Cold Coffee, Snake Fruit and Nyepi – The Day of Silence

March 21, 2015 – and along with the rest of Bali – I’m celebrating the festival of Nyepi – the Day of Silence.

Some one clearly forgot to tell the bird in my room or the rooster – but for the rest of Bali – today is a day to reflect, to think, to consider. The 4 rules are simple – no fires, no entertainment, no travel, no working. On Nyepi the world is born anew – and in respect – we are silent.

An alternative explanation – on this day the Bad Spirits fly by the island – and if there is no sound and no lights and no fires, they will think it is uninhabited – and avoid us for another year. To be sure they are distracted – yesterday all the ladies were busy putting offerings out to distract them from entering the house – offerings including whole opened coconuts, rice, flowers, and in at least one case – candy bars!

Even the airport closes for 24 hours. I’ve been told that if you try to travel, you will be stopped and politely asked to go back home. People staying in hotels have told me that some hotels will prepare food for that day – others expect you to fend for yourself by stocking up the day before. Needless to say the little 24 hour stores that mainly stock crackers and cookies were doing a landslide business last night.

Some people leave Bali for Nyepi – fleeing to less restrictive locations like the Gill Islands or even Java – but we decided to experience it here in the Lady in Pink’s 2 bedroom palace. We have food (albeit cold – hence the cold coffee and Snake Fruit – names for it’s snake like outer peel – its actually a cross between an apple and a pear with 3 large pits), we have a swimming pool, and I have my trusty ipad. Blogging is my way of thinking introspectively – in case you didn’t notice!

But let’s backtrack to last night – Pre-Nyepi day – when all of Bali celebrates – Big Time. Seriously Big Time – with huge Ogoh-Ogoh being paraded thru the streets. This is traditionally an exorcism ceremony – held in every village in Bali. The idea is to vanquish the negative elements and create balance with God, Mankind, and nature.

Starting months earlier – each community group gets together to design, build and chorograph their part in these ceremonies. The ‘Build’ portion are the Ogoh-Ogoh – puppets or demonic statues that tower above the troops of young men who carry them on Bamboo platforms. These huge (15 – 20 – even 30 feet tall) monsters and mythological beings are built of bamboo, foam, electrical wire, whatever can be found. They stand on large bamboo platforms that provide room for the 30 or so people who will be charged with carrying them thru the street – and DANCING with them during the actual ceremony.

We saw groups of young people – 5 and 6 years old – with smaller Ogoh-Ogoh, totally proud that they were participating in such an important event. The larger, more massive Ogoh-Ogoh are carried by older teens and young men. Balinese orchestras of gongs and drums accompany each group – and some groups had female dancers – highly made up – that danced along too. One group was totally playing with fire – live flames carried as torches, and used to light hula hoops during their part of the ceremony. All I could think was – Disney would DIE at the risk – imagine 20 or so young dancers – live flames – and NO audience control what so ever.

The parade starts with each group man-handling their Ogoh-Ogoh to the local football field in Ubud (obviously – other villages have other gathering points). This would be easier if not for the advent of electrictity. There are wires strung across the streets haphazardly – and mostly way too low to allow these huge creatures with their massive wing spans, demon riders, or tall feather head-dresses to pass. So each creature has it’s pole bearers. Men who carry 40 foot long bamboo poles with Y shaped ends. The idea – they use the poles to push the wires out of the way – while the guys tasked with moving the Ogoh-Ogoh lower it all the way to the ground and push it past. Over and Over again. The effort required is stunning.

At the football field, the Ogoh-Ogoh gather, along with their carriers, their bands, their dancers, the proud parents, hackers of balloons and glow in the dark headresses, and the crowds of on-lookers. A carnival atmosphere develops as more and more Ogoh-Ogoh take the field. From 5:30 until time to depart for the parade and ceremony at the main cross-roads – the numbers grow from a few hundred to several thousand people. And that’s just here in Ubud – the same gatherings and celebrations is happening in every community all over Bali. The magnitude is challenging to appreciate.

The Lady in Pink and I hung out at a local restaurant with a great view of the field – watching the action without having to withstand the brunt of the heat of the day. Our table sat 4 – so we were joined by 3 different groups of fellow tourists in shifts – 2 female artists from Germany, an older woman, also an artist, from Amsterdam, and then a couple of tourists also from Germany. Good think the Lady speaks German, eh? I drank tons of water – had a Pineapple Ice Cream Milkshake – and occasionally ventured onto the field to take pictures. The Lady held onto our table (more and more valuable as the sun began to set), and chatted with our new friends.

I even joined one of the community groups (bought the T-shirt) – but they wouldn’t let me help carry. Hey – I offered! I’m not sure what it means – but my shirt says Tabeng Dada and sports an image of their Ogoh-Ogoh.

Finally – all the groups have gathered – and it’s time for the parade to start. The Lady and I opt to avoid the crowds – and take the longer, but less travelled route back to the main intersection. We arrive just as the largest of the Ogoh-Ogoh – the one with the wings and the rider on the back of the monster arrives – and are duly frightened as it swings menacingly above our heads.

This is truly the mosh pit to end all mosh pits. And we opt out. Mistake actually. Had we stopped and thought about things a bit better – we’d have gone for high ground with a view of the intersection – but we underestimated how important and how long the ceremonies at the intersection would be. We’d have been much better having a good view. Eventually we realized our error – and worked our way back into the fray – but higher so less pushing. We got to watch one group do it’s entire 20 minute performance – and then bailed to begin our long – 40 minute – up hill walk home. This was actually not nearly as difficult as I had imagined it would be – I only stopped twice, once for a delicous 30 cent flavored popcycle – and once for a rush bathroom stop. And the temperature had cooled off considerably – which made walking much much easier.

Never-the-less – it was home, swimming pool, bed.

Signing off to think deep thoughts on Nyepi – The Soup Lady

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2 thoughts on “Cold Coffee, Snake Fruit and Nyepi – The Day of Silence

    • My sister tells me that the Ogoh-Ogoh are Julie Taymor’s inspiration. She apparently spent quite a bit of time in Bali when she was young.

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