Nyepi is a day of silence which marks the Balinese New Year. It always falls on the new moon, which is on 31st March this year, so Nyepi will take place from 6am on 31st March to 6am on 1st April. It’s a day of meditation and fasting.
On the night before Nyepi (ogoh-ogoh night), the entire island makes a racket, rousing up all of the demons from their hiding places to join in the festivities. The Balinese lure the demons out by parading around homemade statues, called ogoh-ogoh, which are anywhere from eight feet to two stories tall. Some are traditional demons, with large, frightening faces, teeth, and hands, while others take a more modern approach. The ogoh-ogoh are carried on bamboo bases by around 12 men or boys, depending on the size. The carriers make the ogoh-ogoh dance in the streets to loud gamelan music which basically sounds like a lot of drums and gongs smashing together. The ogoh-ogoh are shaken widely during the dance, and when they lose heads or arms or break altogether the crowd cheers. With the music, the darkness, and the ogoh-ogoh, it is easy to believe that demons are flying about, joining in the festivities.
What is Nyepi?
On Nyepi, the island goes silent, in order to trick the demons into thinking there are no humans on the island, so they get bored and go away. The Balinese use this silent time to reflect on the event of the past year and to contemplate the meaning of life. No one is allowed onto the streets, which are patrolled by the Pecalang, traditional security men who ensure the prohibitions are being followed. The other main restrictions are no lighting fires (and lights must be kept low); no working; no entertainment or pleasure; no traveling; and, for some, no talking or eating at all. The effect of these prohibitions is that Bali’s usually bustling streets and roads are empty, there is little or no noise from TVs and radios, and few signs of activity are seen even inside homes.
Although Nyepi is primarily a Hindu holiday, non-Hindu residents of Bali observe the day of silence as well, out of respect for their fellow citizens. Even tourists are not exempt; although free to do as they wish inside their hotels, no one is allowed onto the beaches or streets, and the only airport in Bali remains closed for the entire day. The only exceptions granted are for emergency vehicles carrying those with life-threatening conditions and women about to give birth.
It’s currently, 8.30pm on March 31st and we’re still in ‘lockdown’. With it being a Monday we’ve had a ton of work to catch up on so Nyepi has actually flown by (note – we’re not following the fasting or no working rule) but with TV transmission down, and a world of darkness outside the front door it all feels very strange. We’d love to go outside and see the island in silence and darkness, but we’ve been warned that the Pecalang take their job pretty seriously and anyone found in the streets will be arrested, so we’ve decided to behave this time! We’ve also heard that in the past, people using their lights have had stones thrown through their windows, but luckily we’ve got blackout blinds and our apartment is hidden away from the road. I don’t think we’re at risk of anything like this as our area is very safe and the Balinese also respect that, as tourists, we don’t necessarily follow the Nyepi rules as strictly as them. All in all, it’s been a fairly regular day for us, apart from eating all of our meals in our apartment and Gaz was slightly annoyed that he couldn’t take his new surfboard out!
The whole concept of Nyepi is in such contrast to a western new year, which is often about revelry and over-indulgence. To end the year with a full day of reflection seems much more appropriate than getting blind drunk and forgetting the whole thing. So on 31st December, I think I’ll mark the new year with a day of introspection and consider what values I need to work on in the year ahead.
Have you experienced Nyepi? What did you do to keep busy?