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A Day of Silence Sealed with a Kiss

As Bali Prepares for the Official Day of Silence, Some are Worried that Bali will Soon be Compelled to 'Kiss Goodbye' to the Very Special Day that Follows.

(3/13/2006) It's official. Bali will celebrate Nyepi - Bali famous "official day of silence" starting from 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, March 30, 2006 and ending 24 hours later on Friday, March 31st.

Nyepi literally means Quiet!- at once both a label and strict imperative enforceable under the law - the name given to the day each year when it is the religious obligation of every Balinese Hindu to dedicate an entire day to quiet introspection and spiritual cleansing before embarking on a New Year in the Balinese lunar calendar.

What's On and What's Not!

An official circular issued by Bali's Governor stipulates that during the official period of silence:

• No lights may be lit

• No work can be done

• No travel may be undertaken

• No amusements enjoyed

On a practical level, this means that Nyepi will be observed by the devout through the abstinence from food and drink, human speech, and even the lighting of fires or lamps. As a result, Bali will resemble a ghost town with all businesses and thoroughfares closed. Traditional village security - pecalang - will patrol the Island permitting the passage of only emergency vehicles and sternly rebuking neighbors who allow noise or light to escape from family compounds.

Bali's Answer to Mardi Gras

Marking the first day of the Balinese Saka calendar (1928), the day of silence is always preceded by a night of wild revelry. During the evening hours, young men from local banjars, recklessly fueled by copious quantities of arak, parade the streets carrying large ogoh-ogoh floats: huge Papier Mâchè effigies lovingly constructed over the past month only to be consumed in flames or uncermoniously ditched on street corners as the young men scurry home to evade the day-light curfew and "quietly" nurse their horrendous hangovers.

By sunrise on March 30th all will be required to take refuge in their hotels or homes before sunrise - there to remain until the following morning. Major hotels, with the permission of the Island's government, generally allow their guests full use of their various outlets with the understanding that guests will not venture outside the property's grounds. To ensure services to guests are not interrupted, special arrangements are made for the hotel's staff to stay overnight at their place of employment as normal traffic between their homes and place of employment is impossible on Nyepi day.

Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport is closed throughout the designated 24-hour period. Flight are allowed to transit the airport on Nyepi, but no passengers will be permitted to enter or leave the terminal area until the holy day has passed. Special exemptions, however, are made for technical and emergency landings, as well as medical evacuations.

Kiss Me Ketut?

The residents of the village Banjar Kaja in South Denpasar must be worried that current legislation now being considered by National Legislators will mean that their unique ritual tradition of med-medan for celebrating the New Year may soon become a thing of the past.

Practices with roots clouded in the distant past, the members of Banjar Kaja always gather on the day immediately following Nyepi to engage in an activity that may soon become punishable by a fine and serious jail time. On that day, young boys and girls of that community gather on the local green; boys to the left, girls to the right, gradually advancing towards each other before breaking into a charge by both sexes culminating in an exchange kisses with the opposing gender. Tradition dictates that one charge of the lips brigade is seldom enough, mandating that relentless bussing occur in an area knowm locally as the kissing fields.Where med-medan started no one is sure. Where it ends is less a mystery; many married couples trace their "first contact" to a celebration of med-medan in years past. The proper and complete observance of the festival is mandatory for the youth of the Banjar who quickly abandon any residue of reticence in the face of stories of natural and personal disasters that have befallen those who failed to participate in the special ritual.

And, as with all special events in Bali, God's blessing is always sought first via a solemn procession to the community temple before undertaking the important task ahead. Prayers completed, the boys and girls then separate into two groups; there to pluck up their courage and pucker their lips for what follows.

Concerned parents, perhaps playing a role that will be assumed by policemen in the future, bring buckets of holy water to cool off the romantic ardor of their children accidentally overcome by the moment.

And Now for the Bad News

While spectators are generally welcome at all local cultural events in Bali, participation at med-medan is strictly limited to local lads and lasses in traditional dress.

Med-Medan traditionally takes place in the early afternoon on the day after Nyepi, this year on Friday, March 31, 2006, on Jalan Raya Sesetan in Banjar Kaja in South Denpasar.