Unlike the west where New Year’s Eve is celebrated with partying, music, food and celebration on streets, the Balinese have a unique way of bringing in the New Year. They follow a religious Hindu ceremony called Nyepi which is a day of silence, fasting and meditation. No activities are allowed to take place. These mandatory religious prohibitions include no pleasure (amati lelangon), no traffic (amati lelungan), no fire (amati geni) and no work (amati karya).
Shhhhhh… Silence Please
This day is a public holiday in Bali and the entire town is deserted with absolutely no one in sight (except police and emergency services). It is extremely interesting how all activities including the airport, TV, radio and general service including shops are shut down for 24 hours. Across Bali, the only activities allowed are in emergency rooms and maternity section of hospitals. Any emergencies are taken into consideration and tolerated. The whole island is in absolute silence. Nyepi in 2014 is from 0:00 am on 31 March 2014 and will go for 24 hours. In 2015 it’s on the 21 March and 2016 it will be on the 28th of March.
There’s a deep Hindu mythology behind these celebrations. Nyepi Day is the first day of the Caka New Year welcomed in Bali with absolute silence – no noise, no fun, no travelling, and no working. The time is used to introspect yourself, meditate and pray for a good year ahead. It’s also to fool the gods who come to look over Bali but see nobody here on the streets and leave for another year.
The Balinese begin celebrations 3 – 4 days prior to Nyepi with a Melasti ceremony synonymous with soul cleansing and purification. During this time, effigies and idols of deities from the temples will be taken to the river or beach in a colourful procession followed by a ritual bath. People are dressed in bright colours and women carry tall offerings of fruits, cooked rice on their head. The entire ceremony is dedicated to Sanghyang Widhi Wasa (the all-in one God). It’s a great sight to see – the colourful processions as they come along one by one on the beach. Next comes, the Bhuta Yajna Ritual performed to overcome all negativities and create a balance with God, nature and mankind.
The day before Nyepi is Tawur Kesanga, which is a ceremony that attempts the removal of all evil spirits from the island. The streets, homes and neighbourhoods are all cleaned and women prepare food for two days. The men in villages make huge paper machete monsters known as Ogoh Ogoh. They actually start planning and building these weeks in advance.
The terrifying Ogoh Ogoh effigies resembling malicious monsters (Bhuta Kala) are carried throughout the streets of villages and towns with deafening drums, music and gamelan. The Balinese believe that evil spirits and demons will be loitering around on streets just before the New Year begins. Hence, they carry the over-sized Ogoh Ogoh by making as much noise as possible to create disharmony that will drive them away. These processions are worth watching and the Ogoh Ogoh’s are massive and really fearful with glowing eyes, moving mouths and terrifying sounds. Everybody joins in the processions by beating pots, cans and making lots of noise.
After the Ogoh Ogoh have been paraded and offered enticing food including blood (small chickens are sacrificed), the priests from temples will recite curses that will drive the evil spirit away from the sacred island of Bali. The Ogoh Ogoh effigies are then burnt signifying the glory of good over evil.
Finally, on Nyepi Day, the streets after the grand celebrations suddenly become deserted and all activities come to a stand still. The idea is to trick the evil spirits hovering above the island that the island is empty and there is nothing of interest here that should make them leave Bali alone for another year.
Nyepi Day is typically a Hindu ceremony, but all residents observe this day as a mark of respect. And yes, even tourists are expected to be a part of it by staying in their hotels or villas and not venturing out on the roads. The beaches, markets, grocery stores, restaurants, public transport and the Ngurah Rai International Airport are shut for an entire day.
Stock Up for Nyepi
Some tourists find this a nuisance, since it can be one less day at the beach on a short holiday. However, this is a great day to enjoy the peace and quiet of Bali.
If you’re staying in a villa or hotel, make sure you stock up on food and drinks. Staff still work during certain hours of the days. Buy good books to enjoy by the pool during daytime and DVDs to watch (at minimum volume) in the evening. Villas and hotels make special arrangements for guests, but its best to check prior to Nyepi what services are on offer.