Upon our arrival in Bali, we immediately heard about Nyepi -and honestly, it sounded rather daunting to me — an evening of celebration (fun!) followed by a day of silence and reflection (yikes!). At first, we considered leaving the country, as I was having trouble imagining how this was going to go down with a seven year old boy and a ten year old girl –(neither having spent much time in silent reflection!) Ultimately, we decided to stay and experience the holiday and we were really glad we did.
Nyepi is the second most important holiday on the Balinese Hindu calendar and is observed on the entire island of Bali. Everything is closed, (including the airport), and people are supposed to stay inside their houses and abstain from using any electric power or devices. People who venture out of their houses are ushered back in by the police who are out on the streets. Even tourists are warned, when they book their trips during Nyepi, that they are expected to observe the holiday and stay in their hotel (I have heard they let people hang out at the pool so, it’s not a complete lock down!). For westerners, the rules are a bit relaxed and, to be honest, I saw a few Balinese neighbors roaming around their yards but, for the devout, it is a day of fasting, meditation and prayer. We almost made it through the entire day without using our power or electronic devices but, we caved at the end and watched a movie together before the kids went to bed. It should be noted however, that we can’t currently use our t.v. to watch movies, (due to technical difficulties, mostly related to our a/v team….aka, my husband) so, four people crowded around a laptop, watching a kid’s movie, is not exactly the reward I was hoping for after getting through the day of silence but, even with that, It was a great day. Can you imagine a day like this in the U.S? Indra was curious about our traditions for celebrating holidays in the U.S. and my mind was immediately filled with images of people at the mall fighting over half-priced Snuggies or, camping in the Walmart parking lot, waiting for Thanksgiving day (and night) to be over, in the hopes of scoring a 55″ plasma for $1 — in contrast to here, where people stay home to commune with family and formulate their intentions for the coming year…..I didn’t have the heart (or nerve) to tell him so, I said “a lot like Bali” but, really, nothing at all like Bali.
The holiday began with the kid’s assembly at school and then, later that night, (the eve of Nyepi), we were off to experience the real thing. We walked into Ubud for the parade which, outside of Denpasar, is the largest in the area, and includes many more Ogoh-Ogohs than in the smaller villages. Many people from the village participate in the parade to help tell the stories of each Ogoh-Ogoh through music, dance and even some acting. The closest thing we have at home might be Mardi Gras, however, I can’t imagine attending Mardi Gras with kids or feeling as comfortable and secure as we did that night. Ironically, the Ogoh-Ogohs and ensuing parades are supposed to be so frightening, that the evil spirits are scared away from the island yet, all the kids from the village attend, (including little ones that ride on the Ogoh-Ogohs), and the overall tone is festive and relaxed. At one point during the parade, a little boy who was riding on one of the statues got scared so, they stopped and his dad climbed up to ride with him on his lap. It felt more like an old-fashioned, small town event compared to the huge commercial productions that everything seems to morph into at home. There are no barricades, security people or even plans made for the for the power lines that stand in the way of the large floats that come through the street. When a statue would appear that was too tall to make it past the power lines, out came the “rakes” –several men would grab what looked like a long rake and push the lines over the creature’s head. Problem solved! No permits or work orders needed just a little ingenuity (and luck –especially, since no one got electrocuted!)
We made it through our first Nyepi. We even learned that we can survive a whole day with nothing but each other to rely on for entertainment (almost). We also learned how to get on each others nerves in ways we hadn’t imagined. Anyone know the joy of being serenaded by a seven year old singing “Gangnam Style” forty times in a row? It’s fantastic!
I’m hopeful we can bring parts of this experience back with us. Returning to the demands of L.A. is something we will have to navigate when the time comes. Until then, I want to enjoy the blissfully unstructured and uncomplicated days we have here as long as possible.