An age-old tradition in Lombok, Bau Nyale (or simply Nyale) is the most awaited cultural festival in Lombok. It is the biggest society gathering with all Sasaks (Lombok’s native people), local government and tourists swarming the shore of Seger beach in Kuta area.
This beach has always been the site of the ritual as it is believed to be the place where Princess Mandalika, the legend behind the tradition, plunged to her death into the ocean. Mandalika was very beautiful and every man wanted to marry her.
However, the men begin to fight with each other to win the heart of the princess. Her father then gathered all the men for Mandalika to choose one but she couldn’t do it without causing more trouble. And thus, she chose to throw herself into the sea, declaring that she would be back every year as a sign of her sincere love to her people.
Everyone then searched the sea for the princess, but they just never found her and saw a lot of colorful seaworms crawling ashore instead. Local priests believed they were the incarnation of the princess, making it the cultural symbol of the island.
Nyale festival is held at the time of full moon in every 10th and 20th month of Sasak calendar. It takes several days and is always preceded with cultural performances (including drama staging the legend of Princess Mandalika), night bazar and music concert staring top Indonesian musicians. But among all, the most epic moment comes when people descend to beach to catch the worm at night, creating a surreal scene with lights flashing across the oceanfront.
Nyale as a Symbol of Fertility
Priests are the first persons to go to the sea to catch the worm before the other. They observe the creature and predict the future harvest based on its appearance. If it is a good catch, the upcoming harvest will also be good. Nyale has traditionally symbolized fertility to Sasaks with people placing them in irrigation channels around fields to ensure a successful harvest.
These worms are also eaten during the special festival, sometimes raw or cooked. Local belief has it that woman will be as beautiful as Princess Mandalika if she eats the worm, while man will be blessed with good luck and strength.