Just about fifteen years ago, as I lay in bed at night, I could hear the howling of jackals, the rhythmic beat of the distant train, hoots of owls, and the chorus of frogs after the first rains. I would waken to the call of the Sarus cranes, and the meowing cry of the Jacanas in the open ground across from my house.
Today I lie awake all night to the rattling, shattering clangour of the monstrous mechanical cranes and concrete mixers as they dig deep into the soil where the Sarus sang and Jacanas nested, and from where rise the gigantic metal skeletons of multi-storey towers. On the weekends I can no longer listen to the music that used to be a part of our evenings, over the incessant honking, beeping, screeching and yelling from the traffic jams outside my gate, as a noisy, rambunctious crowd heads for the ‘happening’ mall that looms in neon-lit glory, where once the buffalo wallowed and the froggies sang.
Our lives are so cluttered with noise, we do not know silence any more. We are almost afraid of the quiet. We get anxious if we are not continuously reassured by the hum, buzz or ringtone of our phone…Why no calls, no messages, no alerts?? Does nobody ‘like’ us anymore? We feel unmoored without the 24/7 din around us. Is there a moment in our day when we can hear simply silence?
On a visit to Bali last year I learned about Nyepi–the Day of Silence. This day falls (usually in March) on the day after the dark moon of the spring equinox when the day and night are of approximately equal duration. It marks the start of “Caka” year – Balinese New Year – which is celebrated over six days. The first two days are marked by parades, noise and revelry, and Nyepi falls on day 3. The observance of the Day of Silence is based on an ancient myth that, after the boisterous and active celebrations of day 1 and day 2, the Island goes into hiding to protect itself from the evil spirits, fooling them to believe that Bali, enveloped in an atmosphere of complete tranquility and peace, is a deserted Island.
The quietest day of the year is guided by the four precepts:
No fire or light, including no electricity.
No form of physical working other than that which is dedicated to spiritual cleansing and renewal.
No movement or traveling.
Fasting and no revelry/entertainment or general merrymaking.
Everyone stays indoors, engaged in fasting, prayer, meditation, reflection and introspection—erasing the clamour, and cleansing the body and spirit. What a wonderful tradition and even more, how wonderful that it is so well honoured and celebrated in spirit and deed, even today.
If only we could all disconnect from the din, and connect within.
This year for Nyepi all phone companies on the island of Bali agreed to shut down the mobile internet for 24 hours. Imagine a day without internet, Facebook and Instagram and instant messaging apps! And this, on one of the world’s most popular and busy tourist destinations! Yes, they did it, and survived!