At the end of March, especially on March 31st, people in Bali will celebrate Hindu ceremony, Nyepi. Nyepi Day, the “Day of Silence”, marks the Balinese New Year. It is both a cultural imperative and an iconic event of powerful significance, and it literally stops all activity on the island for one full day of the year. The airport and all transportation hubs are closed and everyone is confined indoors. Working is not permitted. No-one, except for the black-clad what are locally known as Pecalang —traditional Balinese security personnel, is permitted on the streets. Apart from emergency vehicles, no traffic is allowed.
Despite being hundreds of years old, Pecalang still play an important role among Balinese society. The job of Pecalang is to secure activities related to Balinese customs, such as temple ceremonies, public events, or wedding-processions.
Every village in Bali has Pecalang, the traditional guards maintain village security and manage traffic flows during religious and customary ceremonies. They work voluntarily and are not paid wages. Pecalang community were created to maintain the security of the village, that we usually find on Nyepi day. In true Balinese fashion, the costumes worn by the Pecalang demonstrate a harmony of symbolism in terms of design and accessories. Commonly, the costumes consist of chessboard-like sarong, white shirt, black waistcoat and headband. The checked motif represents the opposition of good and evil represented by white and black.
The involvement of Pecalang has been cited as contributing to Bali’s good reputation as tourist destination, nowadays. When no major events are taking place, however, the Pecalang settle back into more peaceful but equally useful roles such as controlling traffic. All security roles are carried out in conjunction with the police department, demonstrating their vertical and horizontal cooperation to keep Bali safe, as their ancestors have done.
Peace on the Streets
On that day of Nyepi, Bali will look like a deserted island as the Balinese Hindus observe the four abstinences: Amati Geni (refraining from lighting any fire or using electricity), Amati Karya (refraining from conducting any work), Amati Lelungan (refraining from traveling outside one’s family compound) and Amati Lelanguan (refraining from partaking in any pleasurable activity). For a Balinese, Nyepi is the day to stand still, to keep quiet, to close the eyes, and to start a wordless conversation with the inner-self.
From a religious and philosophical point of view, Nyepi is meant to be a day of self-introspection, meditation and observation of higher social values. Nyepi is perhaps the most important of the island’s religious days and the prohibitions are taken seriously. Hotels are exempt from Nyepi’s rigorous practices but streets outside are closed to both pedestrians and vehicles (except for airport shuttles or emergency vehicles) and village wardens (pecalang) are posted to keep people off the beach. Indeed Nyepi day has made Bali a unique island.
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Lots of love,