The Silent Day of Bali
On Nyepi day, which is New Year’s day in the Balinese Saka Calendar, the island of Bali turns off all lights and sounds, stops all traffic, deserts all worldly activities, and meditates, while complete silence and serenity reigns over the entire island.
Due to a different calendar system in Bali, New Year’s takes place every year around March. In 2020, it is on the 25th of March. This is the day where everything in Bali is closed (restaurants, shops, even the airport). Bali will fall into this “lock down” mode to allow all to follow the prescribed rituals. Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport will be closed. No planes will land or take off for 24 hours. All traffic across Bali will be stopped. All shops are closed. No pedestrian traffic is allowed on the beach or on the streets. There will be local watchmen known as pecalang to ascertain that this rule is strictly obeyed. At night, all lights will have to be turned off. Hotels will close all curtains so that no ray of light shines to the outside. All sound and music indoors should be held to its lowest volume.
The evening before Nyepi day, the Balinese hold the Ngerupuk Parade, where they carry large effigies–known as Ogoh-ogoh–through Bali’s streets. These are giant statues depicting monsters made of light materials: wood, bamboo, paper, and styrofoam. They are carried on bamboo platforms throughout the parade. They take the shape of mythological, evil creatures and gods to represent negative aspects of living things and criticize society and its latest issues. These can measure up to 6 metres in height, built by different youth groups in a competitive spirit. The best creations are paraded throughout village streets on Nyepi Eve, complete with loud gamelan accompaniments music and often with bamboo light torches adding to their dramatic effect.
The name Ogoh–Ogoh is derived from the Balinese “ogah-ogah”, meaning “to shake”, and it represents the Bhuta–Kala or evil spirits, vices that need to kept away from humans. Many locals from the small units of community called Banjar will carry their Ogoh–Ogoh on the convoy, shaking it to make it look as if it’s moving and dancing.
The parade ends with countless bonfires, when the laboriously designed monsters are burnt ceremonially and fall to ashes at the cemetery. Many argue that Ogoh–Ogoh have been used since the age of the ancient Balinese kingdom, who had been using them as integral part in a cremation ceremony. Others believe that the dolls were first inspired by a ritual from the village of Selat, where they had been a medium to repel the evil spirits. The Balinese believe that bad spirits move into their monster craft works by making noise and playing instruments and can be banished by burning. It is an important act of purification for the locals to herald the new year and Nyepi, the following day.
Here are some tips for you to enjoy Nyepi Day in Bali to the fullest:
Due to the closure of the airport, all flights arriving and departing from the airport will be inoperable. It’s always a good idea to plan your flights in or out of the island to avoid the actual Nyepi closures. In other words, arrive early – perhaps in time to watch the lively parades that take place on the eve of Nyepi.
Hotels in Bali are well geared up to offer their guests the best experiences during Nyepi, which basically confines them to their resort grounds. Travelling is one of the 4 Nyepi restrictions (called Catur Brata Penyepian) of the Saka New Year celebration in Bali.
Ogoh-ogoh are giant paper-mâché effigies that are creatively built to depict demons (bhutakala). As they are paraded in the streets by locals on the eve of Nyepi, traffic in the main resort areas is usually rerouted, so it’s best to also plan ahead on where you want to watch the parades.
Visitors are often exempt from the Nyepi restrictions of lighting fire (for cooking – as long as it’s not visible from outside your room or villa), so it’s okay to stock up on snacks or food for your kitchenette.
The same goes for in-room entertainment such as DVDs (entertainment and other luxuries are also restricted among the Balinese themselves during Nyepi day). The local government has pushed for TV stations to cease broadcasting over Bali’s airwaves over Nyepi. Your hotel’s satellite channels will mostly remain available, along with internet and Wi-Fi.
If Earth Hour is putting your lights out just for 1 hour, Bali takes it to the next level by going lights off for 24 hours straight. With practically zero light pollution, you’re in for the year’s most immersive night sky over Bali when the stars shine their brightest and the Milky Way reveals itself.
At your hotel, you can simply pick a spot by the poolside or the resort’s beachfront to lay back and gaze at the wonders of the universe. You can even whip out your tripod and try to capture some stunning images.
Bali has its handful of unusual sights and this festivity is easily one of them. Omed-omedan is celebrated the day after Nyepi. The festival takes place on one of the roads in the village of Banjar Kaja, Sesetan in southern Denpasar. The village community cheers on participating youths who get in line for the ritual – an affair of ‘push and pull’ between a team of girls and boys.
Pre-arranged couples, usually in their late teens, line up to eventually be pushed towards their partner on the other side and to eventually ‘kiss’ and embrace for a very brief moment… before cheerfully being pulled apart again. The scene gets crazier as elders enjoy spraying and dousing the crowd with water.
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