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Khong Hee Fat Choy!

The Chinese Year of the Horse Gallops into Bali.

(2/18/2002) Bali's residents of Chinese ancestry and visiting Chinese tourists' celebration of Chinese New Year on Tuesday, February 12, 2002, was enlivened further by the simultaneous celebration of the Bali-Hindu festival of Siwaratri on the same date, followed by Pagerwesi the following day, February 13.

While many of the ethnic Chinese of the island visit local Klenteng's or Chinese temples to burn incense, paper money, and have their fortunes predicted for the bold year of the horse that lays ahead, their Balinese brethren spent the entire night in prayer and meditation, staying awake until morning as to symbolize their repentance for past sins and wrongdoings. The next day, Pagerwesi, literally the day of the "iron fence" - is a day devoted to the Sanghyang Pramesti Guru, - Lord of the Universe, who bestows strength and determination on all his followers.

The Balinese festival of Saraswati, preceded Chinese New Year celebrations by 3 days, falling on February 9, and is dedicated to the Goddess of knowledge and the arts. Fittingly, books, libraries and tools of education were honored on that date. Ironically, however, Saraswati is a day on which tradition dictates Balinese should refrain from any act that requires reading.

Bali Hinduism shares strong historical roots with Buddhist traditions and many local ceremonies and cultural icons bear more than a hint of Chinese cultural influences. As a result, the Balinese have long enjoyed a largely peaceful cohabitation of the island with their Chinese neighbors, including last week's celebration of festivals and rites marked by a shared lunar calendar.