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Balinese Hindus observe ritual of temple cleansing

Balinese Hindus marched to the beaches, major rivers, lakes and holy springs on Friday to perform Melasti, a ritual to cleanse temple paraphernalia and to recharge the supernatural power of the temple's sacred objects in preparation for Nyepi, the Hindu Day of Silence, which will fall on March 31.

“We start as early in the morning as possible because the island has been experiencing very hot weather in the last few days and we don't want to carry out the ritual in unbearable heat,” a devotee said.

Melasti was organized by the desa pakraman (customary village), which manages the kahyangan tiga (three primary temples), comprising Desa Temple (the abode of Lord Brahma the Creator), Puseh Temple (the abode of Lord Wisnu the Sustainer) and Dalem Temple (the abode of Lord Siwa the Destroyer).

Melasti was once performed on foot. Presently, however, most customary villages have opted for the modern convenience of traveling on motorized vehicles. Even those who live near the beach, such as in Tulikup in Gianyar, travel to the beach on cars.

“Siyut Beach, our Melasti site, is actually less than 3 kilometers from our village. I remember Melasti as a fun parade and an opportunity to walk with our extended family. My grandmother always pampered me with candies and shaved ice to encourage me to keep walking,” a Tulikup resident, Kadek Soma, reminisced, adding that in modern times, Melasti is a far quicker affair.

Dressed in mostly white and yellow traditional attire, customary village members escorted the temple paraphernalia — colorful parasols and ceremonial weapons — as well as pratima (sacred effigies made of rare woods and precious gems) and object of worship, such as the lion-like barong and the terrifying-looking rangda masks, onto the shore.

All these sacred objects were neatly arranged facing the ocean and surrounded by their devotees sitting on the sand. Temple priests and community leaders then presented the offering to Baruna, Lord of the Ocean.

Balinese Hindus believe that the ocean's water has powerful, supernatural healing and protective properties. Ocean water can be used to neutralize negative energy while sand can be used to fortify houses from black magic attacks.

In Denpasar, Melasti was carried out at Padang Galak, Matahari Terbit, Sanur and Mertasari beaches while in Badung the devotees crowded Seseh, Kuta and Jimbaran beaches. Customary villages have until Saturday to perform Melasti.

Melasti is the opening ritual for the celebration of the Saka New Year, locally known as Nyepi or the Day of Silence.

The next stage takes place on Sunday at noon, during which all villages in Bali will organize a tawur sacrificial ritual to appease the forces of nature and restore the balance of the universe.

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