I just LOVE Nyepi time in Bali! I love everything about it –
It’s a festival of total contrast, one that I haven’t been able to match in experience as yet. One minute this amazing Island is awash with noise, and color, and fire, and dance and the next you’re experiencing absolute peace and stillness. A whole 24 hours is set aside for contemplation and meditation and silence … oh the silence! It’s a beautiful time in Bali, and we’ve been blessed to have just experienced our 4th Nyepi festival, and it just gets better every time!
And to add to the pre-Nyepi excitement, this year we have been fortunate enough to have very special guests to share our Nyepi experience with. Trev, Heidi and Ruby are visiting from Australia and boy, are they in for a treat! I’m not only excited to be able to show them our life here in Bali, but I’m super excited that they’ve come during this special time.
Nyepi is known as ‘The Day of Silence’, and possibly the most important in a 4 day ceremony. The whole 4 day festival, and rituals that come with that, is something very, very special, I mean what other country in the world shuts down everything, and I mean everything, to allow their people to celebrate a special day? Just the pure logistics of that, let alone the cost to the government, local businesses, and the people, gives you an indication of the depth of the Balinese Hindu’s belief and devotion to their religion. Nyepi is a very different and original experience and one that you will not find anywhere else in the world. How lucky are we!
There are four parts to the whole ceremony, day one is called Melasti, a day where the Hindu’s all flock to the beaches to participate in a water purification ritual. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to see the procession on the beaches but my heart warmed, and the conversation stopped, while I watched the dozens of trucks all trudging along, heading for the coast. I’ll never tire of that sight, a convoy of big bully trucks chugging down the main street of Ubud with a sea of gorgeous little heads peeking over the sides, all adorning the traditional Balinese ‘Udongs’, and sporting that brilliant Balinese smile! I counted one lot of 6 trucks, then to my delight, maybe 30 minutes later, another 8 came along. The final truck in the convoy will always have the traditional Balinese instruments loaded in, sometimes hanging out, and playing at full decibels – the sound of that gong, and the bamboo gamelan is just gorgeous! For the Hindu people this is the day that the celebrations start, for us maybe it’s an introduction, a hint of colour, sound and the cultural experience that’s in store for us all over the next 2 days.
The excitement and activity raises and climaxes on the eve of Nyepi, the darkest night of the full moon. (Even that sounds awesome doesn’t it?)
On this dark night, all around Bali, from the tiny dirt tracks of the rural areas to the main streets in the city centers, the streets come alive with the much-anticipated ‘Ogoh Ogoh’ parade. (pronounced oogah oogah) This fantastic parade looks to be, not only a ritual to scare away the dreaded demons, but also a display of the dedication and artistic brilliance of the village youth.
Over the past 4 years we have created our own little ritual – The ‘Ogoh Ogoh Spotting Challenge’. We all jump on the scooters and ride around for hours trying to spot the Ogoh Ogoh’s being made. We’ve found them tucked away in the most remote areas, lots in the local bales, the school yards and some in the main streets for all to see. We’ve been fortunate enough to see them from conception to completion, from a rough sketch on the wall to the final masterpiece being paraded along the road. It’s been fantastic to watch the expressions on Jed & Deni’s faces when they realize that the Ogoh Ogoh coming up the street is the one we’ve watched being built.
The ‘larger than life’ monsters were originally created by the youth of the villages and constructed of bamboo and papier-mache but sadly these days more foam and polystyrene is being used than its ‘organic’ predecessor. The sole purpose of these enormous constructions is to resemble evil monsters so all sorts of effects are used to get a ‘shock value’ to the final masterpiece. Plenty of big bulging eyes, very droopy breasts with seriously pointy nipples, 6 heads, contorted faces, and enough fake blood and pubic hair to give young kids sleepless nights, and teenagers the giggles! In hindsight I’m really grateful for our ‘Ogoh Ogoh Spotting Challenge’. Not only did we have a whole lot of fun with it but it also allowed the kids to see that these scary, and sometimes gruesome creatures aren’t actually real! They were once a simple bamboo frame in a humble Balinese bale – phew!
The Ogoh Ogoh parade, to the Hindu’s, is all about creating as much commotion as possible, and for us it’s an absolute feast for the senses! There’s the pungent smell of kerosene that’s used to light the fire torches carried by the beautiful young girls of the villages (our Wayan is in there – we love you!) …
… then comes the visual delight of the Ogoh Ogoh’s that loom above us in a wicked but incredibly powerful display of the Balinese’s artistic talents. The Balinese orchestras follow closely behind and are in full swing with cymbals crashing, drums pounding and a chorus of male voices to add to the deafening and chaotic musical outfit.
Our necks crane, our eyes strain, our throats are sore with the oohhhing and ahhing and cheering, but are hearts are full and we follow along with the procession like we belong, almost trance like.
When we finally make our way home we know that we have witnessed a ritual at its very best, and it is without a doubt that the demons in question would be running a mile!
Then comes Nyepi – ‘The Day of Silence’.
For the Hindu’s this is a day of silence and meditation, it’s a day of self-control and contemplation in order to achieve spiritual purification. And it’s a day that I realize just how devoted the Balinese people are to their religion and beliefs.
On Nyepi day Bali stops! And by that I mean this whole Island, populated by over 3 million people, quite literally shuts down! You won’t see people wandering the streets – no-one will leave their homes, no lovely ladies walking with baskets of offerings balancing on their heads, no scooters causing havoc on the roads, no airplanes landing or taking off – the airport is closed for this special day.
No lights allowed, electricity is cut, and for the tourists around Bali the heavy backed curtains need to be drawn by 6.00pm not to be opened until the following morning. And it is silent!
It’s quite an experience to sit on the steps of our home and listen to the silence, remarkable really. This ritual is all about creating a scene where the Island looks completely deserted with no life, so as when the nasty demons hover above they will see this uninviting and uninhabited piece of land and pass right by – until next year anyway!
On the 4th day, the day after Nyepi, life almost returns to normal. The scooters return to the roads, the airport re-opens and the planes start arriving and departing, some of the shops open, and the lights are turned back on. Social activity around the island picks up again and the Balinese Hindu families and friends gather to perform rituals together in hope of forgiveness and to welcome in a new day and a new year. ‘Selamat Tahun Baru!’
I have so much respect for the Balinese Hindu religion and it’s devotees, and this ceremony and celebration really affirms that. The Balinese Hindu culture is a continual source of inspiration for me and there are parts that I hope to integrate into our everyday life, gratitude – giving thanks, acceptance and a huge sense of love. Our children experience giving thanks through the symbol of the Balinese offerings and it almost makes me cry to see them perform this little ritual that we have adopted. (Even if sometimes the thanks goes to the new Lego series, the ice-cream after lunch, the new DVD!) Living abroad not only offers us a diverse sense of geography, it also allows you to take the very best of what you experience and own that too.
Thank you to our beloved Island of Bali, and our Balinese families for yet another amazing experience, and thank you to our much loved (Uncle) Trev, (Aunty) Heidi and Ruby for putting aside the time to come and experience something that is not only unique and memorable but ‘bloody good fun!’. We had a ball!