There are many different celebrations and special days in the calendar of the island of Bali in Indonesia, but none are quite as special to the onlooker as Nyepi or the “day of silence”. This occurs once every Isakawarsa (new year) and falls on 31st March.
With roots stemming from the Hindu religion, it should come as no surprise this commemoration is designed to be a time when all people reflect on the past year as well as on themselves. For that reason, anything that could interfere with this is strictly prohibited. Balinese citizens are forbidden from working, lighting fires and engaging in any form of entertainment whatsoever. On top of this, there is to be absolutely no traveling and some even restrict their food and water intake.
Inevitably, this means the normally bustling streets of Bali and nearby Nusa Dua become deserted for a time. Even the sound of television and radio disappears on Nyepi and the only people to be found roaming the streets are police and security personnel who make sure everyone acknowledges the various prohibitions this day demands.
While Bali has many citizens who are not of the Hindu faith, they all partake in this special day as a mark of respect for their neighbours. In fact, even tourists are expected to follow the code and not allowed to leave their hotel during this public holiday. As if that wasn’t commitment enough, the Balinese government usually closes their only airport for an entire 24 hours.
Around this time, there are six main rituals the people of this island uphold. Here’s some information on them for anyone with an interest in Indonesian culture:
Ritual #1 – The Melasti
This usually takes place a few days before Nyepi and is designed to satisfy Sanghyang Widhi Wasa (the all-in-one God). Performed in a temple known as Pura, this ritual is used to purify certain sacred objects.
Ritual #2 – The Bhuta Yajna
This is a cleansing ritual, designed to help remove negative elements from the community and restore a healthy balance with God. People who partake in this ritual create statues of demonic spirits made out of paper-mache, known as ‘Ogoh-Ogoh’, on bamboo platforms and parade them around their village. After a certain amount of time these statues are burned to symbolise the completion of this ritual.
Ritual #3 – The Nyepi
As discussed above, this ritual requires Balinese people to spend an entire day under self-reflection without any luxury items that use electricity and without traveling, working, or lighting fires. In respect of the local culture, this ritual is embraced by many, even non-Balinese residents as well as tourists who enjoy a day a silence. On Nyepi day, Bali’s Ngurah Rai International airport closes for 24 hours. Hotels in Bali respect this ritual by offering limited services to guests on Nyepi day and guests must stay within the hotel premises.
Ritual #4 – The Yoga/Brata
This one’s pretty self-explanatory and generally starts at 6am, running through to 6pm the following day.
Ritual #5 – The Ngembak Agni/Labuh Brata
All Hindus are required to take part in this ritual, which is in essence about forgiveness. Everyone is asked to pardon their enemies and make peace for the new days to come. This is a vitally important ritual, as it encourages people to drop their grudges and start again.
Ritual #6 – The Dharma Shanti
Lastly, the Dharma Shanti rituals are performed when the Nyepi or “day of silence” finally comes to an end.
Hopefully, this information has been of some interest and you’ll be more inclined to learn about the many fascinating cultural aspects of Indonesia in the near future. Nyepi is just one of many celebrations involving ancient rituals observed by the people of Bali, but we hope that by learning about it, you’ll begin to see how compelling and unique these islanders really are.
Rahajeng Nyanggra Rahina Galungan lan Kuningan!