Nyepi is one of the most important festivals in the Balinese calendar, and it marks the new year. It is a day devoted to self reflection. The Balinese will not speak a word or engage in any type of entertainment for 24 hours and all shops and businesses are closed. Only hotels and emergency services are allowed to stay open. The local people take their period of silence seriously and even foreign visitors will be expected to stay in their hotels on this day. Respecting this silence is easy because most people will be exhausted following the celebrations that occur on Nyepi Eve.
Date of the Nyepi Festival
The date of the Nyepi changes each year as it is based on the Balinese saka calendar that is based on the phases of the moon. Nyepi Day falls on the dark moon of the spring equinox. In 2013 it will take place on the twelfth of March which is a Tuesday.
Meaning Behind the Nyepi Festival
Religion plays a key part in life on Bali, and the Balinese believe that they need to perform regular offerings to the gods and placate demons. Hinduism is the main religion on the island, but it mixed with older beliefs and this makes it unique. This uniqueness is reflected in festivals like Nyepi. The new year is seen as a time of renewal, and the local people use it as a chance to purify their bodies and mind. It is hoped that by doing so it will mean that they will enjoy prosperity over the coming year.
Nyepi is a Festival of Two Extremes
Foreign visitors will often remark that Nyepi is a festival of extremes. On Nyepi Eve there be a real party atmosphere with parades and fireworks, it is the nosiest day of the year, and this is followed by a day of complete silence. There is no other festival quite like it anywhere else on the planet and this is why many tourists will choose to visit at this time of year.
Preparations for Nyepi
The preparations for Nyepi begin three to four days before with the purification of temple objects – this is called the Melasti ceremony. The holy symbols that are of importance to the Balinese are taking to the sea where they are cleansed. This event involves processions and loud gamelan music. It will take place on various dates, depending on local village custom, in the days running up to Nyepi.
Celebrations on Nyepi Eve
The reason for why the celebrations on Nyepi Eve (aka Tawur Kesanga) tend to be such noisy affairs is that the goal is to drive away evil spirits. With this in mind the locals will create fantastic looking monster statues, known as Ogoh-ogoh, which are usually made from bamboo. The Oguh-ogoh are paraded around the island and later in the day they are burned. These processions include musicians playing Balinese traditional music (gamelan). The goal of those involved in these parades seems to be to make as much noise as possible. As they pass through a village the procession will stop at every crossroads and turn the Oguh-ogoh around three times – the aim is to confuse the spirits so that they will be forced to leave the island. As well as trying to frighten away demons and spirits, the local people will cook enough food to last them for the next couple of days. Nyepi Eve is the only day of the year when cock fighting is allowed because it is believed that the spilling of this animals blood can have a purifying effect.
Day of Silence on Bali
The Balinese are expected to spend this day fasting, praying, and meditating. They will avoid all forms of entertainment, and they do not speak a word if possible. In fact, anything that could get in the way of this period of self-reflection is frowned upon. The TV and radio stations close down for the day, and it is even forbidden to cook food or light a fire. Even though this is strictly speaking Hindu holiday, it is expected that people of all faiths will take part. It is a national holiday across the whole of Indonesia.
Expected Behavior for Foreign Visitors on the Day of Silence
Tourists are not expected to be silent on Nyepi, but they are expected to follow a number of rules:
- Tourists need to be back in their hotel rooms before 6am on Nyepi Day.
- There are no flights in or out of Bali on this day – only transit flights are allowed to land.
- There is no traveling allowed on this day. Transportation comes to a halt, and this includes boats from the island – the air smells wonderfully fresh during Nyepi because there is no pollution from motor vehicles.
- Foreign guests are expected to stay in their hotel from 6am on Nyepi Day until 6am the next day – the only exception to this will be a veranda or hotel garden. A special police force made up of security men (pecalang) will insist that tourists return to their hotels, if they are seen outside.
- It is usually fine for guests to walk around the hotel but amenities like swimming pools and gyms will be closed.
- It is forbidden to cook on this day, and this even applies to kitchens in hotel guest rooms.
- Many hotels will have some type of room service delivering precooked meals.
- Music should not be played, and foreign guests are asked to keep the noise down.
- It is only permissible to turn on a light at night if there is a small child who would otherwise be scared of the dark.
- People are asked to refrain from sex for the day, but this is a particularly tough rule to enforce.
What to Do For Nyepi Day
The two most popular activities for tourists on the day of silence will be sleeping and reading. It is suggested that people prepare for this day by buying some provisions as everywhere will be closed. There are rumors that some hotels have special arrangements for guests on Nyepi Day, but this is usually not something they will advertise.
The day after Nyepi is called Ngembak Geni, and this is also a bank holiday. This is a time for people to leave their homes so they can ask for forgiveness of past mistakes from friends and family.