Letter sent home in March, 2007
March 19th, 2007 Happy New Year Everyone!
Today is the Balinese New Year, 1929 and it is my favorite holiday in Bali. I haven’t been here for NYEPI for 6 years so you can imagine my delight that I found out that my trip this year overlapped with it and I would be forced to take a day off from all my running around and stop, stay home, and be still in accordance with the local customs. Something we hardly ever get to do in the West, except on Shabbat, if one really honored that tradition. This is what it says in the local leaflet handed out to the tourist:
Sunday night, March 18, 2007 In this ceremony, the people gather together to pray and make offerings to appease the gods and powers that abide in our community. By making offerings, sacrifices and prayers at this time, we are letting go of the past year, appeasing the powers that threaten the harmony of our community and will be ready to welcome the New Year. The afternoon around 5 or 6 we do many things to “scare off” bad influences, and what might be called bad spirits. You will see people making smoke and banging on pots and pans in their houses the day before Nyepi to scare off all bad things. Some light off bamboo firecrackers so that the explosions will scare off evil influences. One of the biggest and most exciting ways we send evils away is the Ogoh-Ohog (Giant Puppet) parade, in which representation of all kinds of troubling creatures are paraded through the town and then disposed of. The significance of this special ceremony is to harmonize the three words in accordance with Bali Hindu belief.
These worlds are:
Bhur – Level of the lower beings
Bwah – Level of the humans
Swah – Level of the Gods
Monday, March 19, Nyepi Quiet Day Nyepi means to observe silence. It is a very holy day and on this first day of our calendar, we observe total silence. It represents a way to begin life a new, with the troubling and dark aspects of the past year put well behind us. From midnight on the 18th until sunrise on the 20th you are expected to hide indoors, make no noise, light no fires, and shine no lights.
Here I am in the middle of the day of silence and I am ever so quietly typing on the computer. As a westerner, I am afforded a few transgressions of the local customs as long as I abide by most of them. Today, blissfully entrenched at my old friend Penny’s home, I slept in until 10 AM awoken only to the crowing of the roosters instead of the rumble of the local traffic on the roads. No cars, motor bikes, airplanes move on this day. (The international airport in Bali closes to all air traffic for the 36 hours of Nyepi – I am sure the only airport in the world that closes down for religious purposes). Since I arrived last Wednesday afternoon and stayed one night down at the beach with my dear friend Sarita’s, I have put in 3 long days shopping already. No jet lag at all this year for me, happy to say – I feel totally healthy, energized and fantastic! Yippee on Nyepi (pronounced Nyipee)!
Ah, such a joyful treat, a sweet late afternoon rain has just started and it smells like springtime; an absolutely delicious sound and smell. Behind the rain hitting the palm frawns and banana leaves I can hear little kids laughing and not much else. It is amazing, the stillness. The Balinese tradition for today is based on the belief that on the night before Npepi, if they make as much noise and racket before and during the Ogoh-Ogoh parade that the island will look like such a fun party place the lower gods will come to party and all night have a grand old time. Then, when the whole island goes home, keep all the lights off and stay indoors for a whole day in relative quiet, the lower gods will think the Island has become abandoned and a boring place to party — then they will leave it, alone and at peace. This is the ancient Balinese Hindu belief and I think it is wonderful. So here we are on the day Nyepi, my friend Penny and I resting and reading the day away, eating scrumptious meals she prepared in advance for us, so peaceful. We even gave ourselves facials this morning. A day kind of like Yom Kippur but without having to dress up and go to temple to pray, reflect or atone. Refreshed and recharged and lazy, I am lounging around in my sarong and singlet sipping strong coffee and dreaming about the chili rellenos and smoked duck we are having for dinner.
For the start of my holiday yesterday I hopped on the back of Penny’s motorbike as we scooted around up in the mountains looking at the local Ogoh-Ogoh’s. Imagine, if you will, giant bizarre animal-like creatures made of paper machete and foam with feathers for fingernails and nipples up too 25 feet high. They are supposed to represent evil spirits or demonic beings so I have seen over the year’s large missiles and other phallic things, some foreign political leaders (who shall remain nameless), giant bugs, monsters of all sorts. No matter the subject, the creations are amazingly detailed and bold beyond belief. No reason to be subtle in your artistry when trying to court the demons. Before coming back to Ubud (our hometown) to go to the soccer field where all the villages Ogoh-ogoh convene to start the parade, Penny and I stopped briefly back at her home at dusk to rustle up all the monsters from the corner of her house. Each with pot and spoon in hand we banged and whooped up a storm to coax the spirits from under the tables and behind the doors. Party time, we said, come out to play. Then off we scooted to the center of town to see the Ogoh-Ogoh’s in the all their splendor with electronic lights and smoke on them and anywhere form 10 – 50 boys to men carried them on bamboo platforms through the center of town making as much noise as possible. I haven’t been to Mardi Graw but I imagine it much the same feeling without the breasts or beads or drunken debauchery. I recognized many Balinese friends and their sons carting the giant monsters on their shoulders and shouting loud chants in their black and white sarongs – to represent the balance of good and evil. What fun. After dinner I walked back towards Penny’s without the aid of any streetlights or shop lights, I did my best not to fall into any holes in the street. I say this in part because I was walking with my head towards the heaven, gawking at the sky ablaze with so many stars unencumbered by electric lights. Quite a show they gave me.
Now the rain has ceased and I can hear my dear Penny in the kitchen mixing up our evening cocktail of vodka & tonic and fresh lime from the tree in her garden. I will sign off now with love and peace for you all; peace for the gods and monsters alike; and in hopes that we all can have a healthy and happy new year. From the bottom of my mulit-cultural heart, I send my love,
Selemat Hari Raya Nyepi,