Monday, March 22, 2010

nyepi (balinese new year)

It's been so long since my last entry. I had a very interesting month, which beyond consuming me totally, was also very difficult to express in writing. I attended 2 levels of Cranio Sacral Therapy training with Leonid Soboleff which changed me at a very deep level. If ever I feel resourceful enough, I would love to write these experiences sometime.

Tuesday was the first day of the Balinese new year. The preparations and the celebrations started much earlier though. About two-three weeks earlier, the Ogoh-ogohs were already being built. Ogoh-ogohs are paper-mache monsters, representing the bad and the evil spirits coming down to earth. They are made in enormous detail and with a lot of decorations, and mostly the artists of each neighborhood produce them. Although I have seen a few little ones produced by little kids, looking no less spectacular than the grande versions. As far as I understood, each neighborhood raises its own funds through donations of the residents and then uses that money to make their own ogoh-ogoh(s). Ogoh-ogohs are meant to be scary and evil looking. On the second day of the new year, they are burned to represent purification of the earth from the bad spirits.

About a week before to the new year, some cleaning and offering ceremonies (the Melasti Ritual) were held by the beaches. A lot of fruits and flowers were offered to the gods. I was lucky to observe this ceremony both in Seminyak and in Candi Dasa on different days. It was more fun in the afternoon, when all fruits came back to the shore due to the opposite tide. It felt like the god of seas were offering something back to its believers.

Three days before the Nyepi, on Tumpek Landep another ceremony was held to purify everything metal. Originally, this ceremony was dedicated to weaponry, however nowadays more emphasis seems to be placed on other metal goods, such as cars and motorbikes. Oh well, any tourist spending 2 days here can see how important his/her motorbike is for the Balinese, so the transition from magical swords to bikes seem only natural. I was invited to pray in the family temple and make offerings too. The energy was just amazing, I could feel my palms buzzing. it was probably due to the unified field of energy on the island since everyone was praying at the same time. 

The day before Nyepi is when all the action takes place. Most shops and cafes closed early afternoon. We knew that on the day of Nyepi everyone would be home, observing silence so supermarkets and bakeries were raided. Traditionally one is not supposed to light a fire on Nyepi, which also means no cooking.

Prior to the festivities, I've asked at least 5 people when and where the Ogoh-ogoh parade will start. No two answers were the same. It wasn't only me, a few other friends also had no idea despite asking locals or long-time expats around. Finally one of my neighbors, who's been visiting Bali repeatedly for 20 years was able to give a satisfying answer. He said “Nobody knows the exact time, because the ceremonies have their own dynamics and they start when everything is ready”. Fair enough... Around 5:30pm a friend texted me to say that the ceremonies on Hanoman street were about to start. Armed with my camera, I walked there. I could feel the excitement in the air, most of it coming from the kids. They were all dressed for the occasion (later I figured that each neighborhood would have their “teams”, dressed the same way and managing the Ogoh-ogoh parade for their area.) In addition to the people carrying the Ogoh-ogohs there was the band playing the music, at least one person managing the traffic (mostly of the bystanders, as streets were closed to car traffic long ago) and two or more guys with long sticks, making sure that Ogoh-ogohs don't touch the electric wires during the parade by lifting the wires up by their T-shaped sticks. On the first glance, the whole ceremony seemed to spontaneous, especially with lack of timing or information. However there seems to be great effort and organization behind it.

The kids tried to paint on scary faces, however it seems that whatever they do, the Balinese kids always look cute. 

The parade did not start until sunset. Announcements were made in Bahasa Indonesia and also very thoughtfully in English about the ceremonies and the route of the parade. Then it started. The music, the fire, the shouting, the dance... It was a spectacular and most of the times, we felt it beating in our hearts. The Ogoh-ogohs were marching (or more accurately, being marched by their teams on bamboo platforms) until a certain point under the street light, then the one in the front was turning clock-wise 3 times and facing the Ogoh-ogoh behind, a dance representing the fight between the two started... When the fight was over, the two teams were continuing with the parade and the next two Ogoh-ogohs were replacing them. The energy and the spirit was simply amazing. 

It was the best new year celebration I ever had; I was free to walk between parades of different neighborhoods, could take as many photos as I wanted, didn't need to drink and eat senselessly and was surrounded by the spirit of the Island of Gods...

Talking about taking photos, this was one of the rare events that my good old Canon 40D disappointed me with its ISO capabilities. This disappointment increased further as a friend was able to shoot perfect handheld photos at ISO 6400 without any grain using his Nikon D700. This was the third time in the last 6 months that I've witnessed a Nikon camera having a better performance in natural-light settings. I am already convinced that Nikon does a much better job with flashes. Had I not invested so much in Canon L series lenses, I would have seriously considered converting to Nikon.

The celebrations ended around 10pm around the football field. After chatting with some photographers, I went back to my place not to leave it for another 32-33 hours.

During the day of Nyepi, everyone in Bali, including non-Hindu population and tourists must observe silence. Ideally, there are also 4 rules to observe; no fire, no work, no entertainment and no traveling. One should spend the day in silent retrospection, considering the sins s/he committed the previous year and what s/he ca do better in the new year. Isn't this a much better way to start a year, instead of waking in the middle of the day with a great hangover and an upset stomach?

It seems however that as long as they do not disturb the others around, the tourists are allowed to entertain themselves. I was also lucky that my family provided 3 meals for me on Nyepi. It would have been ideal to spend the entire day meditating, however I chose the “silent entertainment” option and watched 5 movies from my laptop with headphones. Looking back, I could have taken my brain out of my skull and put it in a blender instead, but I guess that wasn't a bad start for a first-time Nyepi observer.

Since there were no cars and no fires on the entire island on that day, the sky was so clear and so blue. The “no fire” option extends to the evening as no light, so except for the occasional candle or the flashlight, the whole island was in darkness. So especially the evening sky was amazing, we were blanketed by millions of stars.

A night of high-energy celebrations, followed by silence, clarity and darkness was simply a great experience. A few friends have escaped to Java as they did not want to be locked in their homes for Nyepi. I am glad that I stayed and would feel very lucky if I ever I can be in Bali again for future Nyepis.