bang gongs, homemade cymbals, pots and pans, trash cans, corrugated roofing, and petroleum drums. Any noisemaker they can lay their hands on will suffice to create pandemonium in all corners of the family compound and down every alleyway.

Priests stay up the whole night chanting magical formulas to exorcize the hordes of malevolent spirits from the old year. In Denpasar, thousands of boys gather at Puputan Square for a parade through the streets carrying flaming torches and weird bamboo and paper monsters and demons (ogoh-ogoh) to make sure that all the malingering spirits are aroused. The next day, Nyepi, all is deathly silent.

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