Silence, purification and reflection: celebrating Nyepi in Bali

Happy New Year/Nyepi from the island of Bali! Almost every religion or culture on earth has a unique way to celebrate the New Year and the tiny island of Bali is no different. While a majority of the world’s population adheres to the Gregorian calendar and celebrates the New Year with revelry (and sometimes debauchery) on January 1st, here in Bali our New Year or Nyepi is celebrated with a day of silence on the day following the dark moon of the Spring equinox. Sounds magical no? It is.

Nyepi is so much more than the Gregorian event of streamers, cocktails and iffy resolutions. In Bali, Nyepi represents a day to physically and mentally ensure the balance of nature. And the balance of the natural world is not something you can pull off in a single day either. In fact, Nyepi takes place over six days with four separate ceremonies. New Year in Bali begins with the ceremony of Melasti which occurs three days before Nyepi and is the time when all effigies of the Gods from Balinese villages are taken down from their posts and carried to the source of eternal life (which runs through the rivers and ocean) for bathing. The goal is the cleansing all of nature and its contents.


Melasti ceremonies to purify before Nyepi

Then, the day (actually the eve) before Nyepi, a magical event that blends something akin to an island-wide exorcism and carnivale takes place. For weeks (and sometimes months) leading up to this day of  Tawur Kesanga, each village works together to build an Ogoh-Ogoh…literally a fantastically ghoulish demon figure made out of bamboo and paper-mache, with fangs and bulging eyes and bloody claws. The Ogoh Ogoh symbolize the evil spirits which surround our environment and once the sun sets these beasts come alive through the support of (sometimes 20) villagers who lift the creatures upon their shoulders (think a manually carried parade float) and carry them wild and wooly through the darkening streets lit by torches and heralded by the crashing musical accompaniment of gamelan troupes. The processions get increasingly fever-pitched often times sparking pure demonic mayhem in the streets and between rival Ogoh Ogoh.


Balinese demon puppets or ogoh ogoh

And while times have changed somewhat in the urban and suburban neighborhoods of Bali, in most of the rural countryside the night’s magic ends with the torching of the demon in the style of Burning Man.

Ogoh ogoh in Ubud

The madness of Tawur Kesanga then becomes a stark contrast to what happens as
the sun begins to rise the very next morning. This is Nyepi, the Day of Silence. No activity takes place anywhere on the island; shops, banks, airports…everything is closed up tight. Balinese, expats and tourists alike all must remain behind closed doors and, if you do it right, without electricity or flame. Nothing should disturb the absolute silence. In the village we’re told that to make a mistake is to announce yourself to the Demons that are roaming about looking for signs of inhabitance…and you don’t want that hanging over your head.

Nothing breaks the stillness of the village but the barking of a few dogs and the vibratory shrill of the insects in the rice.

This is a day for balancing. From a philosophical perspective the Balinese consider this a day to think about your values; which will you allow to carry you forward as your foundation in the coming year; humanity, integrity, patience, respect, love.

Something we should all practice.

Last but not least is Ngembak Geni, the day after Nyepi, or more commonly known as, one hell of a tough day to be on the road. Balinese everywhere on the island travel to visit friends and family and begin putting their newly considered values to work. The roads are chocker block full of individuals that quite possibly are first-timers behind the wheel and visit gridlock sets in by early morning. It’s a lovely day and a lovely way to step out of the depths of self-introspection and into the light of a new year.

So Happy New Year, Selamat Nyepi and Matur Suksma for your continuing support
of the world of Big Tree Farms.