ASIAN NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS

This winter I happen to witness 3 New years celebrations: the calendar one, on the 31 of December, the Chinese and the Balinese. I should admit that the calendar was the most predictable and thus more boring: expected champagne, Western live music and hotel’s open buffet (Ive celebrated in Nikki Beach Phuket) 

Chinese New Year hit me like a storm in Singapore where I have arrived for photography collaboration with Singapore’s Now Model management. Every place, from shopping malls to hotels, from restaurants to streets, became one big colourful carnival with stunning drumroll, traditional dragon puppet with endless tale run by 10+ performers, flowers and fruits offerings, traditional music and dance… the whole city looks decorated, exotic and loud! But the most memorable had still been Balinese New Year. When I had been told that the day of New years celebration is called a Silent day and both locals and Westerners must stay home for 24 hours without making any noise or turning on the light , I could not believe my ears! 

The preparation rituals.  According to Balinese tradition New years celebration starts 3-4 days beforehand with Melati, a purifying ritual that is performed at Pura Segara temple beside the sea. the ritual is meant to purify sacred objects to acquire sacred water from the sea. Second ritual,Bhuta Yajna,is performed in order to vanish negative energy and create balance between Man,God and Nature. Rituals include animal sacrifice, pots and pans banging and burning coconut leaf to scare the demons away.

The Demons. Hindu Balinese make Ogoh-Ogoh,huge demonic statues,skilfully made papier-mâché monsters. each monster symbolises a sin: greed,anger,lust,etc Some of them will be burned the night before Nyepi and other all be displayed along the roads and even purchased for museums and collections. Nyepi, the Silent day. 

According to the beliefs, the spirits of the burned demons fly over the island of Bali the next day and may take over the body of a human who happens to be outside. Thus the next day, that is called Nyepi, the silent day, is meant to spend at home, fasting and self reflecting. All the activities that prevent mediation are banned (traveling,working, driving vehicles, turning on light, making noises). I had been completely stunned to find out that indeed all the flights from and to Bali are cancelled on this day!

I have spent Nyepi in a remote villa, mostly in bed. During this silent day it’s easy to imagine that the civilization had left this tropical paradise to its original virgin beauty.  Next day life is back to normal and Bali returns to its usual self - the boasting and full of life Island of Gods.