NYEPI – The Balinese day of Silence
Bali, a popular beach and holiday destination in Indonesia, is usually filled with vivid sights and thumping sounds that create a lively scenery and etches itself in the hearts and minds of people who visit this spectacular paradise.
Once a year, however, the whole island temporarily shuts down during a sacred Balinese celebration called Nyepi. Also known as the Saka New Year, it is considered the quietest day of the year in Bali. Inhabitants do not go out of their homes for 24 hours and all routinary activities including work operations and recreational activities are put to a complete halt.
Imagine empty streets, closed commercial buildings, interrupted television and radio broadcasts, vacated harbors and airports, unlit nightlights, and nothing but pure silence — seems apocalyptic, but come to think of it, this is just exactly what most of us need: a break from the stresses brought by the daily grind. Indeed a unique holiday observance, locals use this time to reflect and relax indoors. They also consider this as a way to let Mother Nature rejuvenate on its own.
Nyepi, a yearly celebration, is happening on the 17th of March this year. It is highly anticipated by the natives, but most expats and tourists escape Bali during this particular period of time, mostly because of the restrictions this silent celebration imposes on everyone on the island, regardless if you’re a Balinese or not. Only emergency services and hospitals are allowed to operate.
Balinese will perform some rituals before, during and after the Nyepi day, they are:
Melasti (3 or 4 days before Nyepi)
This ritual is also known as Mekiyis or Melis. Melasti is meant to purify Arca, Pratima, and Pralingga (sacred objects) belonging to several temples, also to acquire sacred water from the sea. Pratima is a symbol that help to concentrate the mind in order to become closer to God. The ceremony is aimed to clean all nature and its content and also to take the Amerta (the source for eternal life) from the ocean or other water resources (i.e. lake, river, etc). All the effigies of the Gods from the entire village temples are taken to the river or sea in long and colourful ceremonies.
Tawur Agung Kesanga and Pengerupukan (the day before Nyepi)
Tawur Agung Kesanga ritual is performed at around 12 pm in the afternoon in order to vanquish the negative elements and create a balance between God, Mankind, and Nature. The ritual is also meant to appease Batara Kala by Pecaruan offering. The main pecaruan offering are held at the public square. Following Tawur Agung Kesanga is Pengrupukan rituals which is held at around sunset in the evening. The main attractions of the ritual are parades of Ogoh Ogoh (huge colorful figures of demons made of bamboo and paper symbolizing negative elements or malevolent spirits) that will be carried or driven around every town and village in Bali. The center of the parade is the town or village’s main crossroad and the parade will usually be accompanied by music, fireworks and bamboo canons, making it quite a sight and something you do not want to miss if you have the opportunity. The parade ends before midnight with the burning of the Ogoh Ogohs as a symbol of getting rid of the evil spirits.
On Nyepi day Balinese perform a ritual named Catur Brata Penyepian which is consist of Amati Geni (no fire or light, including no electricity), Amati Karya (no working), Amati Lelungan (no travelling) and Amati Lelanguan (fasting and no revelry/self-entertainment). Every street is quiet – there are nobody doing their normal daily activities. There are usually some Pecalangs (traditional Balinese security man) who controls and checks for street security. Pecalang wear a black uniform and a Udeng or Destar (a Balinese traditional “hat” that is usually used in ceremony). The Pecalangs main task is not only to control the security of the street but also to stop any activities that may disturb Nyepi. No traffic is allowed, not only cars but also people, who have to stay in their own houses. Light is kept to a minimum or not at all, the radio or TV is turned down and, of course, no one works. Even love making, this ultimate activity of all leisure times, is not supposed to take place, nor even attempted. The whole day is simply filled with the barking of a few dogs, the shrill of insect and is a simple long quiet day in the calendar of this otherwise hectic island. On Nyepi the world expected to be clean and everything starts a new, with Man showing his symbolic control over himself and the “force” of the World, hence the mandatory religious control.
Ngembak Geni (the day after Nyepi)
The day after Nyepi is called Ngembak Geni, which most of the locals celebrate by going out and meeting with their family members in other parts of Bali. As the merriment resumes, the locals also make it a point to reconcile with whoever they had a rift with in the past year. It is a new year, after all, and it just seems fitting to start the year with a clean slate.