Melasti – Bali’s most holy ceremony

 

As a photographer, I am deeply fascinated by Balinese culture, and I always look forward to the Melasti proceedings which are taking place in the days leading up to the Balinese New Year.

During Melasti, you can witness Balinese culture at its finest (and most colorful). Village by village the Balinese people gather and flock to the beaches and carry out a religious festival of great importance.

During Melasti the whole island of gods, as Bali is often referred to, turns into a festive mood.
The Balinese people carry out a cleansing and purification ceremony known as Melasti.

But before we delve deeper into what Melasti is let me share some photographs of Melasti ceremonies with you first.

 

Melasti Bali ceremony

Getting ready for Melasti ceremony

Melasti Bali ceremony

Beautiful prayer flags called Umbul Umbul

Melasti Bali ceremony

that is why I call this the colors of Bali

Melasti Bali ceremony

Carrying effigies to the water

Melasti Bali ceremony

Melasti is always close to the water

 

What is Melasti ?

 

According to Wikipedia: “Melasti was meant as the ritual to cleanse the world from all the filth of sin and bad karma, through the symbolic act of acquiring the Tirta Amerta, “the water of life.”

Water plays a very prominent role in Balinese believes not only for cleansing & purification but as a source of life.

Sacred objects from the village temple such as swords, Barongs and others are brought to the beach for a ‘washing’ ritual.

All this is done in grandeur and style. And it is this grandeur and style which make the Melasti ceremony so interesting and a feast for the eye and the camera as well.

Balinese prayer flags also known as Umbul-Umbul are erected on the beach making for a very beautiful setting.
Of course, the Balinese all come in their most beautiful, traditional dresses.

Often Melasti proceedings are accompanied by Gamelan music. But nowadays this is also all too often substituted by taped music.
During the actual Melasti ceremony prayers are said towards the ocean to appease the gods.

During those prayers, some Melasti participants can fall into a state of trance. Some devotees perform dance movements or even stab themselves with a traditional Balinese sword.

Devotees will carry the sacred objects which they have brought from their village temple and carry them to the water.
A symbolic dipping into the water of that object signifies the cleansing and purification. Objects not fit for dipping can be sprinkled by a few drops of seawater.
 

 

Melasti Bali ceremony

A Balinese woman preparing for Melasti at her village temple

Melasti Bali ceremony

Holy objects from the temple

Melasti Bali ceremony

Balinese Women carrying religious objects during Melasti proceedings

Melasti Bali ceremony

It is exactly these colors that make it such a feast for the eye

Melasti Bali ceremony

More sacred objects for Melasti

Melasti Bali ceremony

Balinese priests during prayer

Melasti Bali ceremony

Objects arranged for Melasti blessings

Melasti is a Must for every Balinese !

 

Balinese people will start their day very early in the morning getting ready for their big day. The whole village will gather and then make the journey to a designated beach.

Most families will come in their cars and on motorbikes. Also, trucks are filled up with people. On many streets and intersections, this can cause big traffic jams.

For every Balinese Hindu, it is a must to participate in Melasti. In some villages people who can’t make it even have to pay a fine to the village council for not attending.

Though most Balinese are looking forward to this big ceremony. Because Balinese people cherish the togetherness that this joyous occasion provides. Therefore, the Melasti celebration is not merely a religious duty but also plays a vital role in Balinese society.

On the sidelines street vendors also use the Melasti processions to make a buck selling food, drinks and even toys for children.

Melasti ceremonies start already during sunrise and go on until sunset and even beyond sunset. And it is happening all over Bali on many, many beaches.

 

Melasti Bali ceremony

Devotees carrying objects to the sea for cleansing during Melasti

Melasti Bali ceremony

Close up of sacred objects prepared for Melasti ceremony

Melasti Bali ceremony

A man stabbing himself with sword during trance

Melasti Bali ceremony

Again those colors…

Melasti Bali ceremony

Balinese Hindu devotees during Melasti celebrations

Melasti Bali ceremony

Saying prayers to the ocean during Melasti

Melasti Bali ceremony

Balinese priests singing chants during Melasti

 

Melasti ceremonies are not only carried out in the days leading up to the Balinese New Year, but also during other important religious occasions which require cleansing and purification. A village temple’s anniversary is also an occasion for a Melasti ceremony.
An example of such a Melasti ceremony, which I have been privileged to be part of can be seen here (coming soon).

Melasti can be anywhere close to a source of water, such as a lake or a river bench.

 

FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS

Firstly, it is generally allowed and ok to witness Melasti proceedings. And to take photographs there.
There are certain guidelines though that you should follow:
You should be dressed in Balinese attire.

Keep your distance!!

