Sat, 12 Mar 2005

Jakarta's Hindus celebrate 'Tawur Kasanga' ritual

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Clad in gold and white, about 2,500 people sat neatly in rows under a 100-meter wide tent, praying for nature's balance on Thursday, the eve of the Hindu Day of Silence, or Nyepi.

The Tawur Agung Kasanga ceremony, held at a cordoned-off road in front of the Amerta Jati temple in Cinere, South Jakarta, included a grandiose three-by-three meter sacrificial offering intended to appease the supernatural forces in the universe before the start of the Saka New Year, which coincides with Nyepi.

"We have troubled the forces and nature for a year," said Ida Bagus Supriyadi, who traveled from Bekasi with his wife and three children to participate in the four-hour ceremony. "Now is the time to show our thanks and reharmonize."

The ceremony began at around 10:00 a.m., marked by the entrance of dozens of worshippers carrying offerings accompanied by traditional Balinese gamelan music.

Afterwards, with the scent of incense pervading through the hot and humid air, the worshippers silently prayed, bowing their heads and lifting their pressed palms in unison, thankful for the blessings of the past year and hoping that the equilibrium between man and nature could be reestablished for the new year.

At noon, priests and priestesses sprinkled holy water on the sitting or kneeling worshipers three times. Then they distributed six servings of the water to each worshiper: three for washing and three for drinking.

Supriyadi, dressed in white, with a gold sarong wrapped around his waist and a headband, cupped his hands together to receive the holy water from a priest.

The 48-year-old cleansed himself by washing his head and face with the water and purified his soul by imbibing more water.

"Believe it or not, it doesn't taste salty at all," said Supriyadi, referring to the water which was taken during the Melasti ceremony from the Java Sea. "It is just a small sign of the magnanimity of God."

Then Supriyadi, who had flower petals behind his ears, received grains of rice, some of which he swallowed and some of which he put on his forehead so that he would not forget that life is made possible because it is sustained by the earth.

Children of all ages also solemnly partook in the ceremony, which ended at 1:00 p.m. Those who were still too small to perform the rituals were helped by their parents.

Yanto, 24, one of an estimated 20,000 Hindus living in Jakarta, said he was proud to be able to take part in the ceremony as it meant he was continuing the traditions of his ancestors.

"Hinduism is an ancient and mystical religion," said Yanto, who is originally from East Java. "It was one of the first and great religions in Indonesia."

Thursday's ceremony is one of four celebrations held during the week around Nyepi by the 4 million Hindus throughout Indonesia.

On Tuesday, during the Melasti ceremony, worshippers, accompanied by traditional Balinese gamelan music, formed a procession from a temple in Cilincing, North Jakarta, which headed to the Java Sea. Once there, they performed a communal prayer toward the ocean and purified themselves and their temple accessories.

On Friday, on the Day of Silence or Nyepi, Hindus spend 24 hours, from sunrise to today's sunrise, in silent contemplation to realign their minds and spirits with the universe. During this time, which falls on the first day of the Saka New Year, they faithfully abided by the four prohibitions of Nyepi: Not to use fire or electricity, not to partake in any physical activity, not to leave their homes, and not to enjoy any form of entertainment or pleasure.

Today, during what is known as Ngembak Geni, Hindus visit neighbors, friends and family to ask for forgiveness for the past year's faults.

"To us, the celebrations around Nyepi are like what Christmas is for Christians and Idul Fitri for Muslims," said Supriyadi. "It is a time for spiritual renewal and to gather with family and friends." (002)