Friday, March 23, 2012

The Sound of Silence

In honor of the holiDAYtrips blog going to Bali this May, today’s entry is all about the Balinese Day of Silence, or Nyepi. A Hindu holiday observed every year on the first new moon after the spring equinox, Nyepi is a day of silence, fasting, and meditation.

Observed for a full 24 hours, from 6am to 6am, Nyepi is reserved for self-reflection and requires those participating to stay indoors and refrain from anything that might impede their contemplation. This means no working, lighting fires or cooking, entertaining, and any other strenuous activity, including any type of hanky-panky! And, some very pure devotees don’t utter a word or eat anything for the full 24 hour period.

Need a visual?! Well, Ed and I were happy to help break this one down for you!

Out of respect for their fellow Hindu citizens, many of Bali’s non-Hindu residents also observe Nyepi. And, Pecalangs (Balinese security officers) literally keep the "peace," as they patrol the streets, watching for any activities that may derail Nyepi. Even if you’re merely a wandering tourist, a Pecalang will usually escort you back to your hotel; since streets are closed to pedestrians as well as vehicles. Even the airports are closed on Nyepi.

Now, the Day of Silence is pretty fantastic in itself; but, in my opinion, the beauty of the shift into the Balinese New Year can only fully be understood through the days surrounding Nyepi.

The day before Nyepi, the Tawur Kesanga ritual is held. First, a payment is offered to pacify the evil spirits (bhuta kala). Then, villages erect large bamboo versions of Ogoh-ogoh (evil troll-looking fanged monsters that represent the evil spirits) and parade them around.

Ogoh-ogoh and Balinese children in Ubud
(Photo: Jack Merridew)
In the evening torches are lit, the Ogoh-ogoh are burned, and things get loud! This scares away any remaining evil spirits and represents the island being cleansed in the New Year.

And, of course, all of this ends as total silence falls over Bali, on Nyepi -- in an effort to trick evil spirits into thinking the island is empty so they will not come back.

The day following Nyepi is one of my favorite cultural observances. It’s called Ngembak Geni and it’s a day of forgiveness. People visit their relatives and friends, seek understanding and absolution for the wrongs of the previous year, and pledge to work together to meet the trials of the New Year.

Pretty astounding, isn’t it?

Happy Balinese New Year! Now, get off the computer! You’re not supposed to be working today. Go read a book! (Make it a book on Bali.)

Selamat Jalan,


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Fancy Colours, Pt. II

Last Sunday, while walking down a street in Queens, a women who I didn’t know at all grabbed both sides of my face, smeared me with paint, kissed both cheeks, and hugged me. On any other day, this would have been -- at the least – alarming; at the most – assault!

In truth, hundreds of strangers rubbed me with paint and warmly welcomed me into their neighrhood, tradition, and extended family.

I think most travelers (and anthropologists, for that matter) would agree that getting out of your familiar space and immersing yourself in an area where you are clearly not a local is not only thrilling; but, it’s also an essential element in being fully captivated by another culture. Though, when are you fortunate enough to have such an full submersion experience in your own city?

The fact that the Phagwah Parade, in Queens, is so close to New York City makes Holi (in my humble opinion) one of the not-to-miss cultural events of the year! And, as you’ll see from our photos and footage, it’s a really great time. Like, my-cheeks-actually-hurt-from-smiling-so-much great time. Or, wow-this-Indo-Caribbean-band-is-really-fantastic great time. And, let’s not forget, now-that-I’m-covered-in-paint-I-could-really-go-for-some-amazing-Indian-food great time.

So, please enjoy the journey in pictures and video, below. And, the new lovely face popping up this week is our friend Chasi Annexy. She’s a fantastic photographer and some of our favorite photos this week are courtesy of her, including the two colorful shots up above.

This first video, below, showcases our awesome pictures from the day. We had hundreds; and, we  figured it was best to let them do the telling. The second video is more of a guided tour of the celebration, from start to finish.

A couple of last items to think about, should you already be planning next year's pilgrimage to Smokey Oval Park:

1. Bring/Drink A LOT of Water. The air is so dry with all of the powder flying around that you will get zapped of moisture fast. We were really dehydrated by the end of the day.
2. Bring Eye Drops. Since, there's tons of powder in the air, your eyes really start to feel it after the first hour. And, if you wear contact lenses, I can't stress this enough!
3. Bring Chapstick. Same as the last two...your lips will be really dry otherwise.
4. Drive. If this is at all possible, I would highly recommend it. There is nothing I would have liked less at the end of a great day than getting on the subway looking like a dusty Easter egg! This may take a little extra time management, since finding a parking spot can be challenging; but, I totally think it's worth it.

I always enjoy our holiDAYtrips, but this one was truly in a class by itself.

May you all have a bit more color in your day,


The “Packing List”

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fancy Colours

Of all God's gifts to the sighted man, color is holiest, the most divine, the most solemn.
- John Ruskin

One of the best parts of starting the holiDAYtrips blog at the end of the winter season has been covering the holidays that honor the beginning of spring. And, after studying up on the Hindu holiday, Holi, I think we have found the most fantastic spring holiday of them all!

Also known as the Festival of Colors, one of Holi’s most notable traditions involves participants throwing colored powders (abrac) at each other in literal celebration of spring’s abundant and awe-inspiring hues.

Colored powders (abrac) for the Holi festival in a Mysore marketplace
(Photo: Nikolas Becker)

Holi falls on the day following the full moon (in the month of Phalguna, the 12th month of the Hindu lunar calendar), so the exact date of the holiday changes from year to year. This year, it falls on Thursday, the 8th of March.

Holi celebration at an engineering college in Adoor
(Photo: Sandeep Pranavam)

Well, a public celebration where I can throw colored powder on strangers all in the name of bidding farewell to the crummy winter weather? Where can I find such a wondrous event? It turns out we don’t have to go too far!

In Richmond Hill, Queens, every year they hold the Phagwah Parade, the Indo-Caribbean celebration honoring this most excellent of days! The parade is actually held the Sunday after the full moon, so this weekend – March 11 -- we are packing our pigments up and heading to what is supposedly one of the biggest Holi celebrations in North America. (I’m told up to 25,000 might attend, if the weather complies.)

And, if you don't quite understand what we're in for or why we might want to venture out for the occasion -- I submit to you one of the coolest videos that I've had the pleasure of stumbling upon whilst doing my research. This is from the 2010 Holi celebration in Spanish Fork, Utah, and comes to us courtesy of Evan Meets World:

So, stay tuned for what is sure to be some AMAZING footage and photos…coming in several days. And, if you’re local and looking for a Sunday activity unlike any other, I suggest you head to Smoky Oval Park, in Queens! Just make sure to wear something you don’t mind giving up to the cause!

Until Then, Happy Holi Everyone!


The “Packing List”