Balinese see in New Year with time of reflection
Bali in Indonesia is undoubtedly one of the most gloriously beautiful locations in the world, with its stunning vistas, beautiful beaches, and welcoming natives. There’s no mystery as to why it’s one of the tourist hotspots of the entire globe.
In the first few months of 2023 alone, over 1.4 million tourists arrived in the tropical paradise, eager to bask in the sun, sea, and sand. But right in the middle of that same period – in March specifically – there is a national religious holiday wherein absolutely everywhere shuts down for a full 24 hours. We’re not just talking about schools, government offices, and banks here, nor are we talking just about commercial properties like stores, restaurants, and cafes, no, we mean literally everything shuts down… airports, public transport, beaches, street vendors, television, radio, and even internet services! You are even prohibited from venturing out into the street during this period. All facets of modern living literally come to a dead-stop.
The holiday is known as Nyepi, or ‘Day of Silence’, and they’re really not kidding about that either! Nyepi is the start of Isakawarsa, the New Year according to the Balinese saka calendar, and although it is primarily a Hindu festival, nonetheless it is strictly enforced across all of Bali with no exemptions, from 6am to 6am the following morning.
The purpose behind the holiday is a day of quiet reflection and contemplation, to put aside the usual hustle and bustle of everyday living and look inward to oneself. Fasting and meditation are also a key part of the ritual. To enforce the outdoor prohibition, a number of watchers known as the pecalang patrol the empty streets to ensure no one violates the 24-hour curfew.
The day before Nyepi is a time of celebration and colorful parades across Bali, known as the Ngrupuk, these exuberant exhibitions feature statues of mythological beings known as Ogoh-ogoh, which symbolize the spiritual energy and eternal time of Bhuta-Kala in the Hindu tradition, and are meant to purify the environment of spiritual pollutants brought about by human living.
The only exemptions given during this period are for emergency services and/or women giving birth.
Nyepi involves a list of component rituals which we will detail here:
Performed 3-4 days before Nyepi, this ritual is performed in a Balinese temple near the sea and is to purify the sacred objects of Arca, Pratima, and Pralingga, but also to take sacred water from the sea.
2. Bhuta Yajna
Performed the day before Nyepi and including the celebrations and parades mentioned here previously, this ritual, as mentioned, is to purify the natural environment and create a balance between God, mankind, and nature.
The distinctive Ogoh-ogoh statues are usually burned after the parades in cemeteries but many are kept and sold to museums and collectors.
The central time of the entire religious period, Nyepi is spent in silence and reflection, with four main tenets to abide by:
- Amati Geni- No fire or light or even electricity unless vitally necessary.
- Amati Karya- No work or strenuous activity of any kind, including sex.
- Amati Lelunganan- No traveling.
- Amati Lelanguan- No revelry, entertainment, or parties.
4. Yoga Brata
Lasting from 6 am on Nyepi day to 6 am the next day, this ritual is simply quiet meditation and contemplation, a time of intense silence to get in touch with your inner spiritual self.
5. Ngembak Agni/Labuh Brata
Following Nyepi coming to a close at 6 am the following day, this day is meant to see the faithful visit family and friends to ask for forgiveness and restore harmony.
6. Dharma Shanti
The final act of the religious period, this ritual officially closes out the festival and sees Sloka, Kekidung, and Kekawi (ancient Hindu scripts containing passages and songs) read aloud.
For tourists, Nyepi must be something of a culture shock, such is the complete cessation of any kind of activity. But they also need to be highly aware of it, so as not to plan arrivals to or departures from the island during the 24-hour period as airports are shut down. Nonetheless, it is an interesting cultural experience and one certainly not to be forgotten in the otherwise bustling tourist destination.