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Nyepi: Bali’s New Year's Day of Complete Silence


On Nyepi day,which is New Year’s day in the Balinese Saka Calendar, the island of Bali turns off all lights and sounds, stops all traffic, deserts all  worldly activities, and meditates,while complete silence and serenity reigns over the entire island.

This year, Nyepi falls on Wednesday, 9th March 2016, the exact same day that a large swathe of Indonesia from South Sumatra to Kalimantan, Sulawesi on tothe Moluccas in eastern Indonesia will be  passed by the rare event of a complete solar eclipse watched by thousands of domestic and international visitors, who come here for thepurpose to best observe this planetary event.

Therefore, travelers planning to fly to or from Bali on or around this date please note: On this day, the entire island ofBali will come to a complete standstill, - or American TV would say: is in“lockdown” mode - to allow all to follow the prescribed rituals. Bali’s NgurahRai International Airport will be closed. No planes will land or take off for24 hours. All traffic across Bali will be stopped. All shops are closed. Nopedestrian traffic is allowed on the beach or on the streets. There will belocal watchmen known as pecalang to ascertain that this rule is strictlyobeyed. At night, all lights will have to be turned off. Hotels will close allcurtains so that no ray of light shines to the outside. All sound and musicindoors should be held to its lowest volume.

On the eve of Nyepi, on 8 March, however, celebrations are held with large papier-mache giants, called Ogoh-Ogoh,  paraded on the beach accompanied by loud gamelan music.These are then torched and, it is believed, that with the conflagration, any evil spirits that have brought disease and misery to the island during the past year will have also been banished.

Every culture and religionin the world has its own way to define and celebrate the coming of the NewYear. While the Chinese celebrate with drums and cymbals, the Muslims celebratethe first of Muharram, and the world in general celebrates the first of Januarywith fireworks and parties, the Hindus of Bali welcome the New Year with theritual of Nyepi.

For, contrary to othercultures that celebrate New Year with vivacious and loud festivities, thepinnacle of Balinese New Year is a day of complete Silence. Hence the nameNyepi, meaning “to keep silent” in the local language, which falls on the dayfollowing the dark moon of the spring equinox.  Nyepi is a day fully dedicated to connect oneself moreclosely with God(Hyang Widi Wasa) through prayers and at the same time as a day ofself-introspection to decide on values, such as humanity, love, patience,kindness, and others, that should  be kept forever.

The series of rituals inconjunction with Nyepi, meanwhile, will take place from 3-4 days beforehandwith the ritual of Melasti (also called Melis or Mekiis). The ritual is performed at thePura (Balinese temple) near the sea (Pura Segara) which ismeant to purify effigies, Pratima, and Pralingga (sacred objects) belonging to the temples, and acquiresacred water from the sea.

On Java, meanwhile, asimilar ceremony is performed at the Balekambang Beach on thesouthern coast of Malang, East Java, in the ritual known as Jalani Dhipuja, and at the beautiful Prambanan Temple in the province of Yogyakarta.

One day before Nyepi, on 8th march,the ritual of Tawur Kesanga and Caruwilltake place which are sacrificial rituals. Offerings are made at villages, districts, regencies and provinces in the formof chicken, ducks, pigs, goats, even cows or bulls. Plants and crops may alsobe used as offering. Aside from reminding the Balinese on the importance oftheir livestock andcrops, the ritual is also meant to appease BataraKala throughthe Pecaruan offering.

At sunset at around 5 or 6pm the ritual of Pengrupukan willtake place. This is when the Balinese parade along the streets of their villageby holding fire torches andvigorously play the kulkul (traditionalbamboo bells). The parade will also be followed by a procession of Ogoh-ogoh, which are distinct Balinese giantpaper puppets. The Ogoh-ogoh effigiesdepict the character of Bhuta or the evil spirit. After the procession, the Ogoh-ogoh will allbe torched in a joyous conflagration in the main ritual known as Ngrupuk. The torching of the ogoh-ogoh symbolizesthe cleansing of all evil influences in life.

As the pinnacle of theentire series of rituals, Nyepi or the Day of complete silence will take placeon 9th March2016. As a day that is reservedfor meditationand self-reflection, anythingthat may interferewith that specific purposeis, therefore, strictly prohibited. For Nyepimandates a day of absolute quiet, based on the four precepts of Catur Brata, namely:

·        AmatiGeni: Prohibitingthe lighting of fires, the use of lighting or satisfying pleasurable humanappetites.

·        AmatiKarya: Prohibitingall forms of physical work other than those dedicated to spiritual cleansingand renewal.

·        AmatiLelungan:Prohibiting movement or travel; requiring people to stay within their homes.

·        AmatiLelangunan:Prohibiting all forms of entertainment, recreations or general merrymaking.

The day after Nyepi, whichthis year falls on 10th March 2016, is called Ngembak Geni. This is whenBalinese Hindus visit families, neighbours and relatives to exchangeforgiveness – somewhat similar to the Muslim’s Ied Al Fitri custom in Indonesia. Theywill also conduct the Dharma Canthi byreciting Sloka, Kekidung,and other religious scriptures.

Although the series ofrituals takes place virtually over the entire island, the best time to watchthe festivities is on the eve of Nyepi when people parade the ogoh-ogoh alongthe streets. The large effigies will then be burnt on the beach.

The best place to watchthe parade of ogoh-ogoh is therefore along Kuta Beach, Seminyak, Nusa Dua, and Sanur. Each village will most likely make at least oneOgoh-ogoh, which are quite spectacular. In the main towns of Sanur, Kuta,Denpasar, Ubud andothers, contests are held vying for the best Ogoh-Ogoh.

Photo: img.bisnis.com