News Flash…There Will Be Silence!

Nyepi SilenceSilence is serious business in Bali. New Year’s Day falls on March 31 this year and it’s a big deal. If you’re a traveler vacationing here, you are confined to your hotel. Cable broadcasting in Indonesia is turned off. The use of electricity is discouraged. There are no vehicles allowed on the roads with the exception of emergency transport. If you venture out you run the risk of being fined by the vigilant Pecalang, local men who police the streets for offenders. And the airport is closed.

I’ve only experienced this kind of silence once before. It followed a day that will remain indelibly imprinted on my memory for the rest of my life. September 11, 2001. Air traffic over America ceased. People cowered in their homes, wondering where and when the next terror would strike.

Today, with the brilliant blue skies over Bali undisturbed by the thunder of jet engines, I remember. Nyepi is a blessing. It recreates the quiet after that devastating storm. I sit in silence and pray for the inconceivable. Peace. A planet at peace.

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Dancing History, Dancing Memory, Dancing A Prayer

The entrance to the Water Palace was ablaze with light. Instruments of the gamelan glowed golden as they awaited the evening performance.

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We had been accosted by a man in a checkerboard sarong as we hurried toward the venue along Jl. Raya. “You see Lagong Dance at Royal Palace? You buy ticket from me. Only 80,000 rupiah.” I told him we were going to the Water Palace to see Gamelan, not the Royal Palace for Legong. “Yes, you go to Water Palace, Gamelan, you buy ticket from me, 80,000 rupiah.” He was walking sideways, ahead of us, earnestly explaining that the price was the same for us whether we bought tickets from him or at the gate. If we bought from him he would get commission.  There are many ways to make a buck in Bali, and that’s about what he made when we gave him our business.

Passing through the gate we strolled a pebbled walkway between two lotus filled pools and found a seat a few feet from the entrance to the palace. The air, heavy and moist, threatened rain. Those seated near us were speculating on the likelihood of that happening when the musicians filed in and took their places. There is a relaxed informality inherent in the Balinese alongside a dignified grace. The woman on the right checked her glasses, decided they were adequately clean, and repositioned them on her face. When all were seated a joyous and resounding instrumental introduction welcomed us to the performance.

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Gamelan is distinctly Indonesian. It is meant to be played outdoors. As one writer described it, “The open walls allow for the music to flow out into the community where the rest of the people may enjoy it. Inside closed rooms Balinese gamelan is inaudible and it easily trespasses the threshold of pain.” I have experienced it both ways and wholeheartedly agree that it must be played outdoors.

The instrumental introduction was followed by Puspa Wresti derived from the ceremonial Pendet dance. Young girls with bodies undulating disciplined and slow, shower the stage and the audience with flower petals. The flower offerings purify the temple or theater as a prelude to ceremonies. It is a ritual of welcome inviting the audience, and the spirits, to enjoy the delights of the performance. 

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The costumes, makeup, and artistry of the dancers held us entranced.
The movements of their hands and feet, arms and torsos, necks and heads, and even their eyes, were precise and provocative.
 

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The beautiful Bird of Paradise dance, Cendrawasih, followed. The complex choreography is designed to portray the arrogance of this magnificent creature, and the costuming reflects its glorious plummage. This sweet bird moved too quickly for the night setting on my camera to do it justice!

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No performance would be complete without the fierce Baris, glorifying the manhood of the triumphant Balinese warrior. The dance depicts the courage of a hero who is going to war. Once again the careful positioning of the feet, the impossible angles of the fingers, and the whites of the eyes tell the story.

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After the intense scariness of the Baris, it was time for the children to perform Kelinci, the Rabbit Dance! They came bouncing out all in white satin and floppy ears looking adorable. And they continued to bounce and playfully bat at each other executing their antics in orchestrated unison.

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Each performance was more exotic and technically brilliant than the one before. But at the end of the night I had a distinct favorite. The Panji Semirang tells the story of a young princess. When her husband marries another woman, the princess cuts her hair and changes her clothes pretending to be a man. She moves to the forrest with her servants. Granted, the Balinese men are gorgeous, but I don’t think anyone is going to mistake these beauties for handsome gents!

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Throughout the evening a light mist hung in the air, but no one noticed. The magic of sumptuous fabrics, intricate movements, and melodious gamelan kept us spellbound. These ancient stories have been danced for centuries, but they are more than mere entertainment. Woven into the artistry is a thread of reverent awe.  The performers are dancing history, and memory, and perhaps even prayer.

Nyepi and 9/11

It is fitting that my soul-journey would encounter Nyepi. There are only a few other places in the world that observe a day of complete silence. But I assure you, the island of Bali has shut down. If they could have muted the roosters, I’m certain they would have! The closest thing to it that I can remember in the U.S. is when the airports were closed after 9/11. The skies were empty and an eerie silence hung over the land. Imagine if, along with no airplanes, all traffic had stopped, all electricity had been turned off, all stores and industries of every kind were closed, and people were required to remain in their houses.  That is Nyepi. The Balinese celebrate the first day of every new year in quiet meditation, introspection, and prayer.

I decide that today, for me, will be a day of appreciating my immediate surroundings (I can’t go anywhere else!) I will devote it to noticing the details that I have been enjoying but not really ‘seeing’ because of the cumulative beauty of this place. Like, for instance, this intensely green plant with shocking pink striped leaves has been here all the time but I just found it.

Look at this orchid inside a half coconut shell. It has been secured to a palm tree and will eventually grow right into the tree. Then the shell will be removed and they will have become one. It will look like the palm tree is sprouting orchids.

Just out of reach as I sit on my balcony is this breath-taking cluster of frangipani, or plumeria as it is known in Hawaii. Butter-yellow with star-shaped orange centers, the flowers are individually delicate but in clusters they seem to shout their presence! You have my attention…I’m listening now…

I am embarrassed at how quickly I become comfortable in a place and forget to fully appreciate the visual bounty. It is like anything, when we have so much we become numb to it. We begin to feel that we are entitled and instead of being humbly grateful for our abundance, we reach for more, and more, and more. It reminds me of the story that Yvonne (my Dutch friend) shared with me last night.

A fisherman lived in a cozy cottage in a picturesque village. Every day he went out in his little boat and easily caught enough fish from the abundance of the sea to feed his family. One day some visitors noticed the great number of fish available in that area. They approached the fisherman and said, “Why don’t you make nets so you can catch more fish?” The fisherman looked at them and said, “And why would I do that?” The people answered, “So you can make lots of money and hire people to fish for you.” Again the fisherman just looked at them and said, “And why would I do that?” The people said, “So you could make even more money and form a company and export fish all over the world.”  In his quiet way the fisherman said again, “And why would I do that?” By this time the people were getting impatient, “So you could take a lovely vacation in a peaceful little village like this one, and relax and fish all day.” The fisherman smiled. “Ah,” he said. “I see.”

So I end this auspicious day of Nyepi with my meditation for you:

May you be filled with lovingkindness,

May you be well in body and mind,

May you be safe from inner and outer dangers,

And may you be happy, truly happy, and free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of Namaste hands from Bing search engine.

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