It was simply a long, hot weekend for those with different faiths and the free thinkers. But for Ni Kadek Eta, an elementary teacher at Global Prestasi School, March 31 was a day for self-reflection. A Hindi devotee since childhood, Eta was caught in a flurry of activities before and after Nyepi.

Nyepi is our New Year,” explained the Balinese who relocated to Bekasi several years ago. “The celebration is a day before it, which is called Pengrupukan, and begins with a morning prayer and the Ogohogoh in the afternoon.”

Ogoh-ogoh represents the deliverance of the whole universe from evil. The ritual is marked by the gigantic dolls paraded around the village between 5 and 6 in the afternoon sweeping the evil spirits away after which they are burnt.

“They are made from bamboo and wrapped in paper and other materials then they are painted. It usually takes weeks for the youth to make the dolls. The children make the mini version,” said Eta

Carrying the gargantuan dolls requires immense strength so at least 20 men are needed to hold them. “The womenfolk,” she continued, “are quite busy themselves. Some stay at home and prepare the things needed for the prayers while others look after the children.”

In Jakarta, ogohogoh is held, related Eta, within the grounds of Monas, or National Monument, a 132-meter tower at the centre of Merdeka Square. Eta, back in Bali, would certainly be one of the spectators at the parade, but the past three years have seen a change in her routine. Her older sister usually drops in on her then leaves to celebrate with her own family.

Nyepi itself is punctuated by rigorous compliance to a list of Do’s and Don’ts, highlighting the seriousness of devotees in seeking enlightenment.

“We have four things we should not do for 24 hours. We should not eat, work, indulge and go outside (of the house). It is the time for contemplation of our actions, “explained Eta.

After Nyepi is Ngembak Geni, which is celebrated in the same manner as the Muslims after Ramadan. Ngembak Geni is the time families go visit relatives to ask for forgiveness for wrong. But it can also mean the time to visit the temple to pray and seek enlightenment from the elder during a homily.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

What draws me to this religious ritual are its tenets of self-reflection and withdrawal from worldly pursuits. A devotee’s true intention is crucial because a backslider can turn it into mere rigmarole. The practice of silent contemplation affords one distance and time. Distance from a situation one is mired in gives one the opportunity to study the matter more objectively. There are times I withdraw from society, which is, more often than not, misconstrued as being anti-social. I back away because I want to get a clearer picture, which eludes me with being too close to the issue. Withdrawing also allows me to winnow through the loud and nebulous voices around me that drown out my thoughts. Great distance from my old life was what I needed so when the opportunity came it didn’t take me long to pack my bags and jump on the plane to Indonesia from Singapore. I also need distance from the classroom so I always look forward to the school holidays. I can rid myself of the pent-up frustration and other ill feelings accumulated through the school year. I believe in going into the classroom tabula rasa so I can get to know the students well and vice-versa.

With distance comes time that I need to dissect the problem and mull the possible solutions. Time affords me the chance to quietly and critically reflect on the past and, most importantly, read through the fissures that I inadvertently glossed over. I sort through my wants and needs list, wheedling them to the bare essentials; I rearrange my priorities; I provide closure for closures that should have had a closure long ago; and, lastly, I simply exist. Sans the expectations of the people and the masks I wear to navigate through the roads of life, I return to me – the me, minus the jadedness, is me with a calm demeanour, astuteness and chutzpah.


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