Nyepi, Balinese New Year, is observed on 14 March. This day is also known as Nyepi or Day of Silence, is an important and significant day that symbolises the beginning of a new year. With restrictions on electricity, working, travelling and entertainment the streets become an empty but serene setting.
Nyepi is the most important and sacred Hindu holiday on Bali and is a general public holiday in the rest of Indonesia.
The famous ogoh-ogoh parades, where Balinese men (and boys) carry scary creatures of huge sizes through the streets accompanied by noise and gamelan music is happening on “Nyepi Eve”, the evening of the second day after New Year.
Tourists and visitors are welcome to watch the parades, take pictures and witness this unique spectacle. Some of these ogoh-ogohs are burnt after the parade.
On the actual day of Nyepi (3rd day of the 6-day festival) the entire Island is “closed”. The roads are off-limit to all types of motorised vehicles and people on foot! The airport is closed. All grocery, clothes and other types of shops are closed for tourists and Balinese. Restaurants are closed. The Beach is prohibited. Anything other than being indoors is restricted. While indoors, the inhabitants must ensure that all audio devices are turned down to a minimum volume. As the day draws to an end and the sun sets, the curtains need to be pulled shut, with minimum light being used in ones living quarter. If an aeroplane was to fly over Bali, the Island would not be seen. To ensure that all the rules are obeyed local guards known as Pecalang (Nyepi Police) are deployed all over the Island.
The evening before Nyepi day Balinese carry large Ogoh Ogoh through Bali’s streets. Already young kids follow the example of their fathers. The statues are up to 25feet tall and can be very heavy. With the help of a bamboo grid, a large group of men carry the ogoh ogoh followed by Balinese gamelan musicians.
Nyepi & Balinese Calendar
The start of “Caka” year – Balinese New Year – is celebrated by the Hindus for six days, with the ogoh-ogoh parades after sunset of day two and Nyepi, day of silence, falling on day three.
Nyepi is a day that the Hindu Balinese dedicate completely to connect more deeply with God (Hyang Widi Wasa) through prayer, fasting and meditation with an additional layer of introspection of the Self, to evaluate personal values such as love, truth, patience, kindness, and generosity.
This religious ceremony is bigger and more lavish than any other in the year. There is a myth that, after the boisterous and active celebrations of day one and day 2, the Island goes into hiding to protect itself from the evil spirits, fooling them to believe that Bali, enveloped in an atmosphere of complete tranquillity and peace, is a deserted Island. This myth dates back to the mythical times of evil spirits, Gods, superheroes and witches.
On the day after Nyepi, known as Ngembak Geni, social activity picks up again quickly, as families and friends gather to ask forgiveness from one another and to perform certain religious rituals together. Although Nyepi is primarily a Hindu holiday, non-Hindu residents of Bali observe the day of silence as well, out of respect for their fellow citizens.
Nyepi Day, like almost all Balinese religious festivals and holy days, is always calculated based on the Balinese calendar (Caka or Saka).
One full year of the Balinese calendar consists of 12 sasih (Balinese months). Each month (sasih) consists of 35 days which is usually a complete cycle of one new moon ( dark moon or Tilem) and one full moon (Purnama).
As preparation to the build-up to Nyepi Day, are a series of rituals conducted in literally every part of the island.
However, Balinese New Year is celebrated for six days with Nyepi – the day of silence is only one aspect of it. Several rituals for the whole holy week are consists of:
The first is The Melasti (Melis or Mekiis) Ritual which is dedicated to Sanghyang Widhi Wasa and performed 3–4 days beforehand to acquire sacred water from the sea. The ritual is performed in Pura (Balinese temple) near the sea (Pura Segara) and meant to purify sacred objects such as Arca, Pratima, and Pralingga belonging to several temples. Similar rituals are performed at the Balekambang Beach on the southern coast of Malang, East Java; it is the ritual of Jalani Dhipuja.
Bhuta Yajna Ritual & Ogoh Ogoh Parade
The second is The Bhuta Yajna Ritual, which is performed one day before Nyepi, to vanquish negative elements and create a balance with God, Mankind, and Nature. The ritual is also meant to win over Batara Kala by the Pecaruan offering. Tawur Kesanga and Caru are sacrifice rituals that take place one day before the Nyepi Day.
Different levels of sacrifice are held at villages and provinces by sacrificing animals such as chicken, ducks, pigs or even cows and bulls. Various plants and crops are additionally used as part of the offerings. Devout Hindu Balinese villages start making ogoh-ogohs about two months before Nyepi. These are demonic, giant statues made of bamboo and paper, symbolizing negative elements or evil spirits. At sunset, between 5–6 pm, the ritual of Pengrupukan takes place (ogoh ogoh parade). At this time the Balinese parade the streets with the ogoh-ogohs, passionately playing a loud mixture of the kulkul (traditional bamboo bell), claxons, gamelan music and drummers music.
The basic idea is to scare off evil spirits by making unbearable amounts of noise as is humanly possible. Although these rituals take place over the entire island, one can experience the best processions either in Kuta, Seminyak, Nusa Dua, Sanur and other famous beaches. Each village makes at least one spectacular Ogoh-Ogoh and take pride in the entire process. Areas such as Sanur, Kuta, Denpasar, Ubud usually hold contests for the best Ogoh-Ogoh. In the evening the Ogoh-ogohs will be ceremoniously burnt in the central ritual of Ngrupuk, where they are engulfed in flames. The burning of the ogoh-ogoh symbolizes the eradication of any evil influences in life. Then is followed by more dancing, drinking and feasting in a somewhat chaotic fashion, all to drive evil spirits far away from the island. Not every ogoh-ogoh will be burnt these days, so ask the locals whether their village still follows this custom or not.
Nyepi – Day of Silence
This day is strictly reserved for self-reflection anything that might interfere with that purpose is strictly prohibited. The inner and outer world is expected to be clean, and everything starts anew, with Man showing his symbolic control over himself and the “force” of the world, hence the mandatory religious authority. Nyepi expects a day of absolute silence, based on the four precepts of Catur Brata:
Amati Geni: No fire or light, including no electricity. Prohibition of satisfying pleasurable human appetites.
Amati Karya: No form of physical activity except things dedicated to spiritual cleansing and renewal.
Amati Lelunganan: No movement or traveling.
Amati Lelanguan: Fasting and no revelry/self-entertainment or general merrymaking.
Yoga Brata Ritual
The fourth is the Yoga/Brata Ritual which starts at 6:00 am on the day of Nyepi and continues to 6:00 am the next day. The faithful Balinese spend this day in meditation.
Ngembak Agni / Labuh Brata Ritual
The fifth is the Ngembak Agni/Labuh Brata Ritual which is performed the day after Nyepi and is the official New Years Day. Ngembak is the day when Catur Berata Penyepian is over, and the Balinese Hindus visit families, neighbours and relatives to exchange forgiveness.
They also conduct the Dharma Canthi, activities of reading Sloka, Kekidung and Kekawi (ancient scripts containing songs and lyrics). The youth of Bali practise the ceremony of Omed-omedan or The Kissing Ritual to celebrate the new year.
Dharma Shanti Rituals
The Sixth is The Dharma Shanti Rituals, reciting ancient scriptures, which are performed after all the Nyepi rituals are finished and mark the closure of this very sacred week in the Balinese Calendar.
Who is Batara Kala
For the Balinese, Batara Kala is the god of the Underworld and god of destruction. He is the son of Shiva (Batara Guru) and was initially being sent to earth to punish humans for wrongdoings and evil habits. Balinese believe, that Batara Kala also “consumes” unlucky humans, so they are performing the Bhuta Yajna ritual to scare off unluckiness and evil. Balinese believe that Batara Kala is the bringer of solar and lunar eclipses because he is the enemy of the god of the sun and the god of the moon. So for the love of sun and moon gods, they perform sacrifices to ward Batara Kara off.
Due to the restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Bali’s religious authorities have confirmed that this year’s Nyepi Day on March 14 will strictly be practiced only on the day itself. The annual Ogoh-Ogoh Parade has also been canceled for this year. Meanwhile, religious ceremonies will be limited to a maximum of 50 people.
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