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Nyepi - Balinese New Year

Today the streets of Bali are deserted.  The airport is closed.  No one is allowed to work, travel, light a fire, use electricity, nor engage in entertainment of any kind.  In fact, the only people allowed outside of their homes are Pacalong, small bands of traditional village guardsmen who patrol at crossroads to make sure that the prohibitions are being followed. 


Today is Nyepi, the day of silence.  It is the Balinese New Year, falling on the new moon of the ninth month of the Balinese (Saka) calendar.  It is a day of reflection, fasting and meditation following a period of ritual cleansing and purification.  The silence, some say, is to trick the evil spirits into thinking that Bali is actually deserted island and they can just forget about staying here and move on to someplace else.

This ritual is believed to be an effective way to purify the island in order to make a harmonious relation between human beings and God, human and human, and humans and their environment.


After 4 months of living in Bali, I've witnessed many different types of ceremonies but nothing can compare to what I've seen in the past few days preceding Nyepi.  Melasti, Tawur Agung Kesanga and Ngerupuk are 3 specific rituals of cleansing, purification and warding off evil - all necessary practices to prepare the Balinese for the New Year and the state of sunia (meaning literally, silence or void), what philosophers describe as the perfect state of spiritual realization.   It is believed that only after purifying their own souls and bodies, after respectfully acknowledging and paying their debts to nature and other creatures, after cleansing the world around them and after emerging victoriously from the battle against the demons within, can Balinese Hindus catch a glimpse of what sunia truly is during Nyepi, the Day of Silence.   It is hoped that on the first morning after Nyepi, one can embrace the day as a new, liberated spiritual being.


Melasti is a purification procession to the ocean or nearest large body of water (including lakes, rivers & springs) in the days before Nyepi. In this devotional journey, men, women and children march in ceremonial clothing (some traveling as far as 70km) and carry pratima (sacred effigies) from their village temple on a jampana (wooden throne), umbul-umbul (festival flags) and offerings of food to the body of water.  The villagers are accompanied by a beleganjur, a mobile gamelan ensemble whose hypnotic, trance-inducing series of percussive loops, punctuated by crashing cymbals is intended to create a virtual sonic force-field of protection around the ritual object being transported as well as to help participants carry the often heavy platforms for many miles.  Assembling at the water's edge, the devotees and the effigies receive the gift of purification from Varuna, God of the Waters.  After the cleansing procession, all participants pray facing the water with hope to have a better life.  Later, they return to their village taking with them Amerta (the source for eternal life) from the water.  Melasti reminds people of the four values of Balinese-Hindu society:  their devotion to God, to build awareness for the alleviation of suffering in living together as a society, to strengthen the soul with self-cleansing and to preserve nature. 

Tawur Agung Kesanga, held on the day before Nyepi, is a grand sacrificial ritual that takes place in homes, meeting halls and at major traffic intersections in every village in Bali.  The ritual is performed to both pacify and show gratitude toward the restless forces of nature.  Since man is continually taking things from nature, Tawur Agung Kesanga is an act of giving something back and restoring balance.


Around 6:00 in the evening, on the night before Nyepi, Ngerupuk starts in villages across Bali.  This ritual is both the final act of purification and the stimulation of chaos before sunia, the silence of Nyepi.  In an effort to purify the world around them and the final battle between man and the various characters and emotional flaws that haunt his existence (the demon within), Ogoh-Ogoh (paper-mache monsters prepared by village youth groups in the weeks preceding the event) are paraded through the streets on bamboo platforms by torch-carrying escorts and noisy merry-makers amid fireworks and cheering crowds.  Ogoh-Ogohs symbolize the evil spirits surrounding our environment that have to be expelled from our lives.  The Balinese believe that all parts of the universe have their own purpose, including the evil spirits, which they believe should not be dismissed but are to be controlled so they will still be able to fulfill their purpose in this world. As Balinese-Hindus, they believe that to sense heaven in this world is to live without polarity.  There is no good, neither bad. All are the same; they present with certain purposes.


Tomorrow is Ngembak Geni, the day after Nyepi.  The day will start slowly with people relighting the fires and visiting family and friends to forgive each other for past wrongdoings.  Ngembak Geni is about starting the New Year with a clean slate.  It's about pardoning mistakes and errors and reminding ourselves to live in harmony and peace with others and with nature.


2012-03-23 - 17:38:00  by alexkatis

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