Home News Outside Bali, Indonesia’s Hindus celebrate Nyepi in intimate ceremonies | Religion News

Outside Bali, Indonesia’s Hindus celebrate Nyepi in intimate ceremonies | Religion News

Outside Bali, Indonesia’s Hindus celebrate Nyepi in intimate ceremonies | Religion News


Medan, Indonesia – The Raksa Buana Great Temple in Medan is one of only two Balinese Hindu temples in the Indonesian city of 2.5 million people.

Tucked away in a backstreet, it would be easy to miss the carved stone building, which was built in 1978.

While the temple is usually closed to the public, on March 10 its front gates – flanked by two fearsome temple guardians carved from stone – were thrown open for the eve of Nyepi, known as the Day of Silence, and mostly celebrated in Bali, the mainly Hindu island in mostly Muslim Indonesia.

Wayan Dirgayasa, a professor of English at the State University of Medan who leads the city’s Balinese Hindu community, told Al Jazeera that Nyepi is one of the most important holidays in their religious calendar.

“Nyepi is the Hindu new year celebration and we make offerings the night before as part of a ceremony called Bhuta Yajna. Bhuta are considered creatures lower than humans, but they live in our world with us and were created by God. They are negative beings, and we make offerings at the temple so that they become positive. In our world, it is all about balance.

“We believe that there are three worlds, upper, middle and lower, and we believe in a macro-cosmos and a micro-cosmos. If we study physics, it explains it all. The micro-cosmos is ourselves and the macro-cosmos is the world around us.”

Offerings, including fruit and woven palm leaves, for the gods. They are in a basket woven from palm fronds.
Before the Nyepi holiday, the temple is festooned with offerings, many of them crafted from palm frons [Aisyah Llewellyn/Al Jazeera]

For the celebrations, the courtyard was laden with offerings made from fruit, flowers and palm leaves, and the scent of incense filled the air.

To the sound of a traditional gamelan orchestra, about 60 families got ready to celebrate in the city, the capital of North Sumatra.

A time of reflection

In Bali, where 92 percent of the population follows a form of Hinduism based on ancestor worship and animism dating back to the first century, Nyepi is taken extremely seriously.

Barring a major medical emergency, everyone must stay home, so that any evil spirits flying overhead will think that the island is uninhabited and not bother it for another year, they believe.

Every light on the island is turned off and the international airport closes for 24 hours.

With the day given over to reflection, fasting and meditation, even Indonesia’s main communications provider, Telkomsel, shuts down its service so that access to the internet is limited.

Made Rai and his wife Eni. They are seated on the steps of the temple. Made is wearing a traditional headdress and sarong. Eni is also in a traditional outfit with a sash tied around her waist. They are both smiling.
Made Rai and his wife Eni, who became Hindu when they got married [Aisyah Llewellyn/Al Jazeera]
Rajas sitting with a Balinese Hindu woman on a carpet laid out inside the temple courtyard. She is wearing a traditional yellow, red and green floral outfit. The woman next to her is wearing a yellow sarong, with white lace edged top and golden sash. The are smiling.
Rajas (right), who is Tamil, attended the event to support her fellow Hindus [Aisyah Llewellyn/Al Jazeera]

In Medan, however, where about 68 percent of people are Muslim and there are substantial numbers of Christians and Buddhists, Nyepi is more relaxed, Made Rai, the deputy head of the city’s Balinese Hindu community, told Al Jazeera.

While Nyepi is a public holiday across Indonesia, families in Medan have none of the restrictions of Bali, and it is up to them how they choose to spend the day.

“It is meant to be a day of meditation, but it depends on the individual person,” Rai said.

The Hindu community in Medan is made up of the Bali diaspora, Hindus from Java, and Hindus from the local Tamil, Chinese and Batak Karo communities.

Indonesia has a population of more than 279 million people, and 87 percent of people in the country are Muslim while only 1.7 percent are Hindu.

“It is difficult to assess how many Hindus there are in Medan as the numbers are flexible,” Rai told Al Jazeera. “People move in and out which is why we don’t really have official numbers.”

Rai is originally from Badung in Bali, but has lived in North Sumatra for the past 20 years, working as a contractor. His wife Eni is Javanese and originally from a Muslim family, although she converted to Hinduism when they got married.

“It was not too difficult to learn the Hindu traditions because they have a Sunday school here that taught me everything I needed to know,” Eni told Al Jazeera.

Hindu priests leading the ceremony on the eve of Nyepi. They are wearing white and seated on a carpet. There are offerings in front of them. One is made up of fruit and other objects arranged into a tower.
Three Hindu priests prayed and sprinkled holy water on the offerings prepared by the women at the temple [Aisyah Llewellyn/Al Jazeera]

As such, the temple is not only a place to celebrate important festivals, but also a place of learning with a school programme to teach members about Hinduism.

“The school was the best way for me to learn how to be a Hindu,” Eni said. “We also have ceremonies here at the temple every 15 days to coincide with the new moon and the full moon and we also celebrate major holidays like Galungan and Kuningan.”

Sri Wijadi, who works for the Religious Affairs Ministry in Medan and is originally from Boyolali Regency in Central Java, has lived in Medan for the past 20 years, and is ethnically Javanese. She is Hindu because her grandparents converted to Hinduism from Islam.

“A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that I am Hindu because they expect me to be Muslim,” she said. “But my family has been Hindu for three generations, so I am keeping up the family tradition and following them.”

Given that Medan’s Hindu community is so small, members often support each other at events, even though some of their traditions differ.

Also in attendance at the ceremony at the temple was Rajas, who is a Hindu member of Medan’s small Tamil community. She said she had come to support her fellow Hindus even though Tamil Hindus do not celebrate Nyepi.

“I came out of respect,” she said. “This is my first time coming here ahead of Nyepi, and it is important to me. While our individual traditions may be a little different, the main point of being Hindu is the same.”

 Wayan Dirgayasa standing in the temple. Worshippers are seated on the ground behind him. He is wearing a traditional headdress and jacket., He is smiling and has a bag tucked under this left arm..
Wayan Dirgayasa, who is Balinese, is the head of the Hindu community in Medan [Aisyah Llewellyn/Al Jazeera]

As part of the ceremony, three Hindu priests prayed and sprinkled holy water on the offerings prepared by the women at the temple, who then followed a procession through the temple grounds, chanting mantras and placing offerings, including miniature sticks of satay and fruit at different locations as the sun set.

For some in the crowd, while the temple and the Hindu community in Medan may be small, it offers them a little piece of home.

Nyoman Adi is a civil servant who is originally from Gianyar in Bali, but was then posted to Medan.

“I found the temple as it is very important to me to have a community here, especially as my family are all still in Bali,” he said.

“Because there are so few of us, the community here becomes even more significant.”



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