Hidden in Plain Sight, Bali’s Hindu Culture
I’ll probably never even begin to understand the intricately structured tapestry of all that goes into being a practicing Balinese Hindu .
On an island catering unapologetically to tourism on a big scale, there still seems to be no question of anyone cashing in on the many, carefully guarded religious rituals and ceremonies that define Balinese life.
By carefully guarded I don’t mean invisible, quite the opposite: For one, when the time is right, colorful offerings are placed literally anywhere- in driveways, on walls, in trees, on cars or on stairs
Once in a while, a tiny tray of flower petals, rice and spices even turned up on our terrace, and a thin curling banner of scented smoke invited me to a moment of introspection, (or turns up my passport at the Polisi station in town. But that’s another story….).
Balinese acquaintances offer up snippets of information quite freely, (these often involve dragons, holy mountains and the mention of a plethora of deities and spirits). It’s direct answers to direct questions that remain elusive…..
We got our first intriguing dose of this parallel world during the Nyepi celebration days.
Nyepi Day, New Years Day, Day of Silence. I’m not clear on the whole multi-layered background, and have read conflicting versions, but I know that the day before Nyepi- called Tawur Kesanga or Pengerupuk- the island’s ever-present demons are overcome. The evil spirits, symbolized by Ogoh Ogoh statues, are paraded through the streets at night
and then destroyed in loud and wild rituals.
By moving and shaking the heavy float in a coordinated flow, and complemented by discordant (sorry, novice Bali visitor) and suggestive gamelan sounds, the Ogoh Ogoh comes alive… This takes practice and is clearly a good lesson in team work
At dawn, when purity finally reigns, Nyepi day steals in, silently. Its design is perfect deception- no foraging monsters to get the slightest inkling that the island is chock full of life. Stillness descends for a full 24 hours. No movement, no sounds, no lights. At some point the monsters give up, bored to annihiliation perhaps, and leave to look for juicier pastures….
From a personal viewpoint, Nyepi was the perfect rest for my traffic- and dog-ridden nerves. No cars, trucks, motorcycles, vans, chain saws or hammers disturbed the deep silence. It seemed as if even the roosters and aforementioned vigilante dogs thought twice about breaking the holy Nyepi peace. Virtually no artificial lights disturbed the velvety darkness and the myriads of fireflies careening over the rice paddies beyond our gate.
Balinese Hindus are supposed to fast and pray and reflect on their lives on Nyepi day. The rules for tourists are somewhat laxer, but are taken very seriously and enforced by no-nonsense Pecalang.
Rules for Tourist as communicated to me by our guest house manager:
•Tourists need to be back in their hotel rooms before 6 am on Nyepi Day.
•There are no flights in or out of Bali on this day
•There is no traveling allowed on this day. Transportation comes to a halt, and this includes boats from the island – the air smells sweet and fresh during Nyepi because there is no pollution from motor vehicles.
•Foreign guests are expected to stay in their hotel from 6 am on Nyepi Day until 6 am the next day -24h – the only exception to this will be a veranda or hotel garden. A special police force made up of security men (pecalang) will insist that tourists return to their hotels, if they are seen outside.
•It is usually ok for guests to walk around the hotel but amenities like swimming pools and gyms will be closed.
•It is forbidden to cook on this day, and this even applies to kitchens in hotel guest rooms.
•Many hotels will have some type of room service delivering precooked meals.
•Music should not be played, and foreign guests are asked to keep the noise down.
•It is only permissible to turn on a light at night if there is a small child who would otherwise be scared of the dark.
•People are asked to refrain from sex for the day, but this is a particularly tough rule to enforce-> I guess!
I’ve heard a lot of people say: The whole planet deserves a Nyepi day. It does, we all do.