Some years ago, in 2014, I was off to Bali with my husband in March to celebrate his birthday. Recklessly, I forgot to check when the Balinese would celebrate Nyepi that year. You might think that I’m exaggerating, or that it’s not really that important to check. That’s your opinion, but I assume that it will be clearer to you after reading my post why I care about whether our visit coincided with Nyepi.
As we arrived on the airport, we were blinded by the excitement — finally we are on holiday in Bali! How luxurious it will be…
But then, our driver interrupted our happiness by asking one crucial question — and it was lucky that he did, or else the consequences could have been serious. “So, did you come here on purpose to witness our biggest ceremony?» he asked politely.
Wow wow wow! “What kind of ceremony do you mean?” I asked innocently.
“We will have Melasti today, because tomorrow we will initiate the Day of Silence.”
What is Nyepi?
Nyepi lasts for a day and is observed from 6 am to 6 am the next day. It consists of many rituals which I shall explain briefly below.
What do the Balinese do on the day of Nyepi?
- Amati Geni — (no lamps, no smoking, no lighting fire) — the purpose is to protect themselves from bad influences that come from outside.
- Amati Karya — (no working, no studying) — the purpose is to stop your physical activities for a while and reflect on yourself.
- Amati Lelungan — (no traveling, no disturbing other people).
- Amati Lelaguan — (no entertainment, no sounds from radio or television).
These restrictions must be followed by all people who live or stay in Bali at the time of Nyepi. It is not just for the Balinese. Other people from other beliefs or from other countries are not exempt from these restrictions. To ensure that the prohibitions are followed, there will be pecalang — or traditional security men strolling around the area.
During these days, the bustling streets all over Bali transform into ghost towns. The restaurants, cafes, bars, and stores are closed! It is forbidden for you to go to the beach or any other places. Yet, you can do whatever you wish in your hotel room, as long as you follow the prohibitions above.
What did I do in Bali during Nyepi?
At night before Nyepi started, the hotel officers knocked at our door, told us that tomorrow morning we mustn’t go out from the hotel, order food, swim in the swimming pool, or make noise. Also, it was forbidden to light our lamp brightly.
It will be so much better if you bring books, board games, or something fun with you whenever or wherever you travel. In Bali, during Nyepi, it will come in handy. Believe me.
During Nyepi, the local and central government close flights to and from Bali. The port and the airport are closed.
What else happens before or after Nyepi?
This ritual is held three to four days beforehand in some temples near the sea. The main purpose is to purify the Arca (sacred objects) using the sacred water from the sea.
This ritual is performed to vanquish negative energy from the surroundings and to create a balance with God, mankind, and nature. Also, Batara Kala is appeased by offering live animal sacrifice.
So, in general, there are sixth days of Nyepi:
Bhuta Yajna Ritual
Yoga Brata Ritual (celebrated as Balinese New Year)
Ngembak Agni (day of forgiving each other and starting a new day!)
Dharma Shanti Ritual (closing of Nyepi)
This one is not included in the main rituals. Omed-omedan or «the kissing ritual» is strictly observed in the southern part of Bali. The rule is that only locals from that region can participate in it. No foreigners, no other people. If you ask me how it works, I can only describe what I have seen on TV. I would like to watch this procession, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to do it. So, a group of girls are standing face to face with a group of boys. They must be 18 years or older, single, and not too old to «steal» the kiss. When it starts, people from behind usually push so the one in the first row can kiss someone on the other side. The ritual is finished when one of the participants successfully stole a kiss from someone.
It might sound strange, but according to my driver, Pak Gde, this tradition must be followed to prevent bad things such as illness or misfortunes coming to the region. It had been proven, he said. One year they skipped it and then an epidemic infected their town.
Ogoh-ogoh are demonic statues made of richly painted bamboo, styrofoam, paper, and sometimes cloth that symbolize malevolent spirits in Hinduism. They are so big that they can’t be carried by one person alone. At two or three meters across, they must be carried by a group. One day after Nyepi, everybody is busy watching this unique parade along the main street in Bali. It is believed that the Ogoh-ogoh can protect the people from those malevolent spirits if the Ogoh-ogoh are paraded around the city.