My favourite time to be in Bali….
Nyepi Day – A Day of Silence.
Every day life in Bali is filled with tradition and Hindu culture, but it’s as the Balinese New Year approaches that you see it at it’s best. One of the most auspicious days on the island of Bali, Nyepi—the Day of Silence, is my favourite time to be in Bali.
The celebration of a New Year here is very different to anywhere else in the world where parties, fireworks and noise rule the festivities. In Bali, it’s very much the calmest day of the year, when the island’s residents, well over four million of them, and the thousands of tourists visiting, stop to abide by the local law of silence.
The Balinese Hindus follow a ritual called the ‘Catur Brata Penyepian’, basically the four prohibitions. These include no fire, no travel, no activity and no entertainment. It’s often seen as a time for total relaxation and contemplation, and a chance for Mother Nature to reboot herself after a year of human intervention.
It’s a day of meditation, fasting and gratitude for the Balinese people. Where all day to day activity comes to a complete stop, the normally congested roads are traffic free, as nobody leaves their homes for a period of twenty-four hours. The only people to be seen on the streets, are the Pecalang, traditional security set to detain anyone found to not be abiding by the policies. And they do, so don’t think you can sneak out and check out the quiet streets and take photos!
The day itself is not the only experience, it’s the days leading up to the occasion and after which bring about many ceremonies, and I believe should be experienced at least once if you’re a regular visitor.
The Saka calendar is one of many followed in the Indonesian calendar, and Nyepi Day always follows a New Moon. This year, Nyepi falls on Saturday March 17th, with no activity allowed from 6am until the following morning at the same time. If you’re in a hotel, you will be able to use the facilities within the hotel grounds, but you may find that you’ll be asked to close curtains at night, or may even have cardboard used to cover windows and doors. No light is to be seen.
Before the silence there are the ceremonies. Three to four days prior, Melasti Ceremonies are held across the whole island. This ritual is meant as a cleansing ceremony, and is done by collecting water from the sea. The Balinese believe before the New Year arrives, they must purify the small world, (themselves and their families), and rid the big world (the universe) of evil and bad karma.
Last year at Padang Galak, about a fifteen-minute drive from Sanur, it was a privilege to witness many villages travelling in groups to perform this ritual. Hundreds of people dressed in their traditional costume, as they traveled to the nearest source of holy water, being an ocean, lake or river. The ocean is seen as a source of life, and therefore holds the essence of everlasting life and is very important to the Balinese people.
It’s enthralling to watch the young men of the Gamelan orchestra march as they bang drums and cymbals, remarkably in tune.
I love it, the smiles on their faces as they noisily walk proudly in front of the older men who carry large shrines on their shoulders, and the women who balance bowls of fruit offerings on their heads. A wink here and there for me as I snap photos, and lots of smiles. The women dressed in white Kabaya’s, and bright sarongs, with the accompanying bright flags and umbrellas, it’s an atmosphere you cannot help fall in love with.
Once they reached Padang Galak, the shrines and icons which hold ancestral spirits, are laid beside the ocean. A priest then performs the blessing ritual where he prays and chants, flicking his holy water and flowers, and ringing his prayer bell endlessly. Kneeling before him the Balinese worship with him, joining him in reciting the mantras and prayers, which are totally fascinating.
We were welcomed and sheltered when the rain fell, the Balinese locals loved speaking with us and finding out where we were from. Allowing me to take photos, and just accepting us to be a part of what is a very important time for them.
The lead up to Nyepi also sees the young men of each community spend hours creating mythical beasts and creatures, some with rude gestures meant to frighten the bad spirits away from Bali. The Ogah- Ogah is an effigy made from paper-mache, expect to see large bulging eyes, and faces contorted in ugliness as they’re designed to frighten the evil spirits, and I’m sure all of the young children for days.
On the eve of Nyepi,the Ogah Ogah’s are carried through the streets in what is now a local competition amongst the different communities. Tourists and locals alike line the roadside eager to watch the parades, and cheer as they pass. Traditionally, these effigies are ceremoniously burnt afterwards, to the sounds of loud drums and gamelan music. The idea is to make as much noise as possible to scare the evil spirits away. Then, the next day when the spirits return, Bali is silent and deserted, the spirits will leave for another twelve months when all is repeated again.
At 6am on Nyepi Day, you will wake to absolute silence. It really is amazing as a visitor to the island, watching an entire population come to an all-inclusive stop for a complete 24 hours. No one can leave their hotel or home. The airport does not operate; neither do any shipping ports or ferries; no activity is allowed. Nyepi is a day of self-reflection for the Hindu Balinese, which means any activity that may interfere with this is restricted. No lights at night, no television, no working, no noise, and no sex.
Even if you are not of Hindu faith, being in Bali at this time is gratifying. A day when you hear nothing but the birds whistling in the trees, and the occasional dog barking and rooster crowing. As night time descends without the normal light pollution, the darkened sky is splattered with millions of stars you would not typically see, and honestly, it’s truly spectacular.
This year, as I float in the pool and look up to the night sky, I’ll once again appreciate the time I have to spend on this beautiful island. It’s a wonderful experience and one I’ll always remember.