I highly recommend that you are accompanied by a Balinese advising you on what is OK and what is not. For instance, you should never be too close or if you are close you should never be upstanding or in a higher position than another person. Especially if that person is a priest or someone engaged in religious pursuit.

And there are many other small guidelines you may not be aware of.
Remember this is religious pursuit !

Equipment-wise, a tele or even an extra long tele lens are ideal. Some of the photos you see here I have taken with a 150 – 500 mm lens.

Go early. The first villages already arrive during sunrise. And it is cooler in the morning and the light is at its best.
Be prepared for longer waiting periods / traffic jams. Even motorbikes can get stuck in traffic.
During my last Melasti experience I spend about 30 minutes in traffic for a stretch of road that I usually need only 3-5minutes for.
Bring or buy a lot to drink because it can get very hot if you are staying during day time hours.

Some sun protection can also be a very good idea.
DO NOT GO BY CAR !! The streets leading to the beaches where Melasti is carried out can become completely congested. Sometimes even unpassable. Often lengthy detours are set up to cope with the traffic that is caused by the Melasti processions.

 

I hope you have enjoyed exploring Melasti with me.

Truly’ DOMINIK

 

If you have enjoyed this article, please share it with others. Thank you !!

16 Comments

  1. mark editor

    This unique blog is really interesting. I have found a bunch of helpful advices out of it. I ad love to come back again and again. Thanks a bunch!
    Mark

    Reply
    • Terra-Zongo

      Thank you Mark !

      Reply
  2. Jaina Mistry

    Absolutely stunning colours in these photos. It looks like you were a total fly on the wall when you captured these. The “action” shot of the men taking the effigies to the water is definitely one of my favourites. Love to know how you captured that one.

    Reply
    • Terra-Zongo

      Thank you Jaina. Basically, on occasions like this it is about using a long / tele lens. On this one I had a 150-500 with me.

      Reply
  3. Johny Nguyen

    The cover photo is strikingly beautiful. I love the way you capture emotion, motion, and moment very much. For me, Bali is an awesome place – rich in culture, gorgeous in nature. Hope to return to it soon.

    Best regards,
    Johny

    Reply
  4. Gabriela

    Hi Dominik, this is the best photographic records I’ve ever seen on Balinese ceremony! Congrats 🙂 Would you mind if I use one or another picture on my Instagram (with credits to you) ? This is my IG @sama2shop. Best wishes!

    Reply
    • Dominik Vanyi

      Thanks Gabriela,

      My manager Mairah will be in touch with you abt using pix on your Instagram.

      Cheers – DOMINIK

      Reply
      • Trinh

        Hi Dominik, I’ve been in Bali a few months and tried to catch this event but i missed it. Your photos are the best with all details and even emotion! I would like to use your photos in my personal blog with credits to you. Could you please ask your Manager Mairah to contact me? My email is trinh@cheekychop.com. Thank you very much!

        Reply
  5. Kevin Kelly

    Fantastic shots!

    Sources say Melasti occurs “several days before” Nyepi Day of Silence. I’d like to visit Bali for this year’s (2017) festival but I can’t find which specific day it will occur on. I believe March 28 is Nyepi. Can you tell me what exact day in March 2017 Melasti will be celebrated?

    Reply
    • Dominik Vanyi

      Kevin,

      Its on 28th and 29th March officially.

      I say officially. Let me explain:

      Neypi – the day of silence where Bali completely shuts down.. n u will not be allowed to leave your hotel / villa in Bali for 24 hours… that day is on 28th March – so the silence thing starts at midnight of the 28th and ends at midnight 29th. March

      Those MELASTI celebrations start 4,5 days before Nyepi. And end 1,2 days before Neypi. So there is NOTHING Melasti on the 27th for sure.

      So expect MELASTI celebrations to go on at: 24 / 25 / 26 March. Mostly in the morning and during later afternoon. Proly peaking on 25th.

      Good places to observe are in Nusa Dua, Canggu, Cemagi, Seseh, Pererenan

      DOMINIK

      Reply
  6. Carla Ardian

    Dominik, very nice photos and info on Melasti. Well done!

    Reply
    • Dominik Vanyi

      Thank you. Glad you like it.
      DOMINIK

      Reply
  7. Ted Doan

    Dear Dominik. Thank you for sharing this very beautiful photos and valued information. I am planning to be there after reading your blog. Could you please advise where we should do in the big day to have such a sacred and remarkable moment of Melastic. Also, it is sharply 3 days before Nyepi. Thank you in advance.

    Reply
  8. Eko

    What a wonderful storytelling, the article superb…
    We would like to have permission to share your article.

    Reply
    • Dominik Vanyi

      Pls under no circumstance share this to your website.

      Reply
  9. Dominik Vanyi

    I am very happy to have a comment in Vietnamese here… thank you so much.
    DOMINIK

    Reply

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