Year 2020 was surely an unprecedented time for all of us having experienced lockdown and quarantine due to the pandemic.
For the Balinese, to be in some sort of a "lockdown" is not something entirely new. Their New Year is celebrated as a 'Day of Silence'. It is a day spent staying within the confines of ones abode, fasting, meditating and abstaining from all earthly pleasure.The whole Bali is in lockdown mode as no one is allowed to be out and about. Business establishments and even the airport cease operation for 24 hours (absolutely no flights). Yes, it is quite the opposite of how the rest of the world celebrates new year, as it is devoid of the usual shenanigans from countdown parties, fireworks, bingeing of food and drinks, social gathering and festivities.
Balinese New Year is aptly called Nyepi which translates in English "to keep silent', "to be become desolate", or "to seclude yourself". However, the 'day of silence' is only one part of the entire Nyepi celebration. Prior and succeeding to it are various cleansing rituals and festivities.
Before Bali goes into complete stillness and solitude, the villages goes in full swing for the preparation of the New Year, gigantic monster figures are being assembled and built, offerings being prepared, religious rituals held.
Respectively, the 6 rituals that comprise the Nyepi celebration conducted over the course of 6 days are as follows:
1. The Melasti Ritual
It is a purification ritual of sacred objects in a temple by the sea to which the villagers parades to, garbed in traditional white clothing. Sacred water is also collected from the sea with the aim of cleansing from evil spirits.
2. Bhuta Yajna Ritual
A ritual conducted with the purpose of purging evil spirits and restoring the balance between God, humanity and nature.
On this day, from morning onwards, Bali is bustling with plethora of activities. Balinese men and women of all ages are all busy in their respective tasks of making the offerings, doing the finishing touches of the giant effigies in preparation for the highlight of the day which is the Ngrupuk Parade that starts at sunset.
The Ngrupuk parade is a slightly bizarre yet fascinating and certainly spectacular ritual that takes place on the eve of Nyepi. Monstrous statues known as Ogoh-Ogoh parades around the village. While they are made in the form of demons and meant to be scary, the craftsmanship and artistry of every effigy is so impressive that it will leave you captivated rather than scared.
The parade is accompanied by loud music from various traditional instruments including gongs, drums and gamelan music. Individual households also creates noises from pots and pans. All these noises are believed to force out all lingering evil spirits.
Burning coconuts husks and torches is another integral part of the ceremony also to dispel demons.
Traditionally, the Ogoh-ogohs are burned at the end of the procession. Although in the recent years some of them are placed in display around Bali for a week or so , and some even sold.
3. Nyepi Rituals
After a night of noise comes total silence, the day of Nyepi. The heart of these rituals is the Day of Silence which is observed on the 3rd day. It starts at 6:00 am and ends 24 hours later.
Nyepi has four main prohibitions: No fire or light (thus the electricity is cut off), no working (all offices & business are closed) , no traveling (airport is closed, no plane takes off and lands), no self-entertainment (any form of merry making is not allowed).
Nobody is allowed out of their house/accomodation, locals and tourists alike. There is a level of tolerance allowed inside the hotels, thus guests are still able to enjoy electricity, wifi, and other indoor hotel facilities. They are not allowed to wander around the streets of Bali and they are expected to respect the rule of silence.
4. Yoga/Brata Ritual
This takes after the day of silence from 6:00 am to 6:00 am the following day, which is spent in meditation. Bali resumes to its normal operation on this day.
5. Ngembak Agni/ Labuh Brata Ritual
This is the day of forgiveness to start the new year with a clean slate so too speak. On this day, more exciting ritual takes place exclusively in Sesetan, Denpasar, the Omed-omedan or the kissing ritual. After a prayer, single youth (aged 17 to 30) engage in kissing while water is being poured over them.
6.Dharma Shanti Ritual
Signify the end of the Nyepi festivities.
Do take note that the date of Nyepi varies each year as it is based on the Saka calendar. Nyepi 2021 will fall on March 14.
My Take on Nyepi
Our main reason for going to Bali during this time was to attend the wedding of our Balinese friend which coincidentally is held around the time of Nyepi. To be honest, I have never heard of Nyepi prior to actually being there. To be told that everything will be closed initially brought about frustration (after all who would want to be locked down during their holiday right?!). But as I take part in celebration that revolved around Nyepi and learned more about this tradition,I have reach a new level of appreciation for the Balinese culture.
Not only was it a fascinating and enriching experience, but I have develop an even higher respect for the Balinese. As we all know, Bali ranks fairly high as one of the most touristic place in the world. And they have surely capitalized on this, converting a lot of their places into tourist spots. But Nyepi proved that the tourist industry hasn't eaten up their traditions. For on this particular day, tourism takes the back seat. Profit will come another day, as their purification takes priority.
The Balinese are proud of their culture and tradition in as much as they take pride in their tourist spots. Nyepi is a tradition sacred to them, but they welcome foreigners and tourists wanting to take part in the festivities. They have no qualms about having their photos taken.
Should you travel to Bali during Nyepi?
Absolutely! Ok, maybe not when you only have 2 or 3 days and its your first visit to Bali. But if Bali is on your frequently visited places, then consider timing one of your visit during Nyepi.
If you are into photography, then you will have a field day capturing all the festivities that comes with it. Even on the "night of silence", it is the perfect moment to do some night photography. With all the artificial lights turn off, the night sky shines particularly bright.
And while you might have lost a day from exploring tourist spot, you will gained a profound experience that is surely one for the books.
So tell me, knowing that Bali is on standstill during Nyepi, would you still plan your holiday around this date or try to avoid?! Would you consider the "Day of Silence" as a 'bucket list experience' or an adventure buster?
-Photos by Kostas Trovas