A sacred day of stillness, solitude and silence in the island paradise of Bali.

 

This is all pre-covid!

The plane came to a halt and we found ourselves on the tarmac at Denpasar, Bali airport. The humidity hit me in the face!

I am here to partake in the New Year celebrations.

Contrary to many cultures all over the world where New Year is celebrated with raucous dynamic and colourful festivities… the crowning point of the Balinese New Year celebration is punctuated with a day of SILENCE.

Nyepi means “to keep silent” and falls on the spring equinox.

Like all Bali’s numerous religious festivals and holy days, it is calculated based on the Saka (Balinese calendar) and Nyepi is the most important, most sacred Hindu festival in Bali, and is a public holiday.

 

The first two days are filled with noisy preparation, fasting, meditation and puja (prayer, worship).  And then on Nyepi Day, the entire island comes to a standstill, with all flights suspended from Denpasar (DSP) airport from 6 am for 24 hours.

No lights including candles are allowed.  I didn’t ask about fridges & freezers which are modern inventions — I pray they are left on!

Everyone must stay indoors including hotel guests.  No entertainment, no noise including minimum talking… and with religious folks, fasting.  The effect of these prohibitions, Bali is devoid of usual bustling activities and the roads are empty.

Only traditional pecalang (security men) patrol the street to ensure prohibition is followed.  No cars, ojeks (motorbike taxis) or bicycles are allowed on the road.  Only ambulances responding to life-threatening emergencies and pregnant women about to give birth are allowed.

Handphones are a new gadget and are not in the rulebook and so as usual, it got abused — so WiFi is switched off for 24 hours!  Help!

 

 

We checked into a hotel on Poppies Lane with a big garden, dumped our bags and headed to Kuta beach. Contrary to well-heeled tourists who scoffed at Kuta, I think it’s a happening place!

Counting down to Nyepi Day, the day of silence, there’s bustling activities on the beach. Men nailing the platforms together, the fragrance of assorted flowers permeates the air. Women in colorful sarongs and children playing their noisy “catch me” games. In homes, families are putting together ogoh-ogoh, giant effigies of the fabled man-eating monsters! Ogoh-ogoh are paraded around towns or villages and end up in a bonfire like any ending of fairy tales. The enemy is defeated and a new dawn follows.

The next morning, as a prerequisite for women, I dressed the part in a white long-sleeved kebaya top, a sarong, and flowers (unofficially harvested from the garden) in my hair… and Michael wore a white long-sleeved tee-shirt. Armed with cameras, we headed to the beach.

 

 

 

Prayers are held everywhere on the island of Bali… be it in a pura (Balinese Hindu temple) or on a beach.

Balinese dressed in their best arrived in droves. Women in lacy or embroidered white kebayas paired with beautiful colorful sarongs, walking gracefully while balancing a tall pile of offerings on their heads. Men in double sarongs, white long-sleeved shirts, adorned with batik headgear, finished with a smaller white cloth wrapped around.

The majority of the villagers came in buses and community lorries. Village or district groups have assigned slots on the beach. The master of ceremonies would call out the name of the village as their turn arrived to make a prayer and offering facing the sea.

A collection of five types of flowers in a little coconut leaf basket, accompanied with a single joss-stick (optional) is left at the tide line for the tide to carry one’s imperfection away. With the blue sky, the hypnotic sound from the gamelans and angklungs… one can feel the ambience being blessed by the worshippers’ presence.

Lian in her white kebaya top & colorful sarong… receiving blessings from a priest in a private prayer ceremony on the beach.

 

 

Priests were walking around blessing the believers by sprinkling holy water after a prayer, followed by pressing rice grains on one’s forehead. I managed a private prayer ceremony.

In the afternoon when the sun was less severe, we ventured back to the beach not expecting much. The highlight was a large group of young girls — depicting virgins! They had highly decorated headdresses, gold and white sarongs and heavy makeup reminding me of the Nepalese child goddess Kumari! Despite the heavy drizzle, the little girls continued their dance routine unfazed. They were excellent with their swaying body movements and elaborate hand gestures.

Cacophony and festivals come hand in hand.

And then on Nyepi Day… everyone observes a day of absolute SILENCE.

Some locations in the world seem to emit strong spiritual force — the old Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa, Tiji Festival in Upper Mustang, Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and Bali.

I am convinced that if God had a home on this planet, it would be in Bali.

PHOTO CREDITS: Photos courtesy of Lian Ang & Michael Godfrey

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LIAN ANG is passionate about ‘the road less travelled’, a photographer, street foodie & wine enthusiast. She enjoys tennis, bridge, birdwatching, and exploring local haunts. Lian shares her husband’s digital nomad lifestyles before Covid struck the planet. Their family motto is “home is where our toothbrush is”.

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