Bali's Day Of Silence
Nyepi Day in Bali is a New Year’s celebration unlike anywhere else on the planet. Also known as Bali’s celebration of the Saka New Year and the Bali Day of Silence, it is ultimately the quietest day of the year, when all of its inhabitants abide by a set of local rules that brings all routine activities to a complete halt. The roads all over Bali are void of any traffic and nobody steps outside of his or her home premises.
Most Balinese and visitors regard it as a much-anticipated occasion. Expats and those coming from neighbouring islands prefer escaping Bali for the day due to the restrictions that surround this observance. Some visitors check coinciding dates ahead before their Bali trip, avoiding it altogether. Largely, Nyepi is worth experiencing at least once in a lifetime, especially since the preceding and following days are full of rare highlights!
The unique day of silence marks the turn of the Saka calendar of western Indian origin, one among the many calendars assimilated by Indonesia’s diverse cultures, and among two jointly used in Bali. The Saka is 78 years behind the Gregorian calendar, and follows a lunar sequence. This year’s Nyepi falls on March 31, following a new moon.
Village meeting halls known as ‘banjar’ and streets feature papier-mâché effigies called ogoh-ogoh, 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, which stayed on to become an inseparable element in the island-wide celebration that is Nyepi Eve.
Before ‘the silence’, highlight rituals essentially start three days prior to Nyepi, with colourful processions known as the Melasti pilgrimages. On Friday March 28, 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.
On March 20, Saka New Year’s Eve 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.
However on March 21, 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.