In a world that seems to be spinning faster and faster, it’s vital that we find a moment to stand still. In Bali, this is not just a platitude – it’s an annual celebration. On Nyepi, also known as Saka New Year or the Day of Silence, the island shuts down for 24 hours. For one full day, no one is allowed outside of their home, villa or resort and no public activities are permitted. It’s a unique day of rest and reflection and an experience unlike anywhere else in the world. In 2020, Nyepi starts at 6am on March 25 and ends at 6am on March 26. If you’re spending Nyepi in Bali, here’s what to expect.
What is Nyepi?
In short, Nyepi is the Balinese New Year. Nyepi or the Day of Silence marks the beginning of the Saka New Year. The Saka calendar is based on the phases of the moon and so the exact date of Nyepi will vary from year to year. For the Balinese, Nyepi is an important day of self-reflection. It is believed that the gods fly over Bali on Nyepi Day and with no light or noise to attract them, they will pass over the island peacefully.
Nyepi is a Hindu celebration (well over 80% of Bali’s population are Hindu) but visitors and non-Hindu residents are not exempt from observing the holiday. But not to worry, participating in Nyepi is very easy: you simply need to stay indoors for 24 hours – and have basic respect for the local Balinese culture.
Before Nyepi – Melasti and the Ogoh-Ogoh
For the Balinese, preparation for Nyepi begins with Melasti, a purification ritual which is observed by every village on the island. This important ceremony usually takes place three or four days before Nyepi. While visitors might observe these ceremonies taking place on the beaches and lakesides with locals dressed in their ritual whites, the more common introduction to Nyepi for travellers is the spectacular ogoh-ogoh parade which takes place on the night before Nyepi.
The ogoh-ogoh parade is part of a pre-Nyepi ceremony known as Pengerupukan which usually takes place after 6pm on the day before Nyepi. Basically, this is the Balinese version of New Year’s Eve. During the parade, larger than life ogoh-ogoh sculptures built in mesmerising detail are paraded down the streets of Bali, accompanied by torches and dramatic clangs of the gamelan. Each banjar (local village community) will spend weeks building their ogoh-ogoh sculpture, each one trying to upstage the next.
The imposing ogoh-ogoh are designed to be scary and usually sport long dishevelled hair, bared fangs, bloodshot eyes and an aggressive stance. Besides the more traditional demonic sculptures, you can also spot more modern interpretations, like monsters riding motorcycles or straddling a surfboard. The fearsome effigies represent evil and are ritualistically burned after the parade – but not before the local jury has chosen the winner! The most impressive statues are sometimes displayed in front of local community halls until long after Nyepi. Ogoh-ogoh parades take place throughout Bali, with the sculptures paraded down the main street. You can speak to your villa manager about the best vantage point for enjoying the parade.
Spending Nyepi in Bali
After the theatrics of the ogoh-ogoh, it’s time for Nyepi – the Day of Silence. For travellers, the most important thing to understand is that you’re not allowed to leave your villa, hotel or resort for 24 hours. That’s right: from 6am to 6am, the whole island comes to a standstill and the streets are empty, save for the local security officers (pecalang) who patrol the island and escort anyone breaking the rule back to their accommodation.
Though the concept of Nyepi might sound intimidating, the day itself is anything but. As long as you stay in you villa or resort, you can pretty much go about your day, business as usual. It’s also good to remember that Nyepi only lasts a day and before you know it, life on the island gets back to normal. Instead of fretting about all the what ifs, we encourage you to embrace this unique celebration.
Prepping for Nyepi – The Essentials
As Nyepi is one of the most important holidays for the Balinese, some venues might be operating with limited staff. It’s good to check beforehand if your accommodation will be serving food on Nyepi or if you need to stock up on some groceries. Whichever the case, we definitely recommend picking up some yummy snacks and drinks, just because. If you’re short on cash, you should also visit the ATM the day before Nyepi and don’t wait until the wee hours, either – ATMs shut down the night before Neypi.
The Balinese follow four main rules on Nyepi.
Here’s how they will affect your holiday.
1. Amati Geni – No Fire
Traditionally, this has meant no fire and no light but don’t worry – there will be electricity on Nyepi. After sundown, lights should be kept low and curtains drawn so as to avoid light getting outside the house. Most people will tell you that the “no lights” rule is one of the best things about Nyepi: with no light pollution to distract from the views, the starry skies never looked so good.
2. Amati Karya – No Activity
On Nyepi, the streets are deserted, shops and restaurants are closed and no public activities are allowed. If this sounds daunting, don’t worry: if you’re staying in a villa or a resort, you can enjoy all normal activities as long as you stay inside the complex. You can park yourself by the pool, hit the gym, catch up on your holiday reads and of course, spend some quality time with friends and family. Then again, Nyepi is also the perfect excuse to simply do nothing for a change! However you choose to spend the day, remember to be respectful of the local culture and keep noise to a minimum – no cranking up the bass on Nyepi, please.
3. Amati Lelungaan – No Travel
On Nyepi, Bali is on lockdown mode: Ngurah Rai International Airport is closed for 24 hours, with no flights landing or departing. On a more local level, the streets are deserted with no cars or motorbikes to pollute the air. The only pedestrians will be the pecalang (local security patrol) making sure the whole island observes Nyepi. In case of an emergency, hospitals will still be open on Nyepi and people travelling to hospitals will be waived through by the pecalang.
4. Amati Lelanguan – No Entertainment
You really don’t need to worry about being bored out of your mind come Nyepi, especially if you’re staying in a villa or a resort. Besides all the non-digital entertainment (splashing in the pool, sun baking on the lounges, getting lost in a good book, meditating on your life choices…), you can surf the internet and binge on your favourite movies and TV shows. Mobile data service might be limited, but the Wi-Fi connection in your villa will work just fine. There will be no TV service but this is hardly the 1990s – you can binge on DVDs or Netflix to your heart’s content.
Spending Nyepi in Bali is one of the most unique ways to experience the Island of the Gods. From the spectacle of the ogoh-ogoh parade to the sweet serenity come Nyepi Day, every Bali lover should experience this one of a kind holiday at least once. So switch on the out-of-office auto response, pack your bags and head to Bali!