Sunday, March 14, 2010

Melasti Ritual: Bali, 2010

Today, thousands of Balinese flock to the beaches, lakes or springs to hold the Melasti ritual. Melasti is a ritual in which Balinese escort the deities to the sea, lakes or springs but mostly to the sea with the purposes to throw away impurities, miseries and poor mundane elements and take tirtha amertha, or holy water of life in the sea, lake or springs.

The Melasti Ritual occurs the day before Nyepi. Everybody knows that the day of Nyepi is a day of silence, but, the day of Melasti is far from that and especially at night. It is a day when the villagers purify the deities - known as ‘Pratima’ – with water. This is the day when the villagers, dressed in their finery and carrying long-poled umbrellas, proceed in lines towards a source of water – a holy spring or the sea. In this procession, the women carry offerings of fruit and sweet cakes and flowers, and the men carry the sacred family statues on bamboo litters. Upon arriving at the water source (generally the sea), the pedanda prays and rings his small bells whilst the men carrying the litters rush the sacred figures into the water symbolically washing them and thus purifying the statues.

On the day of Melasti, you will also find the offerings of the flesh of domestic animals at crossroads – the haven of the evil spirits ‘bhuta and ‘kala’. The offering of flesh is to placate these demons. Later in the evening, all hell breaks loose with all manner of noise and din created to awaken all the evil spirits and demons. This is the most spectacular part of this day.

The deities which attend the melasti ritual usually in the form of pratima (sacred statues), barong (personification positive force usually in form of mythical beast animated by two people inside it) and Rangda (personification of negative in form a scary witch). They are accompanied by Balaganjur orchestras and groups of singers, which sing traditional hymns.

For Balinese who live far away from the sea they come to the sea early in the morning using dozens of trucks, hundreds of cars and thousands of motorcycles some villages start their journey to the beach around 1 AM. As for the villages near the sea, they usually come to the beach in the afternoon on foot; creating a long procession of deities and pilgrims. The flow of the deities and the pilgrims to the beach does not stop until late in the evening.

Melasti turns the beach which usually crowded by tourists or hawkers into the sea of pilgrims; for a day the beach is in the hand of the deities and their followers.

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