Reminiscing Nyepi in Bali, Indonesia

This is a post I wrote last year while I was living in Indonesia. Today is Nyepi in Indonesia, a day of silence. I am reminiscing what I did last year and now I will share it with you.

Selamat Hari Raya Nyepi semua!

Today, the only sound that can be heard is the soft exhale of the wind as she caresses the rice paddies, making the rice stalks rustle and hustle.

There are no motorbikes whizzing past, no people gossiping on the side of the road and no men walking down the street screaming ‘luuummpiaaahhh’!

It is very peaceful as I sit on my veranda in awe of the kehijauan or greenness of my local village, Katiklantang. (Or ‘Longstick’ as the locals call it. It is a popular naughty joke amongst my Balinese friends because I live in ‘Longstick’).

Today, all over Bali, people are required to stay in their homes. They are not allowed to use listrik (electricity), nor make any noise. This is all part of the holiday called Nyepi. I could act like an encyclopedia here and go in to some sort of detailed description as to what Nyepi is, or; I could put it in the words of my Balinese friends. I choose the latter:

Today everyone must stay home and stay quiet so that ‘the bad spirits don’t get you’.

After last nights celebrations, I expected today to have an eerie children-of-the-corn (or rice) feel to it. But right now is very peaceful.

For the past few weeks, or for some villages only for the last two days, the Balinese people have been constructing Ogoh Ogohs in preparation for Nyepi.

Ogoh Ogohs come in all different shapes and sizes, from massive bores bearing large, white foam teeth at the front and a large pink penis at the back, to small angry-looking monsters riding on top of a Tek Kotak packet. Some of my favourites are the large breasted Amazon woman and the dreadlocked wild surfer man.

At about five pm yesterday, tourists and locals gathered on the side of the streets all around Bali in anticipation for the Nyepi precession. I situated myself on Jalan Hanoman in Ubud and it wasn’t until about six pm that the excitement began. First came the clanging of the gamelan instruments which were played by the Balinese as they paraded down the street. The musicians were followed by hundreds of people shouting and screaming in excitement. Groups of young kids carried the Ogoh Ogoh structures down Jalan Hanoman, with what looked like to me, much ease. There were men working on the street corners directing traffic out of the way. They used walky talkies to communicate with other traffic directors in the other villages so that they knew when the precession would begin. I’m sure if they all just started playing the gamelan in each village at the same time they may not have needed the walky talkies.

Amidst the precession were a couple of men pulling what I thought looked like kaki lima food carts but without the soto ayam cabinet. One cart cradled a small sound system and the other, a set of spotlights.

The precession stopped at one end of Jalan Hanoman and filled almost the entire street with oversized monsters. A voice boomed down the street, filtered through the crackly speakers of the modified kaki lima sound system; ‘Selamat Hari Raya Nyepi!’ The sun slowly gave way to the moon creating a blue twilight atmosphere and the kaki lima light cart flashed a large red spotlight, highlighting the eerie Ogoh Ogohs and the crazy costumes and face make up that the Balinese had so decoratively worn.

Kids were painting each other’s faces in the nooks and crannies of the closed shop fronts on the side of the street. Teenagers spotted colourful spikey hair styles and face make up that would make Halloween seem like a cute, non-rabid puppy and one teen even wore the famous scream mask!

The lights flashed faster, the voiceover rattled with more intense excitement and the people screamed and clapped as the Ogoh Ogohs were paraded around in circles to release the bad spirits.

And the bad spirits were released that night.

I joined my friends on Jalan Bisma for a drinking party on the temple stairs. The nights bad spirit of choice – arak, poured from a plastic water bottle and shotted from a plastic cup.

Despite the bad spirits making their way on the streets there was no bad spirit-influenced dancing because the night’s party was a silent party aka, no live music.

After a deliciously satisfying Irish Coffee with the other two of Chalies Angels (how ironic, being called angels on Nyepi eve!) at Napi Orti, we went home to CP Lounge to continue the partying in silence.

The usual family members were there and then some. We all sat in the dark together (some tried to play pool in the dark) and indulged in some more bad spirits before shutting down early so that everyone had enough time to pulang before the six am curfew. There was a lot of talk about what people were planning to do for the day of silence. Most people, including myself said that we wanted to do it properly and stay home in the dark, not use any technology, maybe write or read or catch up on sleep or meditate.

I returned home in the early hours of the morning and slept through most of the day. At one pm I was awoken by Mawar, the Ibu from downstairs, and handed a smorgasboard of Indian food, a coffee, salad and a sandwich, before sleeping again through the afternoon.

I was awoken, surprised at approximately half past five, by the sound of about sixty children walking down the streets of Longstick. They appeared from all different directions at the same time and continued through the muddy path that divides the rice paddies towards the river.

Why were the children allowed out? Maybe the children are off limits to the bad spirits or maybe after being inside the house for so long the parents were like ‘whatever, the bad spirits can have them!’

At about six pm, Mawar appeared on my veranda again bearing a plate of delicious nasi goreng and she reminded me that I couldn’t turn the lights on.

Before Nyepi, I asked my friend What people do all day on Nyepi? His reply was that lots of couples stay home and have sex all day. On that note, I wonder what the percentage of Capricorns is in Bali in comparison to other star signs…

So at this stage it does feel a little bit eerie. There is a man walking down the street with a flash-light and my paranoid and imaginative mind replays that scene in ‘Ghost’ when the bad guy dies and all those little black monster things scurry across the road to take his soul.

Ah well, not to worry. I’ve still got my sandwich sitting on the table in case I need to sacrifice it as an offering. I hope the bad spirits aren’t allergic to egg.

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