AP PHOTOS: Balinese celebrate New Year with firefights, sword-piercing and a sacred Day of Silence

Firdia Lisnawati
Tuesday 12 March 2024 13:59 GMT

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Louise Thomas

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Airports closed for 24 hours, the internet was turned off and streets were empty as the predominantly Hindu island of Bali in Muslim-majority Indonesia marked its New Year with an annual Day of Silence as part of six days of extensive rituals.

The Day of Silence, locally known as Nyepi, is observed each year on the day after the new moon in March starting at 6 a.m. The island's world-famous beaches and all of its public spaces are devoid of people, except for special patrols to ensure that silence is observed.

Phone companies switched off the mobile internet on the idyllic “island of the gods,” which is home to more than 4 million people, and Balinese stayed indoors, covering their windows and keeping lights off, for the sacred day of reflection, which fell on Monday this year.

During Nyepi, tourists on the island are asked to stay inside their hotels, and television and radio broadcasts are halted. In past years, foreign and domestic tourists have been arrested for wandering around Kuta, a popular beach, during the Day of Silence.

The night before Nyepi is celebrated with noisy “ogoh-ogoh” processions featuring giant scary figures that symbolize evil spirits and are burned in a ritualistic purification. The practice has evolved over the years. It began with mythological evil spirits but today includes symbolic representations of evil in the modern world. The burning of the figures signifies the victory of good over evil.

Also on a day leading up to New Year, some Balinese Hindu faithful enter into a trance and pierce themselves with metal swords while chanting prayers. Others beat one another with burning coconut leaves, sending sparks and embers flying in all directions, in a ritual known as Lukat Gni.

On the same day, white-clad Hindus carry palanquins with idols and symbols of deities as they walk on the beach. As the sun rises, they perform rituals, dip their feet in the Indian Ocean and leave offerings on the beach. This day, known as Melasti, is a day of symbolic cleansing.

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