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Ngulapin A Ceremony After Accident in Bali30 September 2013
The Ngulapin is a ritual performed by Balinese priest to calm the distressed souls of those who have been befallen by accidents and bad fortune.
As though the traffic on Bali was not bad enough, occasionally you must suddenly swerve or screech to a halt lest you run over a white-clad priest sitting in the middle of a busy intersection. Though seemingly inviting injury, the priest is actually dealing with the effects of a traffic accident that may have happened at this location a few days or hours previously.
The priest is performing a ngulapin, a ritual intended to calm the distressed soul of the accident victim. The Balinese believe that the sudden violence of a road accident, even a minor fender-bender or falling from a motorcycle because of slippery conditions, is a profound shock to the victims soul. In the case of serious injury, the soul might even flee the body, leaving the victim the vulnerable to attack by evil spirits, which would delay or disturb the accident recovery process.
Ngulapin is generally performed as soon as possible after the accident, preferably on the same day. In the case of minor accidents, the victim will often attend the ceremony. Otherwise, holy water used in the ceremony is taken to the victims bedside to aid in recovery. If the accident resulted in a fatality, or someones blood was spilled on the roadway, a candle or kerosene torch will be lit and a relative will stand guard overnight to prevent evil spirits from using the fresh blood to cause further injury.
Ideally, a ngulapin ritual is held on the exact spot of the accident, which is why the priest and other participants often stand, peaceful and unconcerned, in the middle of a dangerous intersection. But if distance is a problem as when the accident occurs far from the victim’s home village, the ceremony can be performed in the perempatan agung, an intersection usually near a temple and shaded by a banyan tree — regarded as the symbolic center of the village. In this event, the family will place offerings in their own temple to the guardian deities of a temple located close to the site of the accident. However, unless the accident occurred on another island or overseas, the officiating priest will generally decide to hold the ceremony at the site, as Balinese roads are now adequate though often congested — and all but the poorest families can afford transportation expenses.
While any driver whose vehicle is almost clipped by a motorcycle running a red light, overtaken on a blind curve, or force onto the shoulder by a truck or bus will fell that most accident victims fully deserve their fate, in truth innocent bystanders can also be victims. Nevertheless, a Balinese, whether a reckless daredevil, prudent professional, or even a passenger, will believe that they are responsible for their misfortune, as the accident was ultimately caused by previous ill behavior. The ngulapin ritual is designed to help the victim to seek forgiveness and repair the damage to their karma.
The size of ngulapin rituals depends directly on the scale of the accidents and are not restricted to vehicular collisions. The Pemarisudha Karipubhaya cleansing ceremony, held four weeks after the 1 2 October 2002 bomb blast in Legian, was a ngulapin ritual on a grand scale. In this case, besides soothing the souls of the deceased victims, the Pemarisudha Karipubhaya served to reestablish the harmony and balance of an entire society traumatized by this horrific event.
Unlike most societies, in Bali, religious life is not restricted to places of worship but can take place at any locationn: at home, on the lake shore or the beach, on remote mountain slopes or in the middle of a busy intersection. Fortunately, because of the slower pace of vehicles on Balinese roads as compared to the west, few ngulapin rituals result in a second accident. Though a ngulapin ritual holding up traffic may be charming to the tourist, fascinating to the academic, and annoying to just about everyone else, it would be ungracious to complain about the inconvenience. Like most Bali Hindu rituals, ngulapin is intended not only to minister to the soul of the accident victim, but to promote the safety and welfare of all.
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