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Silence descends on Island of Gods

On 'Nyepi', the day of silence, Bali's Hindus were prohibited from making any noise.
None | By Agence France-Presse, Denpsar
PUBLISHED ON MAR 30, 2006 01:30 PM IST

The pristine beaches of Indonesia's Bali were deserted on Thursday despite fine weather as this Hindu bastion of the world's largest Muslim nation marked a day of silence ushering in the Hindu New Year.

On "Nyepi", the day of silence, Bali's four million Hindus are prohibited from travelling, working, making any noise or leaving their homes as they fast for 24 hours.

The silence is said to trick demons returning to Earth into believing that there is nobody left here to haunt.

All residents, no matter their religion, remain at home all day barring emergencies while tourists are also expected to respect the occasion by staying at their hotels.

But unlike households all over the island which will remain dark when the sun sets - there is also a ban on turning on lights or lighting fires - hotels are permitted to provide subdued lighting for guests.

"I will be enjoying it, staying at my hotel and doing nothing," said Bertha Leichman, a tourist from Brussels, a day ahead of the holiday.

The island's usually bustling international airport was closed for 24 hours from 6:00 am (2300 GMT Wednesday) to all flights while state ferry services linking the island to neighbouring Java and Lombok islands were also suspended.

Sarong-clad traditional task forces known as Pecalang patrol the streets to ensure the holiday is respected by everyone, gently admonishing anybody ignoring the bans.

Only hospitals, telephone information services, electricity and water companies were allowed to continue to operate.

In the past three days, Hindus here have conducted purification ceremonies at beaches to send away their sins and ill fortune.

The ceremonies peaked late Wednesday with a rowdy parade of huge papier-mache effigies of demons and monsters in villages across the island.

They were burned before sunrise to symbolize all evil leaving the island ahead of the new year. Hindus believe that the new year is when their gods cleanse and purify the universe.

The day of silence ends at 6:00 am on Friday when the new Hindu year officially begins.

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