Wed, 05 Apr 2000

Activities in Bali brought to a halt

DENPASAR, Bali (JP): Activities on the tourist island of Bali came to a halt on Tuesday as the predominantly Hindu population observed the Hindu Day of Silence (Nyepi).

A first-time restriction on flights to the resort island took effect on Tuesday, with all domestic and international air services to and from Bali banned for a period of 24 hours.

Roads were deserted as Balinese stayed home to celebrate the holy day. A cheerful celebration preceded the sacred day, with a parade of Ogoh-Ogoh giant puppets and a traditional ceremony on Monday to welcome the day of solitude and introspection.

Hindus are prohibited from working, traveling and using electricity on the holy day. The religious prohibitions are believed to deceive descending evil spirits into believing the areas are deserted.

Hundreds of hotels requested their guests stay indoors and most restaurants were closed.

Bali Police deployed about 1,000 personnel to secure the event, supported by Pecalang (customary guards) who conducted patrols for people breaching the holy edicts, such as lighting fires or walking outside.

The Ngerupuk traditional ritual was performed on Monday to ward off evil spirits. The giant puppets symbolize temptation and evil spirits in people's lives.

At least 840 giant puppets were on show this year, each of which cost from Rp 2 million to Rp 10 million to make. Locals burned the puppets before the stroke of midnight, a ritual to cast away evil spirits.

A minor incident marred the parade when a man threw a firecracker at a group of people who were bearing the puppets.

A mob chased the man who later hid in a Hindu temple belonging to local leader Anak Agung Ngurah Gde Kusuma Wardhana.

Matters were settled peacefully.

In Yogyakarta, a grand celebration was held at the Hindu Prambanan Temple on Monday, attended by President Abdurrahman Wahid and First Lady Sinta Nuriyah, along with Cabinet ministers, high-ranking police and military officers and Yogyakarta governor Hamengkubuwono X.

Abdurrahman, a former leader of the country's largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama, expressed his strong support of religious tolerance.

In his message to mark the Hindu Saka New Year of 1922, Abdurrahman said Prambanan temple was as influential as its Buddhist counterpart Borobudur temple in Magelang, Central Java.

"This proves the vital existence of Hindu Dharma, one of the national religions that has become a main pillar of the country," Abdurrahman said in his opening address.

It was the first Nyepi celebration ever held at Prambanan.

"We must always live in harmony and peace. This celebration can mark the rise of our nation's culture," Abdurrahman added.

In Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, thousands of Hindus fasted and kept silent during the day.

In Jakarta, thousands flocked to the National Monument square on Monday night for a parade of the giant figures. (39/44/zen/edt)