Celebrating With Quiet

Would you celebrate anything with quiet? In Bali, the Day of Silence or Nyepi is how the Balinese inaugurate their New Year. Bali is a small tropical island in Indonesia. Millions of people visit every year to see its renowned beaches, volcanos, and coral reefs. Tourism is the superior source of Bali’s economy. However, during Nyepi, all air travel to and from Bali is restricted. The only airport is closed in observance of the holiday. No one is permitted to travel, work, merry-make, speak above a whisper, use electricity, or cook. Nyepi is a time for one to take a moment to meditate and self-reflect. For some, it is also a time for fasting and absolute silence. 

The days before Nyepi are quite the opposite. Four days before the Day of Silence, villagers travel to the nearest body of sacred water — which for many is the sea. There they honor Acintya — the god of Indonesian Hinduism — through the Melasti Ritual. People don white clothes that indicate purity and carry sacred symbols. Many people burst into tears while asking to be forgiven for past wrongdoings. Holy water is sprinkled amongst the crowd to cleanse souls. The purpose of the Melasti Ritual is to purge oneself of past sins; throwing the bad past into the ocean.

On the eve of Nyepi is the celebration of the Bhuta Yajna Ritual. Gigantic papier-mâché statues that symbolize evil spirits are taken to the streets, carried by dozens of men. Clamorous ruckus ensues through the excited banging of drums and cymbals. Villagers emerge from their homes with plastic containers and pans to strike. Dancers wave burning torches of fire and step to the beat of the masses’ cheers and claps. The purpose of the ritual is to frighten away monsters looking to cause misfortune to the inhabitants. Eventually, the crowd carries the statues to an open plain for burning — a way of overcoming the evil spirits. In the end, families peacefully retreat to their homes and turn off the lights.

The next morning is one of total soundlessness. No person ambles through the street. Not a vroom from a scooter can be heard. The only sounds come from nearby trickling streams, distant howls of monkeys, and the chirps of birds in trees. All is peaceful. Aside from the inherent need for an emergency ambulance (come a birthing or a death) and the leisurely check-ins from the local police (to ensure that the policies are being respected), Nyepi is a rather relaxed day.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like for the whole world to be still for a moment. If those noisy airplanes that keep you up at night were to take a break. If the roads would not be packed and the lousy commutes to work would go gratefully unmissed. Times Square would be blanketed by a calm stillness, with no glaring lights and billboards pushing you to buy things. If that neighbor would stop ceaselessly blowing away nonexistent leaves. Maybe you would hear the chirping of crickets. The simple things would be recognized; the blessings counted. With silence, everyone would be in commonality for just a brief moment. It seems impossible for total peace and harmony to happen like that, but the Balinese are moving in the right direction.