Nyepi Day in Bali is a New Year celebration unlike anywhere else on the planet. Bali celebrates the Saka New Year as the Bali Day of Silence. It’s ultimately the quietest day of the year, when all of the island’s inhabitants abide by a set of local rules. These bring all routine activities to a complete halt. Roads all over Bali are void of any traffic and nobody steps outside of their home premises.
Most Balinese and visitors regard Nyepi as a much-anticipated occasion. Some expats and those coming from neighbouring islands prefer escaping Bali for the day rather, due to restrictions that surround the observance. Some others check coinciding dates ahead before their Bali trip, avoiding it altogether. Anyhow, Nyepi is worth experiencing at least once in a lifetime. Especially, since the preceding and following days offer rare highlights to behold!
A Different Kind of New Year Celebration
The unique day of silence marks the turn of the Saka calendar of western Indian origin. It’s one among the many calendars assimilated by Indonesia’s diverse cultures. The Saka is also among two calendars that are jointly used in Bali. The Saka is 78 years behind the Gregorian calendar, and follows a lunar sequence. Nyepi follows after a new moon.
Village meeting halls known as ‘banjar’ and streets feature papier-mâché effigies called ogoh-ogoh. They are built throughout the weeks leading up to the Saka New Year. Youth groups design and build their mythical figures with intricately shaped and tied bamboo framework before many layers of artwork. These artistic creations are offshoots of the celebration since its dawning in the early 80s. Much of it has stayed on to become an inseparable element in the island-wide celebration that’s Nyepi Eve.
Before the Silence
Before ‘the silence’, highlight rituals essentially start three days prior to Nyepi, with colourful processions known as the Melasti pilgrimages. Pilgrims from various village temples all over Bali convey heirlooms on long walks towards the coastlines where elaborate purification ceremonies take place. It is one of the best times to capture on camera the iconic Balinese processions in motion, as parasols, banners and small effigies offer a cultural spectacle.
Then on Saka New Year’s Eve, it is all blaring noise and merriment. Every Balinese household starts the evening with blessings at the family temple and continues with a ritual called the pengrupukan where each member participates in ‘chasing away’ malevolent forces, known as bhuta kala, from their compounds – hitting pots and pans or any other loud instruments along with a fiery bamboo torch. These ‘spirits’ are later manifested as the ogoh-ogoh to be paraded in the streets. As the street parades ensue, bamboo cannons and occasional firecrackers fill the air with flames and smoke. The Nyepi Eve parade usually starts at around 19:00 local time.
When the Whole Island Shuts Down…
However on Nyepi Day, complete calm enshrouds the island. The Balinese Hindus follow a ritual called the Catur Brata Penyepian, roughly the ‘Four Nyepi Prohibitions’. These include amati geni or ‘no fire’, amati lelungan or ‘no travel’, amati karya ‘no activity’, and amati lelanguan ‘no entertainment’. Some consider it a time for total relaxation and contemplation, for others, a chance for Mother Nature to ‘reboot’ herself after 364 days of human pestering. No lights are turned on at night – total darkness and seclusion goes along with this new moon island-wide, from 06:00 to 06:00.
No motor vehicles whatsoever are allowed on the streets, except ambulances and police patrols and emergencies. As a hotel guest, you are confined to your hotel premises, but free to continue to enjoy the hotel facilities as usual. Traditional community watch patrols or pecalang enforce the rules of Nyepi, patrolling the streets by day and night in shifts.
Ngembak Geni, the day after Nyepi
On the day after Nyepi, referred to as ‘Ngembak Geni’, head down to the village of Sesetan in southern Denpasar for the omed-omedan, roughly known as the ‘festival of smooches’. This is a much-localized event, pertaining only to Sesetan’s Banjar Kaja community. Youths take to the street as water is splashed and sprayed by villagers, and the highlight being two throngs of boys and girls, in a tug-of-war-like scene. Successive pairs in the middle are pushed to a smooch with each shove and push.
Interested in experiencing these rare highlights in Bali? Don’t worry if you missed out on this year’s. Plan ahead for next year’s Saka New Year 1941, on March 7, 2019.
Stay tuned for the following years’ Nyepi dates: