Never celebrated New Year’s at the end of March? Now’s your chance. The Nyepi festival in Bali, Indonesia welcomes the start of the Balinese New Year on March 28th, but festivities last for a total of 6 days - and we’ll bet it’s like nothing you’ve experienced before. Hint: the Indonesian word nyepi means “day of silence,” and the Balinese take it pretty seriously.
Cleanse and purify during Melasti.
The first ritual to kick off the New Year’s festivities is called Melasti, dedicated to the Balinese god Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa (the “All-In-One God”). To allow enough time to gather sacred sea water, Melasti is performed 3-4 days before the actual Nyepi day. The water is brought to a Balinese temple near the sea called Pura, where it is used to purify sacred objects belonging to other temples. The Balinese consider water from lakes and seas to be Tirta Amrita, or the source of life - and therefore worthy of purifying power. This ritual is extremely important, as it sets the stage for the rest of Nyepi and must be done correctly.
Ward off evil with Bhuta Yajna.
Before the entire island shuts down, the Balinese do like to have a little fun during the Bhuta Yajna ritual. On the days before Nyepi, fun takes the form of demonic creatures called Ogoh-Ogoh: large statues made of bamboo and paper that symbolize negativity and malevolent spirits. Intended to purify the natural environment from sinful human activity, the Ogoh-Ogoh are paraded on men’s shoulders throughout the island while villagers make as much noise as possible. The statues are periodically rotated during the procession to confuse and scare off evil spirits.
At the conclusion of the parade, the Ogoh-Ogoh are usually burned to further eradicate any bad spirits that remain, while chaotic drinking and dancing continue well into the night. As the following day is nyepi, this is the time for the Balinese to let out all their energy while they can and prepare for the quiet day tomorrow.
Self-reflect during Nyepi.
Usually the calm comes before the storm, but during Nyepi, it’s the other way around. The third day of the festival is devoted to absolute silence, to the point where Balinese Pecalang (policemen) are hired to patrol the streets and enforce the strict rule. It isn’t just limited to talking, either - families are expected to turn off music and television, draw their curtains, and use as little light as possible. Need to stock up on groceries? Better plan ahead - all stores, restaurants, and airports are closed for the day as well.
While not talking for a full 24 hours might sound tough to do, the Hindu Balinese place a great deal of importance on this day of silence. They use it to connect deeply with their God, known as Hyang Widhi Wasa in Bali or Acintya in other parts of Indonesia. The day is built around the four precepts of Catur Brata: Amati Geni, the prohibition of fire and light; Amati Karya, the prohibition of physical labor other than spiritual cleansing; Amati Lelunganan, banning movement and travel; and Amati Lelanguan, forbidding merrymaking and self-entertainment. The Balinese typically spend the day in meditation and prayer as the entire island goes into hiding. You’re not off the hook, though - tourists are expected to comply with the sacred tradition just like everyone else.
Visit friends and family on Ngembak Geni.
After a day of silence, it’s time for some much-needed family time. Islanders emerge from their homes and head out to visit relatives and neighbors on New Year’s Day, a special ritual known as Ngembak Geni. While various religious activities like script reading are performed, the main purpose is to ask for forgiveness from one’s relatives. Young children partake in Ngembak Geni and practice the ceremony of Omed-omedan, the “Kissing Ritual,” by locking lips to promote good health and prosperity. Finally, the closing rituals are performed, and the sacred week of Nyepi is officially over - until next year, that is.
Could you use a little more nyepi in your life? With all the busy chatter we encounter on a daily basis, we certainly wouldn’t mind switching off for a full day. Get in the Nyepi spirit this month by trying your hand at our Indonesian language course - the next best thing to actually being in Bali. You’ll walk away able to hold an interesting conversation with locals, while knowing useful skills like negotiating and counting money. When you’re talking about the fourth most populated country in the world, a little Indonesian can go a long way. Click below and start learning today!