Imagine a day of a complete silence and the only thing you hear is the sounds of nature. There are no cars, buses, motorbikes nor anybody. The airport is closed, and only the birds and butterflies sweep through the sky.
The songs of birds and calls of insects will seem louder than on any other day. The night is dark and the sky is full of billions of shining stars.
Does it seem like a dream? It most certainly isn’t a dream. This is the celebration of New Year’s Eve in Bali. This day is called Nyepi, a day of silence. It is the largest Balinese-Hindu holiday and is held only in Bali and a few neighbouring islands.
The celebration of the New Year is not just one day. Several other celebrations and rituals are connected to Nyepi.
The first is the Melasti ritual, which happens 3-4 days prior to Nyepi. The ritual takes place in the temples that are near the sea, where people come to purify themselves of all evil. Seas and lakes are the sources of life, according to Hinduist beliefs, and its water is the main cleansing element.
Bhuta Yajna / Ogoh-Ogoh – a parade of demons
Another of the New Year’s rituals is Bhuta Yajna. It takes place in the evening before Nyepi. During this ritual, the Balinese expel the evil spirits and demons from the island to create a balance between God, mankind, and nature.
Most of the Balinese communities each year build Ogoh-Ogoh, which are huge demonic statues of richly painted bamboo, fabrics, petals and polystyrene that symbolize demons and evil spirits. Their making usually takes about two to three months and cost about 500 dollars. These sculptures are carried to the main parade where people are dancing, screaming, singing, banging into pans and pots, and DJs play electronic music from huge speakers. The basic idea is to make as much noise as possible to scare away demons and evil spirits. After the parade ends, sculptures are usually ignited, and the demons eradicated.
Nyepi: Balinese New Year 1940
The next morning, a major change will occur – a grave silence across the whole island, as if time has stopped and nature takes back what was once hers.
Nyepi, a day of silence, lasts for a total of 24 hours. From dawn to dawn, everyone must stay in their home. This also applies to tourists who can only move within the hotel’s or resort’s grounds on this day. During that day, all the shops and offices are closed, and even the airport has a holiday. The reason for this is that if the demons and evil spirits return, they will find that the island is deserted.
This day is also meant for nature, which can rest for a whole day not only from people, emissions from cars and aircraft but also from the noise produced by humanity.
The only people who can walk around the island are Hindu police officers who oversee that the curfew and other rules that are linked to this day are upheld.
On this day, so-called “four bans” apply:
- Amati Geni – no fire.
During the day, you should not cook and smoke. People should fast or have food prepared from the day before so that they can devote themselves to their family and self-reflection. During the night all lights must be turned off. The religious police are overseeing and checking if anyone has forgotten to turn their lights off. Like our neighbours who left the outdoor lamp lit. Within an hour the police came and began to pound on their door. I think no one was at home, so it took them a while to disconnect the lamp.
- Amati Lelunganan – no travel.
No cars, bikes or buses. The airport is also closed. There are no people in the streets. Bali becomes a ghost island for one day. Love it! I wish that this day was celebrated all over the world. I wonder how the people of western civilizations would think about this ban. Perhaps some individuals would sue the government for limiting their freedom and human rights 😀
- Amati Karya – no work.
I like this one a lot. During Nyepi, you should meditate, take time for themselves, to their family, and do nothing.
- Amati Lelanguan – no entertainment.
In reality, it should mean no television, no phone, no music, no computer. Television channels are not broadcasting and this year 2018 the government even appealed to the mobile service providers to shut down the Internet all day long. And it actually happened. This is something you don’t see these days! And when they say no fun, it also means no sex. Only platonic love is allowed.
We spent our day together at home and enjoyed the absolute silence. During the day, we were learning to paint with watercolours, and in the evening we packed a bottle of wine and some chocolate and climbed onto our roof to watch the show of the year.
You know what the best part of Nyepi is? The way the sky looks once the sun goes down. I have never seen so many stars in the sky! I was amazed, but on the other hand, I was a little bit sad that because of our “advanced” civilization, we are amazed by something that should be actually quite normal. Oh, humanity and its pollution.
Everything goes back to normal and I was woken up by motorbike noises. Most shops and restaurants are reopened and people can move freely again. It is a shame that the day of silence is not rather a week of silence.
The last ritual is Ngembak Geni when everyone asks for forgiveness from their family and friends. On this day, also the Omed-Omedan ritual takes place. During this ritual, unmarried people aged between 17 and 30 meet in one place, pray and show one of the traditional dances. Then the girls stand on one side of the street, the men opposite them. At the command of the elders, the individual couples gradually kiss and the others sprinkle them with water to discourage the lousy thoughts they might have. Finally, the pair is separated from each other. What a pity I got to know about this tradition later on and did not go to see it. Maybe next year.
Are you now asking what date Nyepi will be happening next year? Plan ahead for next year’s Saka New Year 1941, on March 7, 2019.
Here I have written dates for the next 5 years, after that, you will have to google it for yourself.
- 7th March 2019
- 24th March 2020
- 14th March 2021
- 3rd March 2022
- 22nd March 2023
Nyepi is one of the most unique holidays in the world. After all, where else than in Bali can you experience the day of utter silence? In a world that is spinning faster every minute, we could all appreciate the Day of Silence once a year. Just sit back, relax and enjoy Nyepi!
For a lot of people, this holiday may seem like something that disturbs their vacation and plans, but when you know how to enjoy it, you will have an unforgettable and unique experience for your whole life.
Nyepi is a cultural phenomenon that leaves a mark on your soul no matter who you are or where you are from. It is one of my favourite New Year’s celebrations – right after Thai New Year.
Have you experienced Nyepi day? If not, what is the most unusual traditional experience you have witnessed?
Spectacular view of the sky at night, very beautiful photos and wonderful information
Thank you for this information
Thank you Sebastian.
Interesting article and beautiful pictures. I wish that more countries do such a thing and let us experience silebt and pitch black night. By the way, what kind of settings do you have to get these pictures?
Hi Teddy, it was an amazing experience. When you will be back in Asia you should try it 😉 The settings are for each photo a bit different. Which one do you want to know? 🙂