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  • Writer's pictureChetan Prabhu

Nyepi (Day of Silence, Balinese New Year)

Updated: Apr 7, 2018

Are you tired of Bali’s beaches, mountains, paddy fields and greenery? Do you wish to delve deeper into the cultural side of the island?

If you’ve traveled to Bali often enough, you must have heard about Nyepi Day, also known as the Day of Silence or the Balinese New Year. Before and after this special day (which is very important to the Balinese), a series of rituals and celebrations are held, which are meant to restore the balance between good and evil, Gods, men and nature.

Nyepi is a Balinese "Day of Silence" that is commemorated every Isakawarsa (Saka new year) according to the Balinese calendar (in 2018, it falls on March 17). It is a Hindu celebration mainly celebrated in Bali, Indonesia. Nyepi, a public holiday in Indonesia, is a day of silence, fasting and meditation for the Balinese. The day following Nyepi is also celebrated as New Year's Day. On this day, the youth of Bali practice the ceremony of Omed-omedan or 'The Kissing Ritual' to celebrate the new year. The same day celebrated in India as Gudi Padwa.

Observed from 6 a.m. until 6 a.m. the next morning, Nyepi is a day reserved for self-reflection, and as such, anything that might interfere with that purpose is restricted. The 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. The only people to be seen outdoors are the Pecalang, traditional security men who patrol the streets to ensure the prohibitions are being followed.

Although Nyepi is primarily a Hindu holiday, non-Hindu residents and tourists are not exempt from the restrictions. Although they are 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 responding to life-threatening conditions and women about to give birth

On Nyepi day, there is totally no activity – no traffic at all on the roads, no amusement is held the whole day long. No fires also may be lit in observance of the Nyepi and great purification and sacrificial rites are held on the day prior to Nyepi in order to exorcise evil spirits from every corner of Bali

At Nyepi in Bali, it is best to simply go with the flow, enjoy a little introspection yourself and if you are staying in one of the hectic tourist resorts such as Kuta, savour the once-a-year novelty of utter peace and quiet. Nyepi is a unique experience and there is no other day like it anywhere else in the world.

The Ogoh-Ogoh parade

For months now the different Banjar throughout Bali have been creating Ogoh-Ogoh, paper mache monsters of all shapes and sizes. These statues line the roads in their various stages of completion until the day before Nyepi when the fun begins. On the night before Nyepi, the young men form the Banjar pick up their Ogoh-Ogoh on bamboo poles and march them through their town like a parade. This tradition was started to scare off the evil spirits that haunt Bali away from the island. When they come back the next day and see that the island appears to be deserted, they will leave the island alone for another year.

Modern day Nyepi beliefs

These days Nyepi is carried out more as a tradition than anything else. Young kids still believe in the tale as it is told to them by their parents much like the tale of Santa Claus in the west. Adult Balinese with mystical beliefs may still put some importance behind this aspect of Nyepi but for most the Ogoh-Ogoh parade has become a tradition and the day of Nyepi itself, a time to spend with family and do some introspection. Going outside of the home or using electricity is not allowed on Nyepi. Many Balinese fast or refrain from talking throughout the day of Nyepi as well.

Nyepi Day as a tourist

Depending on how you look at it, Nyepi can be a big inconvenience for tourists or it can be a great excuse to relax. While the Balinese generally refuse from using electricity, it is usually allowed within your Hotel. Staff will be there to cook meals for guests and you are allowed outside of your rooms as long as you stay inside the hotel grounds and don’t make too much noise.

Only an emergency situation will allow you out of your hotel grounds. Hospitals will still be open and the rare ambulance will be the only vehicle allowed on the road. Try booking a flight in or out of Bali during Nyepi and you will see no fares available. The airport simply shuts down. This can be quite the inconvenience but it doesn’t always need to be.

Making the most of Nyepi

Some tourists and expats find that they want to get out of their normal spot for the day and rent a luxury hotel or villa. Being stuck in an upscale place all day can be a whole lot better than being stuck in a small, cheap room. Others decide to get out of Bali altogether and take a trip to Java, Lombok or the Gili islands which are incredibly busy during Nyepi. Others decide to go with the flow and use the day to relax and do some introspection of their own lives. If you look out or open your window you will realize that Bali has never seemed so quiet, the sky never been so clear and you have never felt more at peace while on the island.

What happens if I do go outside during Nyepi?

During the day of Nyepi the only people allowed out on the street will be the Pecalang

(village police) to patrol their respective areas. They will be dressed for the task, so don’t even think about trying to fool them. If they do catch anyone out during the day (usually a few rowdy tourists in Kuta sneak out every year) you will be detained (not arrested) in a special area until the next day when you will be free to go out again. Nyepi is by far the strictest in the south of Bali. In the north and east coast of Bali, many Balinese leave their homes and have small gatherings on the street which would never be allowed down south. They refrain from using motor vehicles or talking loudly and no one bothers them. As a foreigner, even in those areas you would be wise to just be respectful and stay inside.

The day after Nyepi

The day after Nyepi is usually very slowly paced with most businesses still being closed from the days earlier. Most Balinese will not be working on the day after Nyepi and will spend the day either with their family or catching up with friends. Most tourists are usually eager to get out and experience freedom again while others say they feel so at peace during Nyepi that they end up hanging around in their same hangout spot that they were in the whole day before.

Tips for being respectful while still making Nyepi enjoyable

  • Watch your electricity usage – You might not want to follow the rules of no electricity but it is polite not to bother other people with your usage. Keep the volume on your TV down and if using lights, put up heavy blankets or something similar over your windows to keep the light from escaping.

  • Make sure you have enough food and water to last all day – You won’t be allowed out from 6AM until 6AM the next day under any circumstance besides an emergency. With many Balinese fasting during Nyepi, not having any food would not be considered an emergency. Stock up the day before or better yet 2 days before while all of the stores are still open.

  • Spend the day with a group of good friends – Make sure you do this in a place that is accepting of it but Nyepi with good friends can be a whole lot more fun than a day stuck inside by yourself.

  • Don’t be afraid to just SLOW DOWN – Seriously, you aren’t going anywhere for another 24 hours so even if you aren’t a Hindu, you shouldn’t feel rushed to do anything on Nyepi. Take things slow and enjoy the day for what it is, there is no other day like it anywhere in the world.

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