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Nyepi - The Balinese day of Silence
Every religion or culture all over the world has their own way to define and celebrate their new year based on their own calendar system. While most people in the world use the Gregorian calendar and celebrate their New Year on January 1st in revelry, Balinese use Saka calendar and celebrate their New Year in silence in a day which is called Nyepi day. The Balinese day of Silence falls on the day following the dark moon of the spring equinox (in 2013, it falls on March 11st), and opens a new year of the Saka Hindu era which began in 78 A.D.
A deserted street at Nyepi in Legian area, Bali.
Nyepi is a day of silence, fasting and meditation for the Balinese. This Hindu celebration mainly celebrated in Bali, Indonesia. It is based on the story of when King Kaniska I of India was chosen in 78 A.D. The King was famous for his wisdom and tolerance for the Hinduism and Buddhism societies. In that age, Aji Saka did Dharma Yatra (the missionary tour to promote and spread Hinduism) to Indonesia and introduces the Saka year.
Balinese will perform some rituals before, during and after the Nyepi day, they are:
- Melasti (3 or 4 days before Nyepi)
This ritual is also known as Mekiyis or Melis. Melasti is meant to purify Arca, Pratima, and Pralingga (sacred objects) belonging to several temples, also to acquire sacred water from the sea. Pratima is a symbol that help to concentrate the mind in order to become closer to God. The ceremony is aimed to clean all nature and its content and also to take the Amerta (the source for eternal life) from the ocean or other water resources (i.e. lake, river, etc). All the effigies of the Gods from the entire village temples are taken to the river or sea in long and colourful ceremonies.
- Tawur Agung Kesanga and Pengerupukan (the day before Nyepi)
Tawur Agung Kesanga ritual is performed at around 12 pm in the afternoon in order to vanquish the negative elements and create a balance between God, Mankind, and Nature. The ritual is also meant to appease Batara Kala by Pecaruan offering. The main pecaruan offering are held at the public square. Following Tawur Agung Kesanga is Pengrupukan rituals which is held at around sunset in the evening. The main attractions of the ritual are parades of Ogoh Ogoh (huge colorful figures of demons made of bamboo and paper symbolizing negative elements or malevolent spirits) that will be carried or driven around every town and village in Bali. The center of the parade is the town or village's main crossroad and the parade will usually be accompanied by music, fireworks and bamboo canons, making it quite a sight and something you do not want to miss if you have the opportunity. The parade ends before midnight with the burning of the Ogoh Ogohs as a symbol of getting rid of the evil spirits.
On Nyepi day Balinese perform a ritual named Catur Brata Penyepian which is consist of Amati Geni (no fire or light, including no electricity), Amati Karya (no working), Amati Lelungan (no travelling) and Amati Lelanguan (fasting and no revelry/self-entertainment). Every street is quiet - there are nobody doing their normal daily activities. There are usually some Pecalangs (traditional Balinese security man) who controls and checks for street security. Pecalang wear a black uniform and a Udeng or Destar (a Balinese traditional "hat" that is usually used in ceremony). The Pecalangs main task is not only to control the security of the street but also to stop any activities that may disturb Nyepi. No traffic is allowed, not only cars but also people, who have to stay in their own houses. Light is kept to a minimum or not at all, the radio or TV is turned down and, of course, no one works. Even love making, this ultimate activity of all leisure times, is not supposed to take place, nor even attempted. The whole day is simply filled with the barking of a few dogs, the shrill of insect and is a simple long quiet day in the calendar of this otherwise hectic island. On Nyepi the world expected to be clean and everything starts a new, with Man showing his symbolic control over himself and the "force" of the World, hence the mandatory religious control.
- Ngembak Geni (the day after Nyepi)
Ngembak Geni is the day when Catur Berata Penyepian is over and Hindus societies usually visit to forgive each other and doing the Dharma Canthi. Dharma Canthi are activities of reading Sloka, Kekidung and Kekawin (ancient scripts containing songs and lyrics).
Nyepi is a day reserved for self-reflection and as such, anything that might interfere with that purpose is restricted. The main restrictions are: no lighting fires (and lights must be kept low); no working; no entertainment or pleasure; no traveling; and for some, no talking or eating at all. The effect of these prohibitions is that Bali’s usually bustling streets and roads are empty, there is little or no noise from TVs and radios, and few signs of activity are seen even inside homes. The only people to be seen outdoors are the Pecalang who patrol the streets to ensure the prohibitions are being followed.
Although Nyepi is primarily a Hindu holiday, non-Hindu residents of Bali observe the day of silence as well, out of respect for their fellow citizens. Even tourists are not exempt; although free to do as they wish inside their hotels, no one is allowed onto the beaches or streets, and the only airport in Bali remains closed for the entire day. The only exceptions granted are for emergency vehicles carrying those with life-threatening conditions and women about to give birth.