Hush! Be quiet! Don’t make a noise, don’t light your fires, stay in your house!
Today is the 23rd March and it is Nyepi, The Day of Silence in Bali. As you read this wherever you are in the world, at home, on a train or a bus, in the office, stop for just a moment and try to imagine exactly how one day of silence sounds like? Feels like? I wish I knew myself. I am writing this in Jakarta, the traffic is roaring outside, the police are blowing on their shrill whistles it is 6.15am, and we are one hour behind Bali time.
Since 6am time this morning, a hush will have descended over Bali, which will continue until 6am tomorrow morning.
Nyepi is a Hindu Festival and holiday, which occurs in March at Isakawarsa, Saka meaning New Year. On this special day of the year, the whole Island of Bali comes to a grinding halt. Absolutely everything stops for 24 hours. The airport is closed, there is no traffic on the roads. Nobody goes to work. Everyone must stay inside their houses for the next 24 hours. The only people permitted on the streets are the Pecalang, the tradional village security men who go around checking that no one is disturbing the peace and that all is at it should be, quiet. This day will be spent solely on self-relflection, meditation and for the really devout, fasting. There is no television or radio allowed, no gratification, no entertainment whatsoever, so if you think that it’s ok then just to hop back into bed for a 24 hour sex-a-thon, you’d be wrong, that’s forbidden too. Aside from self-reflection, the silence is also designed to trick the evil spirits that fly over the Island into believing that the Island has no inhabitants so that it can be left in peace for another year.
So what’s this all about? Well, the short answer is that it is about creating a balance between God, Mankind and Nature and there are several ceremonies performed in order for this to happen.
Three days before Nyepi itself, there is Melasti, which is a ceremony dedicated to Nature and cleansing, renewal.
The day prior to Nyepi is Tawar Kesange. There is a carnival like atmosphere on the Island. Villagers make huge statues out of painted bamboo and paper, which are meant to resemble the evil spirits or Bhuta Kala’s. These demonic looking effigies have bulging eyes, fang like teeth and scary hair and many of the characters are taken from ancient Balinese folklore. A lot of noise is made and the atmosphere is party like. Later on when it gets dark the effigies are burnt at the Ngrupuk ceremony. The bonfires banish the evil spirits away, cleansing the Island and it’s people of evil and malice. By casting away all that demons that may lurk, the Island goes through a symbolic purification.
The day after Nyepi is called Ngembak Geni. Tradionally a day for families and friends to ask each other for forgiveness. With the previous day spent having been spent in contemplation and reflection, a good time will have been spent on thinking about one’s failings and this is a chance to say sorry, to atone.
I am sad that I cannot be on Bali today to be a part of this extraordinary celebration.
I would like to dedicate this post to Wayan, a very special lady, my friend and teacher in all things Balinese.
Here is her delicious recipe for Sambal Matah, which is just one of the many Indonesian Sambals that I shall give you the recipe for, but all in the fullness of time – apologies for the seriously bad ‘Cookery’ shots. It’s no wonder that nobody has ever asked me to be a Food photographer.
Shallots, Chili, Lemongrass, Limes, Oil, Salt, Sugar.
We also added Terasi, which you will either love or loathe. It has a pungent taste and smell, I think I described it once in an earlier post as akin to ‘Ancient, crusty, Granny’s knickers’…I happen to love it but I’m not sure you can buy it outside of Indonesia. All is not lost because I’ve had this Sambal a million times now and it’s just as nice without. If you do use Terasi, make sure to roast it first. Just place a pea sized amount on the hob where the flame is a turn it over until it has become slightly browned. Then sprinkle it in with the other ingredients.
Chop shallots very fine, repeat, very fine. Ditto chilies (small green ones and large red ones)
Lemongrass should have the tough outer leaves removed and then finely chop about a half an inch of the stalk. Place into bowl and add a small amount of oil, about a teaspoon. Wayan used regular cooking oil for this but you could use olive oil.
Sprinkle with some salt and sugar and a good squeeze of limejuice. Mix with hands in bowl and there you have it Wayan’s Sambal Metah. A delicious sambal to go with anything you like, the day after Nyepi.