Explaining Nyepi: Bali’s Day of Complete Silence

Indonesian man prayer marga bali

There are many traditional ceremonies that separate Bali from the rest of the thousands of islands and islets that make-up Indonesia. One of the most distinctively unique is the ‘Nyepi’, or the Balinese Day of Silence. This celebration is the oldest recorded in human history, as part of the larger, world-renowned 6-day new year celebration – the Isakawarsa.

The Nyepi ritual falls on the 3rd day of this cycle. It is the day following the dark moon of the spring equinox when night and day are equal in duration. The observance is Hindu in origin and celebrated exclusively on the island. So, you won’t be able to catch this event anywhere else. This is especially true throughout the rest of Indonesia, as Bali is the only majority Hindu part of the entire nation.

What actually is Nyepi?

The day itself is one of silence, fasting and complete meditation of the mind. For locals, Nyepi is a day to connect more closely to God and to cleanse themselves of their personal demons. The ritual lasts for an entire 24-hour period running from 6am until 6am the following day. During this, the island is placed on complete lockdown (something I’m sure we are all used to be now).

As this is a day for self-reflection, all activity perceived as counter-intuitive is made illegal. This includes:

  • NO Lighting Fires or Bright Lights
  • NO Working
  • NO Entertainment/ Pleasure
  • NO Travelling
  • NO Leaving the House
  • For some members of the community, NO Talking or Eating

But I’m a tourist?

Only traditional security officers known as the ‘Pecalang’ are permitted to roam the streets on this holy day. Their sole responsibility is to ensure that the regulations are being followed. This includes tourists and members of other religions. TV and music must be kept to a minimum volume and internet connectivity is drastically reduced.

All beaches, bars and temples are closed. Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport has no inbound or outbound flights. The sole omissions for these rules are healthcare workers responding to life threatening conditions or women giving birth.

Luckily, because the day falls differently every year – babies born on the Nyepi will be able to celebrate on their birthdays as they grow older.

What about the other 5 days?

As previously mentioned, the ritual is a subsection of the much-larger Isakawarsa, which contains a new ritual every day of the celebration.

  • Day 1: Melasti Ritual
  • Day 2: Bhuta Yajna Ritual
  • Day 3: Nyepi Ritual
  • Day 4: Brata Ritual
  • Day 5: Ngembak Geni
  • Day 6: Dharma Shanti

The Day 2 Bhuta Yajna ritual is world-renowned for the creation of Ogoh-ogohs, statues built to be carried around the island during the Ngrupuk. These are normally mythological beings, with a particular focus on demons and evil deities. These Ogoh-ogohs are crafted using simple materials including bamboo, cloth and Styrofoam.

Following the parades, these handcrafted statues are burned in village cemeteries to symbolise the dispersing of negative energies, in line with the island’s Hindu beliefs.

What about its history?

The myth on the island is that following the grand and boisterous celebrations of the Bhuta Yajna, the island retreats into hiding during Nyepi so as to protect themselves from the evil spirits that have been alerted to their presence. Upon arrival, the demons are fooled as to thinking the quiet and tranquil Bali is in fact deserted. This realisation causes the evil deities to leave the island empty-handed.

Following Nyepi is the day of Ngembak Geni, native Balinese for ‘relighting the fire’. After reflecting and searching for self-improvement, friends and families will reunite the subsequent day to request forgiveness from one another. After these acceptances, families partake in further rituals and celebrations.

So, if you are to ever visit Bali during this sacred time period, immerse yourself in the tradition! Take a moment to reflect on who you are, where you come from and where you’re going. See it as an enforced day of mindfulness. Which is not only good for the mind – it’s brilliant for the soul.

Isn’t that half the reason for coming to Bali in the first place?

Andy Cook

This post is also available in: English Indonesia

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