Last night as I sat on my friends balcony, sweeping views of the stunning Sydney Harbour in the distance, suddenly a big colourful fireworks display burst into life.
What was it for we wondered ? It’s February !
Chinese New Year- questioned my friend ?
Ahhh yes, this is one of the joys of living in a wonderfully multicultural city. The many celebrations that take place on a grand scale.
A couple of years ago I booked a trip to Bali in February, completely ignorant to the fact I would be flying back to Australia on the day that the island of Bali celebrates New Years Eve.
It didn’t even occur to me that New Years Eve happened at a different time of year to Australia. Like I said, I was completely ignorant.
When I think of New Years Eve, I think of Sydney sparkling and shining in all its glory under the banging blazing lights of millions of dollars worth of fireworks adorning the picturesque harbourside. Party hats, champagne and sparklers !
Balinese New Year, is quite the contrary. In Bali they welcome it with silence. Silence ? Yes silence. Nyepi, as it is called, is a Hindi celebration, a day to make and keep the balance of nature.
Temples line the coast line and in the 3 days before Nyepi pilgrims make their way through the streets in long peaceful and colourful processions. This ceremony is part of the cleansing and gaining of eternal life from the water source.
The island is a spiritual hive of activity, not to mention some incredible sights. Anyone heard of a “Ooga Ooga” …. ? No ?
An Ooga Ooga is a monster. An enormous, scary, paper mache monster that plays a very important part in the New Years Eve “exorcism” parade.
Exorcism ? Yes indeedy, an exorcism.
At sunset on New Years Eve, the big parade begins. Accompanied by a procession of followers loudly drumming, clanging symbols, yelling and making some noise,the scary monster Ooga Oogas make their way to the town centre, where at the crossroads ( the spot where demons are believed to congregate ) an exorcism is performed with the emphasis most definitely on being “LOUD”.
Following this day comes Nyepi. The day of silence.
This is so strictly adhered to that the only thing open on this day is the hospitals, and even then that is for emergency cases only. Airports close, no planes are allowed in, and none out. Shops are closed, and if you are found out on the street, the friendly tourist police will return you back to your hotel. The use of electricity and working is discouraged as is any form of movement and noise.
The idea is that that the bad spirits will find Bali to be a quiet peaceful place, and leave for another year.
As my friend and I travelled to our hotel in Ubud on the day before New Years Eve, our driver talked about the events and parading of the “Ooga Oogas” we passed being built next to many of the town temples. He talked of his island and the tradition of the Nyepi festival.
When I told him I was going to miss it all as had to fly out on that evening he incredulously stated I would not be able to get to the airport.
You see, Bali has one road that connects all towns on the island and as the processions block the roads starting from an early hour, I had no way of getting through to the airport.
My options: 1: I would have to get someone to drop me and my enormous back pack, not to mention my beloved giant wooden bird I had purchased (and was not returning home without), to the airport on a scooter. A ride through Bali on a scooter ? Ahhh no thanks – I enjoy living too much!
Or option 2: Camp out at the airport for 24 hours.
Not even slightly appealing.
A quick email to my bosses at work explaining the situation, and a swift online flight adjustment ( thank you technology ! ) and my wish was granted. I was staying for Nyepi in Ubud.
All the buzz about town really had me excited.
And then it began.
The banging, the drumming, the yelling, the cheering, the celebrating. The anticipation whilst watching the men and boys trying to squeeze these enormous “monsters” under power lines. The feeling that something big and frightening was happening. This went on and on for hours.
As the night drew to a close at midnight, the weary revellers returned to their homes, and just as promised, the land turned to silence. 24 hours of silence. Something quite unimaginable to most.
To us, it was such an amazing experience. A whole island shut down in silence. It was extraordinary, I have never seen or experienced anything like it.
As I sat on my hotel balcony in the candlelit silence watching fireflys darting over the rice paddies, I was completly captivated by this amazing cultural event.
What a beautifully spiritual place !