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Home » People & Community

Ngayah: Workforce Behind Every Ceremony  

by on Tuesday, 10 July 2007No Comment | 964 views

Thousands temple anniversaries and ceremonies are held every month in Bali especially during the auspicious months of Balinese traditional calendar. Each of these temple anniversaries and ceremonies require a lot of working hours and workers to finish, not to mention the grand ceremony that need months of preparation and hundreds of workers to prepare and perform the ceremony. The need of working hours and workers for the sake of temple anniversaries and ceremonies are staggering in numbers and this massive constant need is fulfilled by Ngayah.


The word ‘ngayah’ is hard to define, it is derived from the word ‘ayah’ means ‘voluntary work,’ and the word ‘ngayah’ itself can be defined as ‘working voluntarily.’ Balinese are working voluntarily as a sign of devotion to God. In the spirit of ngayah, Balinese present their time, effort and talent as an offering to God.


The wide definition of ngayah also includes voluntary performance of traditional dance, and drama, shadow puppet, and kakawin (singing ancient text) during the temple anniversary or ceremony. Balinese artists show their devotion by performing their finest performance as an entertainment for God since Balinese believe that God loves a fine art performance, it is art for God sake, and no reward but blessing is needed.


Though the ‘ngayah’ activity is voluntarily based activity but constant failure to join this activity will result the wrath of God and community. The wrath of God is believed to be the source of misfortune but the worst and most feared misfortune for the Balinese comes from the wrath of community. The constant failure to join ‘ngayah’ activities during a long period of time is considered as a sign of inconformity and disloyalty to the society, for Balinese the golden rule is ‘if we share the good time we must also share the bad.’ In some cases, this kind of offend is end up with exclusion from the community.


Maybe you will spot a contradiction here, ‘voluntary work’ >< ‘punishment from community.’ It has to be admitted, with the passing of time and development of Bali, a great change occurs in Bali. In old days, most of the Balinese were farmers; they worked in the rice field and can easily allocated their time for ‘ngayah’ activities, since they were master of their own time. But nowadays, most Balinese are salary men; work either for government or private companies with exact working hours from 8 A.M to 5 P.M. or in a hotel with various around the clock shift. They seldom have time for ngayah since they are no longer master of their own time. [photopress:ngayah_05.jpg,full,pp_image]

The temple anniversary and ceremony are events that must be held at any cost. For a simple anniversary a small family temple, minimum three-day preparation is needed and at least five able men and women are required to prepare the anniversary. When the time of the preparation comes, no excuse except death is accepted for an absent, a failure to join the ngayah activity is punished with a fine. Occasional absents are tolerated as long as the fines are paid, but constant absent is another story. The ngayah activity requires time and effort, and time is what most Balinese who work as employee do not have.


This situation creates a different view of ngayah among the Balinese, some say it is a voluntary work, some say it is an obligatory work and what I fear most is when some Balinese say it is an oppressive work.

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