Happy Silent Day!
Today is Nyepi or the day of silence of Hindus here in Bali. There are four main rules for this holiday: no traveling, no entertainment, no fire (no cooking or electricity), and lastly, no work.
The belief is that this day marks the new year in Bali. This year is it 1941.
Everyday life in Bali is influenced by the acknowledgement of a spiritual realm. Because of this, the festivities leading up to Nyepi are done to purify and cast out negative or evil spirits.
On Monday I participated in the “Purification of the Sea” or Melasti. Hundreds of people dressed in their white pakian dat (traditional festival clothes) and marched down to the beach behind small figurines of their local deities, or gods. I have to admit, during the ceremony, I had no clue what was going on. There was praying, gamelan music, which sounds like hundreds of mini gongs, and a duck that was dressed in a black coat and “sacrificed” to the sea. I tried use google translate with the people around me to figure out if the duck would live, but I never got an answer. I will always wonder what happened to that duck.
During this festival, people form every village in Bali make their way to a beach or lake. Everyone prays facing the ocean and is later blessed with holy water taken from the sea. The festivals happen all day- from 10 am to 5 pm.
Next, we had a “Monster Parade” or Pengerupukan. Once again I had no clue what was happening when I saw a ten foot monster being paraded down the street. I had seen the local teenagers constructing this masterpiece ever since I arrived in January, so it finally clicked that today was its day of getting shown off.
Later in the night, the real demons come out to play. The Ogoh-Ogoh is the name of the giant demon-inspired float that gets carried down the street. These are mythological figures, evil creatures, gods and demons with detailed features such as clawed hands, rolling eyeballs, and bloody teeth. The bigger and scarier the float is the better. The figures are built in way that allows it to “come alive” (aka, light materials that can be moved around and made to look like actual demons). The men of the village carry the structure around the entire village while they are accompanied with children, musicians and other family members there to play their “hype men.” Crowds gather at every intersection to see the huge structures being marched down the road. Fire works are lit and the parade, which is also a completion, does until late at night. The belief is that these evil figures draw in the evil spirits. By the end of the parade, the floats are burned, and hopefully, so are the evil spirits.
The festivities of the night are met by Nyepi Day, which is today. It began at 6 am and will last util tomorrow at 6 am. The world completely shuts down today. Airports are closed, cell phone towers are down, and families are forced to actually bond with face to face time (its shame!). No one is allowed to go into the streets except the Pacalang security guards, who patrol the streets with their flashlights making sure no one is using the lights or T.V.
The day represents the spiritual shift taking place in Balinese culture today. This day is now viewed as a day of introspections, when it once was a day of superstitions. Traditionally, people stayed quiet so that if the evil sprits came back, they would think everyone was gone and they too would leave. But, today, it is a time of meditation and fasting in order to purify ones self as a means to connect with God.
One Balinese man explained to me that it was the one day out of the year allowing the Universe to “take a breath.” He explained that is was a simple way to decrease pollution and recognize that the universe is sacred and should be allowed one day to rest.
How strictly the Balinese follow these rules was revealed to me over the course of the day. My host family and I did not fast, we did not stay in the house and we even watched videos on Youtube when we got bored in the pitch-black at night. Bur, when the family heard about a local neighbor having a party that night, I thought someone had died when I heard how they were reacting. My host dad explained to me that he wasn’t really mad, but rather sad. “That person is only cheating himself and his connection with god,” he said. “He had this one day to reconnect with god and he abused it.”
The day means different things to different people. I was so thankful to have been here to experience it with my Balinese family. Before I could judge the festivities, I reflected on what was happening in the U.S. at the same time… Mardi Gras. My Balinese family asked me to explain it and as I detailed the tradition of parades, drinking and cake followed with the Lenten season they all agreed that it was an American version of Nyepi.
Again, I am humbled by the similarities shared by the human desire to be connected to the divine, or something higher than ourselves. Even if I did not connect with terrifying paper-mache monsters being marched down the street, I was able to see the different ways others connect with god and their own families.
I will forever cherish the memories shared in the dark of night with my sweet Bali family that welcomed me in like a long lost sister!