My visit to Bali this week came as a surprise to many because I chose the only time of the year when the island is shrouded in silence. I suppose my decision to be in Bali during the Hindu festival Nyepi is baffling for those who like to go out every day and spend their time at the island’s famed beaches and bars.
Beaches are fine, however religious festivities need to be experienced at least once in a lifetime. For me, it was a chance to learn about what is important for others.
Nyepi is not just a standalone celebration of the Saka new year in Bali. Three or four days prior to the big day, you are likely to see a melasti (purification) ceremony at one of Bali’s beaches. They are usually closed to the public but it’s still possible to watch from afar.
Another fascinating ritual to see before Nyepi is the ogoh-ogoh parade. Ogoh-ogoh is a local term referring to gigantic statues, made by local communities to represent bad spirits, that are later burned at night.
I also learned that after Nyepi, there is an annual omed-omedan (kissing festival) at the Sesetan Heritage Village in Denpasar.
There are four main rules during the day of Nyepi aimed to encourage self reflection into the new year. You cannot make a fire, you cannot go to work, you cannot travel and you shall not have any entertainment that will blind you from self-reflection. Some people also fast for a whole day. I decided to stay in a hostel. I thought it would be less daunting to spend a night without lights in a shared dormitory.
Before this day of meditation there are many preparations to be made. The hostel’s receptionist told me the cafe will stay open on Nyepi day but with limited staff and menu, so to get in the spirit of the festival I joined a crowd of people who were rushing to supermarkets to buy snacks and water. It reminded me of the weekend before the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
The day before Nyepi, I took a little stroll around Legian taking note of the usually busy beach town that was slowly descending into a meditative standstill. Shops were closing early and tourists were for once ignored by the Balinese people who were getting ready for the ogoh-ogoh parade. It felt strange not to be asked to stop and spend money in a shop.
The parade illustrated the community’s strong loyalty to its roots. Young kids were having all the fun helping adults carrying the ogoh-ogoh. Teenage girls dressed in uniform T-shirts and traditional sarongs and carried torches, while the boys played musical instruments. It was an intriguing folk party that showcased an impressive display of culture, belief and craftsmanship.
Having now observed Nyepi, I realize it is not as intimidating as I had expected. For us tourists and travelers, it could be just another day with a late start without the worry of where to eat and how to get somewhere.
I have never experienced an environment that is completely shut down like Bali on Nyepi. As a Muslim, I observe fasting during Ramadan and Idul Fitri, which are usually more hectic than my normal days. There are relatives to see, food to prepare and special dresses to be worn. On Idul Fitri week, Jakarta’s roads might be empty and you can almost always get anywhere in 30 minutes or less —so, unlike Nyepi, indulgence remains.
An impressive consequence of Nyepi that I observed was the effect it has on the environment. As Bali went pitch black at night, the stars seemed to shine brighter. The morning after Nyepi, the weather was splendid. I saw the bluest sky and the air felt fresher. It was somehow cooler and there was more breeze than in the previous days.
Nyepi, like the fasting month, reminds me of society’s excessive consumption and waste. If a 24-hour break from the hustle and bustle is what we need to readjust our perspectives and get in tune with what’s important, we should do it regularly, especially in Jakarta. (Jakarta Globe)