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On this day, the island goes off-grid.
Celebrating the Balinese new year with rituals and meditation
Tomorrow is Nyepi on the island of Bali. It's an annual day of silence to ring in the Balinese calendar's new year.
Rather than fireworks and parties, the Balinese reserve this day as a day of introspection to decide on values such as humanity, love, patience, kindness, and others, that should be engraved in who you are.
As such, anything that might prohibit you or others from that self-reflection is strictly not allowed. This includes:
Travel (including a walk down the street or along the beach)
Electricity (or candlelight/fires)
Talking (or noise of any kind)
I'm probably missing a few restrictions, but you get the point. It's a day of nothingness, basically. The streets are empty and everybody stays inside.
And, trust me, the restrictions are taken seriously here. The only people outside are the pecalang, or elder men who patrol the streets to ensure the prohibitions are being followed. Electricity is cut on the island, so don't even try. Even all flights arriving/departing the island are cancelled. Non-Hindu residents and tourists are not exempt from these restrictions.
As for me, this will be my third Nyepi on the island. It's pretty hard to believe I've called this place home for that long. Most likely, this will be a focal point in my self-reflection throughout the day -- whether or not my need for community and a 'home' is still being fulfilled here.
Obviously, it's a very individual/personal celebration. Meditation and fasting are staples for Hindus on Nyepi. But there are multiple days of festivities and Nyepi is only one.
On the eve of Nyepi, parades are held at sunset for the ritual of Pengrupukan. In virtually every village in Bali, you can witness dozens-to-hundreds of locals out on the streets with blazing torches in hand. They ferociously beat on the kulkul (traditional bamboo bells) as they make their way to the beach.
This is followed by a procession of Ogoh-ogoh, which are giant, demonic-looking paper-mache puppets carried on bamboo poles by upwards of 50-75 men from each village. They are accompanied by the continual playing of loud gamelan music and whistling. The atmosphere grows heavier as the beat speeds and the growing crowd roars from every direction. Swirling clouds of smoke start rising from the mosh of people below.
Then, at the climax of the playing, neighboring villages meet on the beach. Their Ogoh-ogoh characters clash and 'battle' each other. The scene becomes chaotic as the men, carrying the giant evil puppets, charge at one another.
Suddenly, the characters are lit ablaze in the main ritual known as Ngrupuk. This rightfully causes an even louder commotion among the bystanders and, gradually, the cryptic scene turns into a joyous celebration.
The Ogoh-ogoh effigies depict the character of Bhuta, or the evil spirit. The burning of the ogoh-ogoh symbolizes the cleansing of all evil influences in life.
Here's one small village's celebration.
There are also the rituals of Tawur Kesanga and Caru. As opposed to the artificial sacrifice during Ngrupuk, these are real-life sacrifices made on the same day. Chicken, ducks, pigs, goats -- even cows or bulls are slaughtered to honor the gods.
That's not all. There are several other rituals which are either family-oriented or community-based which I hope to attend -- including Omed-Omedan, or the "Kissing Ritual" 😜
I've done all this research in hopes that I can be more involved in this year’s celebration. Shortly after, I will head back to Flores to continue the expedition to Papua. However, it seemed appropriate that I come back for these festivities. After all, the whole purpose of this expedition is to travel with deeper regard to local life and traditions.
Thanks for reading! I hope hearing about these rituals plays into your romanticism of southern island culture like it does mine.
You can reach me by replying to this email. Words of encouragement for Leg 2 of the expedition are warmly accepted.
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* The day and celebration of Nyepi dates back as far as the year 78 A.D.
** Nyepi is regarded as New Years Day on the Saka calendar. However, the Balinese use two calendars: The saka calendar which is based on moon cycles and more closely follows our 365-day year, and the pawukon calendar which is said to originate from the rice growing cycles in Bali, a 210-day calendar.
In case you were wondering -- the Saka calendar is 78 years behind our Gregorian calendar. That means it is the year 1945 tomorrow. However, the typical Gregorian calendar is still more-often referred to on a day-to-day basis in Bali. I guess that makes three calendars which the Balinese refer to -- talk about a headache.