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Love and Romance in a Time of Plague

"Post-Nyepi" Kissing Festivals in Sesatan, Denpasar, Bali Scaled Down Due to COVID-19 Concerns

One of Bali's most unique cultural events takes place one day after "Nyepi" – the day of silence in the urban village of Banjar Kaja Sesetan. Celebrated only in one community, the "Omed-Omedan" ritual is typically open only to unmarried young men and women of the village between the ages of 17 and 30.

Believed to reflect the struggle between positive and negative elements in the cosmos, "Omed-Omedan" translates as "pull-pull" from the original Balinese. In past celebrations, hundreds of young people in traditional dress begin with prayers and procession onto the main street where, at the signal of a Hindu Priest, the young men start aggressively pulling the young women in an attempt to steal a passionate kiss.

Older, married members of the village stand guard with buckets of cold water used to cool the romantic ardor of any young man who gets too carried away.

The "Omed-omedan" event is a ritual with both sacred and profane connotations. Intended to maintain balance in the cosmos, the ceremony also serves as a point of introduction for many young couples who, following the event, will date and perhaps eventually marry.

But, unfortunately, like almost every element of daily life, the "Omed-Omedan" festivities on Thursday, 26 March 2020, will be impacted by concerns over the possible spread of COVID-19.

According to NusaBali, this year's "Omed-Omedan" will be scaled back for reasons of safety and public health.

Instead of hundreds of the usual romantically inclined young people facing off for a stolen kiss, this year's event will involve only three pre-selected pairs of young people authorized to serve as "kissers" and "kissees."

This significant change in ritual practice was decided at a meeting of village elders and members of the community held on Wednesday, 18 March 2020. At that meeting, a decision was taken to hold the event but on a much smaller scale.

Unlike years past, this year's scaled-down "Omed-Omedah" will be preceded by a Guru Pikada Ritual. The ritual is intended to seek forgiveness for past mistakes and compensate for any failure to take proper heed of the lessons being shared to us by "teachers" - inhabiting both the real and spiritual domains.

Also, unlike past years, organizers specifically ask spectators, and the general public to avoid attending this year's event to reduce the risk of COVID-19 contagion. As explained by The Kaja Banjar Chief (Klian) in Sesatan, I Made Sudama, the "Omed-Omedan" in 2020, is by invitation only.

Sudama said he hoped life would soon return to normal and future "Omed-Omedan" rituals will regain their past festiveness and glory.

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