This is New Year in Indonesia’s island of Bali, a most sacred period for Hindus in Bali yet generally respected as a public holiday across the whole of Indonesia. The date of Nyepi is determined by the Hindu calendar and is marked by the first day of the ninth month during the spring equinox. In 2017, Nyepi falls on March 28 yet although much attention is focused on this single “Day of Silence,” the whole New Year celebration is a six-day event. And in usual Balinese fashion, it’s an intricate mix of symbols and ceremonies, celebration and reflection, community and the self, and tradition and new beginnings.
Cleansing begins by way of sacred objects. A fascinating scene takes place by bodies of water (beaches, lakes, rivers) as entire villages come together, bringing their effigies (from swords to sacred temple items) to be purified in preparation for the day of Nyepi.
As Western customs ring in the New Year with noisemakers and countdowns, the Balinese have their Ogoh Ogoh parade. The Ogoh Ogoh is a symbol of evil taking shape in a monster with big eyes, sharp fangs, and a sinister expression that give many a young local a nightmare. These monsters are a community effort made of bamboo and paper-mache weeks and sometimes months prior to Nyepi. Raucous street parades and sometimes, the burning of the Ogoh Ogoh symbolize an exorcism of evil elements.
“A day of absolute stillness, the suspension of all activity,” as described by Miguel Covarrubias in Island of Bali. The airport, offices, and all types of establishments are closed. While indoors, minimum light and electricity is encouraged. The whole island shuts down in silence to make way for self-reflection.
What comes next after a day of sitting at home? Seeing your friends and family of course! Central to Balinese life, social activity resumes as everyone celebrates this “New Year’s Day” with an intent to put resolutions to practice.
“Experiencing Nyepi could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to participate in an age-old ritual that combines colorful spectacle and quiet contemplation, in some of the most beautiful landscape on earth. And that’s priceless.
—Kathleen Beckett, Bali's Nyepi: A Day of Silence Worth Experiencing
“There is great excitement all over Bali at this time, and on the days before Nyepi everybody is busy erecting altars for the offerings and scaffolds for the priests at the village crossroads. There are melis processions all over Bali to take the gods to the sea for their symbolical bath. The celebration proper extends over a period of two days: the metjaru, the great purification offering, and nyepi, the day of silence.”
—Miguel Covarrubias, Island of Bali
“The night before Nyepi, the streets writhe with monsters, fantastical papier-mache creatures, carried by bands of boys holding torches and beating gongs. The noise ceases the next day—Nyepi—when all talk is forbidden, travel abandoned, streets empty, kitchen hearths cold and all televisions and radios switched off. On this day, people sit at home, neither eating nor drinking, passing the day in silence, hoping to fool any evil forces into thinking that the island is deserted.”
—Suzanne Charlé, An Illustrated Guide to Bali